30 Years Of Michael Landon: 'Bonanza' to 'Little House' to 'Heaven'

By | October 31, 2018

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Left: Michael Landon as Joseph 'Little Joe' Cartwright in a publicity portrait issued for the television series, 'Bonanza', circa 1970. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images). Right: Landon on 'Little House On The Prairie.' Source: IMDB

As "Little Joe" Cartwright on Bonanza, Charles Ingalls on Little House On The Prairie, and Jonathan Smith on Highway To Heaven, Michael Landon proved himself a master of TV drama acting. Many actors are lucky to get one small-screen role that resonates with audiences and lasts for multiple seasons; Landon had three, keeping him nearly continuously employed for 30 years.

In his last NBC series, Michael Landon played an angel who had died previously and was on assignment on earth, a character some fans came to see as prophetic. In 1991, at the age of 54, Landon himself passed away from pancreatic cancer -- leaving this world, perhaps, on his own highway to heaven. A loyal family man, Landon was the proud father of six of his own biological children and adopted three more. His own childhood was not so wonderful. What is really coincidental is Victor French, his partner on Highway to Heaven, also at age 54, died of advanced lung cancer before the final season aired.  

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Michael Landon and Jack Hogan in 'The Legend Of Tom Dooley,' 1959. Source: IMDB

After a stormy childhood, Michael Landon became determined to make it, as not only an actor but also as a producer. His life was riddled with hardships, beginning with his childhood. His name was actually Eugene Maurice Orowitz, named after his Jewish father, Eli Maurice Orowitz. Added to the stress of being bullied for being Jewish, was also a constant concern for his mother because of attempted suicides. Once he had to save her at a beach during a vacation because she tried to drown herself. Sometime in the '50s, he changed his name, first to Michael Lane and later to Michael Landon, choosing his name by looking through the phone book.