‘Little House on the Prairie’: Why Karen Grassle Called Michael Landon’s Transition Between Marriages ‘Extremely Awkward’

by Joe Rutland

“Little House on the Prairie” star Karen Grassle had a front-row seat to Michael Landon and his off-screen life playing out before her eyes.

“Well, you know Michael was the creative person who made all final decisions on our show,” she said in a January 2004 interview with Dave Lefkowitz for “Dave’s Gone By.” “And if Michael was affected, we were affected. It was, needless to say, extremely awkward when he was falling in love on the set and we knew his wife, you know.

“I mean, that was extremely awkward,” Grassle said. “We were all professionals. Even the children.”

When “Little House on the Prairie” was on NBC, Landon was married to his second wife, Marjorie Noe. In 1983, he would marry Cindy Clerico, who was the makeup artist on “Little House on the Prairie,” as his third wife. Between his first and third marriages, Landon had nine children.

Michael Landon died July 1, 1991, from pancreatic cancer. He appeared in three TV series for NBC. Obviously, there’s “Little House on the Prairie.” Before that show, Landon was “Little Joe” Cartwright on “Bonanza.” Then he appeared in “Highway to Heaven” between 1984-89.

‘Little House on the Prairie’ Actress Said Landon Wasn’t Like ‘Little Joe’

Television viewers already had a connection with Landon through his role on “Bonanza.”

But another one of his costars on his second show had a little inside knowledge about Landon, too. Actress Alison Arngrim said people would be upset to discover the “Little House on the Prairie” leading man wasn’t like “Little Joe” at all.

Arngrim, who plays Nellie Oleson, is asked during a 2013 interview with Tom Gregory if Landon, for instance, was friendly.

“He was,” she said. “He was not Pa Ingalls [Charles Ingalls, his role on “Little House on the Prairie”] at all. I mean this guy had a really wild sense of humor.

“He liked practical jokes, he was very crazy,” Arngrim continued. “[Landon] was very Hollywood. He had his Ferrari, his leather jackets, his sunglasses, cigarette. People would be shocked and [say], ‘That’s not Michael Landon, ‘Little Joe’. Why aren’t you ‘Little Joe’?'”

Arngrim adds that it was amazing to watch the “Little House on the Prairie” star absolutely write scripts on the spot. She recalled seeing Landon run in and out of the makeup room, rapid-firing off ideas for a show. Then Arngrim would head down the hall and find him writing furiously on legal pads.

Landon was the writer, director, and producer of the show. He, as Grassle mentions earlier, has the creative power to make sure things get done. The show is based on the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. They became the basis of this popular TV drama, one that lives on in reruns.