Bonanza fans, did you hear about the time Michael Landon was nearly assassinated? That rumor, without benefit of the internet or social media, made the rounds more than a half century ago.
And the story stuck around, much to the chagrin of Landon, who was in the middle of his run as “Little Joe” Cartwright on Bonanza. This was circa 1967. Landon was 30 years old and one of the hottest TV stars in the country.
It all started in 1967, when Bonanza made Landon so popular he needed to hire a press agent. So that’s why he brought in Jay Bernstein. And then Bernstein shared a story with a reporter about a parade in small-town Michigan. The site MeTV.com pieced together the details.
Here’s what happened. Landon was in a parade in Benton Harbor, Mich. Someone threw a rock towards the car Landon was riding in. Nobody saw who threw the rock and it didn’t hurt anyone. When he got back to California, Bernstein asked him about the trip. Landon relayed the benign story about how someone threw a rock.
Agent for Bonanza Star Hyped a Benign Story
But that was the genesis of the assassination story. Bernstein said he told the story to a Michigan columnist. He told the News Paladium:
“In my aggressiveness to find a ‘hook’ to point out the fact that he had been on the road for a month, I called a local gossip columnist, telling him that while in Michigan in a parade, a rock was thrown from a window at Mike’s car, with no one being hurt. “
Then, a columnist for Screenland magazine reported: “It’s been kept hush, hush, but an attempt may have been made to kill actor Michael Landon on his personal appearance tour for the Bonanza series. As Landon was being driven through a town in Michigan a huge rock was dropped from a building. The rock narrowly missed Landon’s head, but there were no injuries.”
The story was repeated. Another fan magazine reported that the rock hit the Bonanza star was hit in the head and that his wife was in danger, too. The gossip columnist who wrote one of the first stories and got it so wrong never printed a retraction.
Michael Landon thought the rock incident was a harmless prank and not worth amplifying. But he finally had to clear it up. He said he was embarrassed and looked “like a jackass.”
“I am just someone who is trying to do my job to the best of my ability without hurting anybody,” the Bonanza star said. “And, to my knowledge, I have never exploited any situation in my entire life.”
Landon stuck with Bonanza until the show was cancelled in 1973. A year later, he starred in the beloved series Little House on the Prairie.