Michael Landon had a very successful career on television, especially with “Bonanza.” But outward appearances would hide his shyness.
Even believing Landon, who died of pancreatic cancer on July 1, 1991, could be shy seems a bit against the script. He was known for being rather boisterous about, well, scripts and camera settings on “Bonanza.” Yet “Bonanza” producer and longtime friend Kent McCray said in a 2016 interview with Jeremy Roberts that, indeed, Landon “was a very shy person.”
“When he was growing up in New Jersey, he had a very sad home life,” McCray said. “He would go out and play by himself in the surrounding, wooded areas.
“He’d make up stories that he was this person or that person,” he said. “He lived in a fantasy world of his own. Those experiences fast-forwarded to what he became.”
‘Bonanza’ Star Would Not Entertain People At Parties
McCray said Landon would never get up in front of a crowd, say at a birthday party, and entertain them
“When you were at his house, you were his guest,” McCray said. “He was never ‘on’ as an actor. He was very down-to-earth and very loving and caring for people. And Mike didn’t particularly care for any gifts. I don’t think there was ever any exchange.”
There was a situation, McCray recalled, where Landon pulled off a rather unique surprise for both him and McCray’s wife, Susan. Their birthdays were a week apart, hers on June 14 and his on June 7.
“One time, Michael delivered two life-size dolls dressed as me and Susan,” he said. “I don’t know how he obtained pictures of us but he must have taken them to somebody for design and modeling purposes. I still have those dolls. He was one of the best. They don’t make them like that anymore.”
McCray died on June 3, 2018, at 89 years old.
Landon Recalled Seeing Lorne Greene Last Time Before Greene’s Death
There was a moment where Michael Landon met his “Bonanza” costar Lorne Greene one final time before Greene died on Sept. 11, 1987.
“He was Ben Cartwright to the end,” Landon said according to an Associated Press obituary for Greene. “He was ready with no complaints.”
Greene played the patriarch of the Cartwright family on NBC’s hit Western “Bonanza.” Landon, though, said Greene was unable to speak when they last met in the hospital.
“I took his hand in mine and held it,” Landon said. “He looked at me and then slowly started to arm wrestle like we used to and he broke into a smile and nodded and everything was OK. I think he wanted me to know everything was OK.”
Obviously, both Landon and Greene played integral roles in “Bonanza.” Landon, as “Little Joe” Cartwright, stayed with the show along with Greene from its premiere in 1959 through its cancellation on NBC in 1973. Fans around the world remain connected with the Western through reruns.