Michael Landon : マイケル・ランドン

Michael Landon (born Eugene Maurice Orowitz; October 31, 1936 – July 1, 1991) was an American actor, writer, director, and producer. He is known for his roles as Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza (1959–1973), Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie (1974–1983), and Jonathan Smith in Highway to Heaven (1984–1989). Landon appeared on the cover of TV Guide 22 times, second only to Lucille Ball.

Early life

Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936, in Forest Hills, a neighborhood of Queens, New York. His parents were Peggy (née O’Neill; a dancer and comedian) and Eli Maurice Orowitz. His father was Jewish. Eugene was the Orowitz family’s second child; their daughter, Evelyn, was born three years earlier. In 1941, when Landon was four years old, he and his family moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Collingswood, New Jersey. He attended and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom. His family recalls that Landon “went through a lot of hassle studying for the big event, which included bicycling to a nearby town every day to learn how to read Hebrew and do the praying.” He attended Collingswood High School.

During his childhood, Landon was constantly worrying about his mother attempting suicide. Once, the family vacationed at a beach. His mother tried to drown herself, but Michael rescued her. Shortly after the attempt, his mother acted as if nothing had happened. A few minutes later, Michael vomited. He said that it was the worst experience of his life.

Stress overload from the suicide attempts of his mother caused Landon to battle the childhood problem of bedwetting, which was documented in the unauthorized biography, Michael Landon: His Triumph and Tragedy. His mother put his wet sheets on display outside his window for all to see. He ran home every day and tried to remove them before his classmates could see. These events later inspired Landon to write and direct the 1976 made-for-television movie The Loneliest Runner.

In high school, Landon was an excellent javelin thrower, his 193 ft 4 in (58.93 m) toss in 1954 being the longest throw by a high schooler in the United States that year. This earned him an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California, but he subsequently tore his shoulder ligaments, ending his javelin throwing career and his participation on the USC track team.

Career

Early work

Landon decided on his surname by choosing it from a phone book. His first starring appearance was on the television series Telephone Time, in the episode “The Mystery of Casper Hauser” (1956) as the title character. Other parts came: movie roles in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Maracaibo (1958), High School Confidential (1958), the notorious God’s Little Acre (1958), and The Legend of Tom Dooley (1959), as well as many roles on television, such as Crossroads (three episodes), The Restless Gun (pilot episode aired on Schlitz Playhouse of Stars), Sheriff of Cochise (in “Human Bomb”), U.S. Marshal (as Don Sayers in “The Champ”), Crusader, Frontier Doctor, The Rifleman (in “End of a Young Gun”, 1958),The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Johnny Staccato, Wire Service, General Electric Theater, The Court of Last Resort, State Trooper (two episodes), Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan (in the 1958 episode “The Hemp Tree”), The Tall Man, Tombstone Territory (in the episode “Rose of the Rio Bravo”, with Kathleen Nolan), Trackdown (two 1958 episodes), and Wanted: Dead or Alive, starring Steve McQueen (in episodes “The Martin Poster”, 1958, and “The Legend”, 1959). Landon also appeared in at least 2 episodes of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater including “Gift from a Gunman” in 1957 and “Living is a Lonely Thing” in 1959.

Landon can be seen in an uncredited speaking role as a cavalry trooper in a 1956 episode of the ABC/Warner Bros. television series Cheyenne, an episode titled “Decision.” Two years later, Landon returned to that same series in “The White Warrior”. He was then cast as White Hawk a.k.a. Alan Horn, a young white man who, like Cheyenne Bodie, was raised by Indians after the slaughter of his parents. White Hawk rises to the occasion to help Cheyenne as he heads a wagon train to California amid the threat of the Apaches.

45 rpm record singles

In 1957, Candlelight Records released a Michael Landon single, “Gimme a Little Kiss (Will “Ya” Huh)”/ “Be Patient With Me” during the height of his notoriety for his role in the film, I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Some copies show the artist credited as the “Teenage Werewolf” rather than as Michael Landon. In 1962, both the A- and B-side of the record were re-released on the Fono-Graf label that included a picture sleeve of Landon’s then-current work on Bonanza as Little Joe Cartwright. In 1964, RCA Victor Records released another Landon single, “Linda Is Lonesome”/”Without You”. All of Landon’s singles have since been issued on compact disc by Bear Family Records as part of a Bonanza various artists compilation.

