‘Bonanza’ Producer David Dortort Opened Up About Helping Michael Landon Write Scripts, ‘Worst Speller in the World’

by John Jamison

In an interview with the Archive of American Television, “Bonanza” producer David Dortort talked about how his star Michael Landon approached him about writing scripts.

An accomplished screenwriter and producer, Dortort knew what it took to make a hit show. His role in creating “Bonanza” speaks to this fact. That said, a writer/producer would be nothing without a few stars to carry the show and keep the audience coming back. As Little Joe Cartwright on “Bonanza,” Michael Landon became a massive star and helped turn the show into one of the most-watched ever.

Success like this comes with all kinds of opportunities. Michael Landon used his success to take a shot at writing. He went to David Dortort and told him he had an idea for a script.

“He is one of my stars of the number one show in the world, right? So I have no knowledge of whether he can write or how skilled he is or anything,” said Dortort. “He asked me would I read something if he wrote it. I said of course, Michael, of course I’d read it.”

Landon handed him a script a few weeks later. It was 28 pages and intended for an hour-long show. The general rule is roughly 60 pages for a show that length. When Dortort pointed this out to Michael Landon, the actor said, “you write the rest.” The producer told Landon he had to write the script himself if he wanted to be a writer.

Michael Landon Couldn’t Spell

Dortort said that Michael Landon was “one of the worst spellers in the world.” The producer sat down with Landon and walked him through every word. Then they moved on to address the “terrible, horrible mistakes in grammar.”

While the way he describes Landon’s writing seems harsh, Dortort explains that he was patient with Landon. He understood that the actor came from a “dysfunctional family and he bore the scars of that.”

Despite his problems with spelling and grammar, Michael Landon impressively went on to be a credited writer on a handful of “Bonanza” episodes and was even allowed to write a few of his own. Landon has other writing credits on shows like “Little House on the Prairie” as well.

You can watch “Bonanza” producer David Dortort talk about Michael Landon below.