Remembering How ‘Bonanza’ Star Michael Landon Found Fame in a Werewolf Role as Halloween Approaches

by Lauren Boisvert

Gather around guys and ghouls, we’re revisiting I Was a Teenage Werewolf as Halloween creeps closer. America’s favorite little rancher, Michael Landon, originally found fame in the 1957 horror film about a delinquent teenager who goes to a psychiatrist and subsequently turns into a werewolf. He’s got the right to pick a little fight, and he frequently exercises it.

The film follows Tony, played by Michael Landon, as he navigates the trials and tribulations of high school. He fights his classmates; his dad is an alcoholic; his girlfriend’s parents annoy him; he throws milk a lot; he becomes a werewolf. You know, usual teenage things.

Initially, Tony is against going to see the psychiatrist, Dr. Brandon, but his girlfriend Arlene convinces him to. There, the doctor hypnotizes Tony and injects him without his knowledge with a scopolamine mixture that regresses personalities; Tony’s aggressive and violent personality is the perfect test for the mixture. Dr. Brandon claims to his assistant that the only hope for the future is to “hurl [mankind] back to his primitive state.”

As a werewolf, Tony kills several people, including, later, Dr. Brandon and his assistant. Citizens and police alike search for Tony when he disappears into the woods. Eventually, detective Donovan, who has dealt with Tony when he fought at school, shoots the werewolf, not knowing that it’s really Tony. He transforms back into a human boy, and Donovan suspects Dr. Brandon was involved.

Michael Landon was a Household Name After ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’

American International Pictures billed I Was a Teenage Werewolf in tandem with Invasion of the Saucer Men, a science fiction comedy about two teenagers who run over a big-headed alien with their car on accident. The Michael Landon-led film was ultimately the more successful of the two; later, Invasion was remade as Attack of the Eye Creatures in 1967, for no discernable reason other than to shoot it in color.

It was the first film to really explore a teenager turning into a monster; one of four made by American International Pictures in the late 50s. The others included I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Blood of Dracula, and How to Make a Monster.

But, as for Michael Landon, I Was a Teenage Werewolf basically put him on the map. He got the role of Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza just two years later. Landon stayed on the show for its entire 14 season run, from 1959 to 1973. He starred in Little House on the Prairie starting in 1974 as Charles Ingalls, which lasted until 1983. In 1984, Landon went on to play Johnathan Smith on Highway to Heaven.

Michael Landon died in 1991, but his career spanned 35 phenomenal years in film and television, and it all started with the first teenage monster film, I Was a Teenage Werewolf.