Bonanza

In 1959, at the age of 22, Landon began his first starring TV role as Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza, one of the first TV series to be broadcast in color. Also starring on the show were Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, and Dan Blocker. During Bonanza’s sixth season (1964–1965), the show topped the Nielsen ratings and remained number one for three years.

Receiving more fan mail than any other cast member, Landon negotiated with executive producer David Dortort and NBC to write and direct some episodes. In 1962, Landon wrote his first script. In 1968, Landon directed his first episode. In 1993, TV Guide listed Little Joe’s September 1972 two-hour wedding episode (“Forever”), as one of TV’s most memorable specials. Landon’s script recalled Little Joe’s brother, Hoss, who was initially the story’s groom, before Dan Blocker’s death. During the final season, the ratings declined, and NBC canceled Bonanza in November 1972. The last episode aired on January 16, 1973.

Along with Lorne Greene and Victor Sen Yung, Landon appeared in all 14 seasons of the series. Landon was loyal to many of his Bonanza associates including producer Kent McCray, director William F. Claxton, and composer David Rose, who remained with him throughout Bonanza as well as Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

Little House on the Prairie

The year after Bonanza was canceled, Landon went on to star as Charles Ingalls in the pilot of what became another very successful television series, Little House on the Prairie, again for NBC. The show was taken from a 1935 book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose character in the show was played by nine-year-old actress Melissa Gilbert. In addition to Gilbert, two other unknown actresses also starred on the show: Melissa Sue Anderson, who appeared as Mary Ingalls, the oldest daughter in the Ingalls family, and Karen Grassle as Charles’ wife, Caroline. Landon served as executive producer, writer, and director of Little House. The show, a success in its first season, emphasized family values and relationships. Little House became Landon’s second-longest running series.

The show was nominated for several Emmy and Golden Globe awards. After eight seasons, Little House was retooled by NBC in 1982 as Little House: A New Beginning, which focused on the Wilder family and the Walnut Grove community. Though Landon remained the show’s executive producer, director and writer, A New Beginning did not feature Charles and Caroline Ingalls. A New Beginning was actually the final chapter of Little House, as the series ended in 1983. The following year, three made-for-television movies aired.

Melissa Gilbert said of her on- and off-screen chemistry with Landon, “He was very much like a ‘second father’ to me. My own father passed away when I was 11, so, without really officially announcing it, Michael really stepped in.” When not working on the Little House set, Gilbert spent most of the weekends visiting Landon’s real-life family. She once said, “The house was huge. We ran like banshees through that house, and Mike would hide behind doorways and jump out and scare us.” In a 2015 interview, Gilbert said of Landon, “He gave me so much advice…the overall idea that he pounded into me, from a little girl, into my brain was that nothing’s more important than ‘Home & Family’; no success, no career, no achievements, no accomplishments, nothing’s more important than loving the people you love and contributing to a community. Though we were working, really, really hard, we were ‘Not Saving The World’, one episode of television at a time, we’re just entertaining people and there are more important things to do…. and have fun; no matter what.”

Highway to Heaven

After producing both “Little House” and later the Father Murphy TV series, Landon starred in another successful program. In Highway to Heaven, he played a probationary angel (who named himself Jonathan Smith) whose job was to help people in order to earn his wings. His co-star on the show was Victor French (who had previously co-starred on Landon’s Little House on the Prairie) as ex-cop Mark Gordon. On Highway, Landon served as executive producer, writer, and director. Highway to Heaven was the only show throughout his long career in television that he owned outright.

By 1985, prior to hiring his son, Michael Landon, Jr., as a member of his camera crew, he also brought real-life cancer patients and disabled people to the set. His decision to work with disabled people led him to hire a couple of adults with disabilities to write episodes for Highway to Heaven. By season four, Highway dropped out of the Nielsen top 30, and in June 1988, NBC announced that the series would return for an abbreviated fifth season, which would be its last. Its final episodes were filmed in the fall of 1988. One aired in September, two in December, one in March 1989, and the remainder aired on Fridays from June to August. Co-star French would not live to see Highway’s series finale make it to air; he died of advanced lung cancer on June 15, 1989, the disease which was only diagnosed two months before. Landon invited his youngest daughter, Jennifer Landon, to take part in the final episode.

Other projects

In 1973, Landon was an episode director and writer for the short-lived NBC romantic anthology series Love Story. In 1982, he co-produced an NBC “true story” television movie, Love is Forever, starring himself and Laura Gemser (who was credited as Moira Chen), about Australian photojournalist John Everingham’s successful attempt to scuba dive under the Mekong to rescue his lover from communist-ruled Laos in 1977. The real Everingham was cast as an extra in the film.

Sam’s Son was a 1984 coming-of-age feature film written and directed by Landon and loosely based on his early life. The film stars Timothy Patrick Murphy, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Hallie Todd, and James Karen. Karen previously worked for Landon in the made-for-television film Little House: The Last Farewell.

After the cancellation of Highway to Heaven and before his move to CBS, Landon wrote and directed the teleplay Where Pigeons Go to Die. Based on a novel of the same name, the film starred Art Carney and was nominated for two Emmy awards.

Up through the run of Highway to Heaven, all of Landon’s television programs were broadcast on NBC, a relationship of which lasted thirty consecutive years with the network. After the cancellation of Highway and due to a fallout with those within NBC’s upper management, he moved to CBS and in 1991 starred in a two-hour pilot called Us. Us was meant to be another series for Landon but, with his diagnosis on April 5 of pancreatic cancer, the show never aired beyond the pilot.

Landon also appeared as a celebrity panelist on the premiere week of Match Game on CBS.

Personal life

Landon was married three times, and father to nine children.

  • Dodie Levy-Fraser (married 1956; divorced 1962)
    • Mark Fraser Landon, born 1948 (adopted; Dodie’s biological son), died 2009
    • Josh Fraser Landon, born 1960 (adopted as infant)
  • Marjorie Lynn Noe (married 1963; divorced 1982)
    • Cheryl Lynn Landon (born Cheryl Ann Pontrelli in 1953), Lynn’s daughter from her first marriage and was nine when her mother and Landon married.
    • Leslie Ann Landon, born 1962.
    • Michael Landon, Jr., born 1964.
    • Shawna Leigh Landon, born 1971.
    • Christopher Beau Landon, born 1975.
  • Cindy Clerico (married 1983), a makeup artist on Little House on the Prairie
    • Jennifer Rachel Landon, born 1983.
    • Sean Matthew Landon, born 1986.

In February 1959, Landon’s father succumbed to a heart attack. In 1973, while a student at the University of Arizona, his eldest daughter Cheryl was involved in a serious car collision just outside Tucson, Arizona. The sole survivor out of four involved in the collision, Cheryl Landon was hospitalized with serious injuries and remained in a coma for days. In March 1981, Landon’s mother, Peggy, died.

Landon was by his own admission a chain smoker and a heavy drinker.

Illness and death

In February 1991, Landon began to suffer severe abdominal pain while on a skiing vacation in Utah. On April 5, 1991, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which had metastasized to his liver and lymph nodes. The cancer was inoperable and terminal. On May 9, 1991, he appeared on The Tonight Show to speak about the cancer and to condemn the tabloid press for their sensational headlines and inaccurate stories, including the claim that he and his wife were trying to have another child. During his appearance, Landon pledged to fight the disease and asked fans to pray for him. On May 21, 1991, he underwent successful surgery for a near-fatal blood clot in his left leg. In June 1991, he appeared on the cover of Life Magazine after granting the periodical an exclusive private interview about his life, his family, and his struggle to live. On July 1, 1991, at age 54, Landon died in Malibu, California.

Landon was interred in a private family mausoleum at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, California. Landon’s headstone reads, “He seized life with joy. He gave to life generously. He leaves a legacy of love and laughter.” His son Mark’s remains were also interred there upon his death in May 2009.

Legacy

A community building at Malibu’s Bluffs Park was named “The Michael Landon Center” following the actor’s death.

Landon’s son, Michael Jr., produced a memorial special, Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love, featuring the actor’s family, friends and co-stars: Bonanza co-star David Canary said that one word that described Landon was “fearless” in his dealings with network brass. Melissa Gilbert, who played his daughter on Little House said that the actor made her feel “incredibly safe” and that he was “paternal”. Often cited on the special was Landon’s bizarre sense of humor, which included having toads leap from his mouth and dressing as a superhero to visit a pizza parlor.

In 1991, during Landon’s final Tonight Show appearance, Johnny Carson related how the actor took him back to a restaurant the two had dined at previously. Carson had been led to believe he accidentally ran over the owner’s cat in the parking lot during their first visit. When sitting down to eat the second time, Carson discovered that Landon had helped create a fake menu of dinner items featuring cat metaphors.

A made-for-TV movie, Michael Landon, the Father I Knew, co-written and directed by his son Michael, Jr., aired on CBS in May 1999. John Schneider starred in the title role as Michael Landon, with Cheryl Ladd as Lynn Noe, and Joel Berti as Michael Landon, Jr. The biopic detailed, from Landon, Jr’s point of view, the personal emotional trauma he endured during his parents’ divorce, and his father’s premature death. The movie spanned a timeline from the 1960s through the early 1990s.

A plaque and small playground referred to as the “Little Treehouse on the Prairie” was erected in Knights Park, a central park in Landon’s hometown of Collingswood. In 2011, the plaque was removed from the park by the borough and was later given to a local newspaper by an unnamed person. According to the Collingswood, NJ website, the plaque was removed during a fall cleanup with plans to return it to a safer location. The plaque was reinstated next to a bench in a safer location the following summer.

Awards and honors

Year Award / Organization Category / Honor Work Result
1969 Bambi Award TV Series International Bonanza
(shared with Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Pernell Roberts)
Won
1970 Bronze Wrangler Award Fictional Television Drama Bonanza episode: “The Wish”
(shared with director, producer and cast)
Won
1979 Golden Globe Award Best TV Actor – Drama Little House on the Prairie Nominated
1980 Spur Award Best TV Script Little House on the Prairie episode:
“May We Make Them Proud”
Won
1984 Hollywood Walk of Fame Television Star at 1500 N. Vine Street Inducted
1984 Golden Boot Award Significant Contribution to the Western Genre Honored
1991 Youth in Film Award Michael Landon Award Outstanding Contribution to Youth Through Entertainment Honored
1995 Television Hall of Fame Significant Contribution to the Field of Television Honored
1998 National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Western Performers Hall of Fame Inducted
2004 TV Land Award Most Memorable Mane Little House on the Prairie Nominated
2005 TV Guide 50 Sexiest Stars of All Time Ranked #33

マイケル・ランドン(1936年10月31日 – 1991年7月1日)は、アメリカ合衆国を代表する映画監督、俳優、脚本家。テレビドラマの製作者としても評価があり、なかでも主演した代表作『大草原の小さな家』シリーズにおいてのチャールズ・インガルス役で日本でも知られる。

ニューヨーク市クイーンズ区出身。本名ユージン・モーリス・オロウィッツ(Eugene Maurice Orowitz)。

少年時代

両親がともに芸能関係者であった。父イーライ・モーリス・オロウィッツはユダヤの流れをくむ劇場オーナーで、母ペギー・オニールはステージで活躍したダンサー、モデル、シンガー、舞台女優と多彩な経歴を持っていた。ランドンが4歳のときに一家はニュージャージー州のコリングズウッドに引っ越し、保守的なユダヤ教のシナゴーグにおいてバル・ミツワー(ユダヤ教の成人式)を受けている。少年時代のランドンにとっての最大の悩みは、母が自殺未遂を繰り返したことで、家族旅行で海に出かけたときに、母がおぼれて死のうとしたこともあった。そのときはランドンが母を救ったのであるが、助かった後の母は何事もなかったかのように振る舞ったという。こうした過酷な環境で育てられたランドンだが、両親の意にそぐわず本人は軟弱な少年であった。しかし、高校生になるとスポーツに目覚め、やり投の競技で選手として幾つもの大会に出場。奨学金を得て、南カリフォルニア大学に進学した。

俳優デビュー

アスリートとしてキャリアを培っていくかに見えたが、在学中に怪我をわずらい競技生活を断念せざるを得なくなり中退。その後は職を転々とする日々が続いたといわれる。そんななか、演劇に活路を見出しワーナー演劇学校を経て1956年に映画デビュー。翌年からはテレビにも顔を出し始め、次第に人気を得た。1957年『心霊移植人間』に出演。当初はB級作品や低予算で製作されるチープホラーでの出演が続いたが、土臭く、それでいて爽やかなルックスが注目の的となり、最初の当たり役となった西部劇のドラマ『ボナンザ』シリーズの三男ジョー役で一躍1950年代後半を代表する青春アイドル・スターとなった。この作品では、後年、自ら脚本も書き、演出を担当するエピソードも作られるなど、製作サイドでの役割も担うようになった。これが後年の活躍の礎となっていく。

大草原の小さな家

ランドンの生涯の代表作と呼ぶにふさわしい人気テレビシリーズ『大草原の小さな家』は、1974年にスタート。この作品の成功で印象を決定付けた。知的で温かく頼もしい家父長を象徴するインガルス家の大黒柱、チャールズ・インガルス役は、世界中の共感を集め放送が終了してもなお高い評価を獲得しつづけている。世界中かならずどこかで再放送されている番組、とも呼ばれたこの作品は、ランドンは主演を務めるだけでなく、脚本や演出、製作と常に番組の中核にあった。

1980年代、エドワーズ役に扮したヴィクター・フレンチと再びコンビを組み名作として評価が高い『Highway to Heaven(原題)』というドラマで共演。5年間続いたが、この作品はあまりにも『大草原の小さな家』のインガルス役のイメージが濃すぎたため、ランドンの代表作とはならず日本ではあまり知られていない。

しかし、『大草原-』の陰で、コンスタントに主演作を意欲的に発表。1976年には自ら監督、脚本、主演を務めた『孤独のマラソンランナー』が公開。幼少期におねしょをしたという体験談が盛り込まれ、ランドンと同じ境遇にあった主人公の少年が、やがてたくましく成長しオリンピック選手となるまでが感動的に綴られた名作であった。

1983年、異色ラブロマンス・アドベンチャー『カムバック』、1984年、サムの息子事件を題材にした社会派作品『Sam’s Son(原題)』で主演。1990年のヒューマンドラマ『鳩が死ぬ時』に主演、とドラマ・映画双方で活動を続けた。

闘病

1990年代に入り、体調が急速に悪化。検査の結果、膵臓が癌に蝕まれている事を告げられ、1991年にマスコミに正式に公表し、話題となった。自身はあえて抗がん剤に頼らず、自然療法による癌との戦いを宣言。同年7月に55歳で死去。

人物

プライベートでも大がつくほどの子供好きとして知られ、インガルス役のイメージそのままを損なう事は無かったという。3度の結婚歴と6人の子供がおり、そのなかのマイケル・ランドン・Jrは父と同じ俳優となり、かつて父の出世作となった『ボナンザ』の続編『ボナンザ・リターンズ』(1994年)に出演した。『大草原-』の次女ローラ役に扮し、公私共にランドンを慕っていたメリッサ・ギルバートは、自身の息子にマイケルと名づけた。また、ランドンは酒と喫煙とを心から愛するなど、実生活は健康的とは言えなかった。さらに『大草原-』のシーズン7途中にて制作スタッフの女性との不倫関係が発覚、当時受け持っていたCMもすべて降板、当時の妻リンとも離婚し他所への転居を余儀なくされた他、メリッサ・スー・アンダーソンを含めた数名の出演者が『大草原-』シーズン7最終回を持って降板するといった事態に発展した。

また「サウスパーク」では槍玉に挙げられたりもされる。

主要作品

  • ワイルダー・イヤーズ(1956年)
  • 心霊移植人間(1957年)
  • Young Hellions(原題)(1958年)
  • 真昼の欲情(1958年)
  • マラカイボ(1958年)
  • 拳銃に泣くトム・ドーリィ(1959年)
  • レストレス・ガン(1959年)
  • ボナンザ(1959〜1973年)
  • Luke and the Tenderfoot(原題)(1965年)
  • ラブ・ストーリー(1973〜1974年)
  • 大草原の小さな家(1974〜1982年)
  • 孤独のマラソンランナー(1976年)
  • キリング・ストーン(※脚本)(1978年)
  • 新・大草原の小さな家(1982〜1984年)
  • カムバック(1983年)
  • Sam’s Son(原題)(1983年)
  • Highway to Heaven(原題)(1984〜1989年)
  • ハイスクール・オリンピック/天才バンザイ(1985年)
  • 鳩が死ぬ時(1990年)
  • Us(1991年)

セルフドキュメント映像

  • Idols(原題)(1991年)
  • Brilliant But Cancelled(原題)(2002年)

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