Michael Landon was a beloved staple on small screens everywhere. But the actor rarely ever appeared on the film side of things. In fact, after “Bonanza” ended, Landon starred in only one feature film before his death in 1991.
Before he appeared on the long-running western, Landon appeared in a couple of films. His last one before joining that show was “The Legend of Tom Dooley” in 1959. In that film, the actor played the title character Tom Dooley, a Confederate soldier turned outlaw and murderer.
His next big-screen appearance wouldn’t be until “Sam’s Son” in 1984. That film wasn’t even originally intended for theaters. Landon directed and wrote the film as a television movie. But the film ended up receiving a limited release in theaters, marking his first big-screen release in decades and also his last.
Also, Landon only had a bit cameo role in the film as Gene Orman. Instead, the film starred Eli Wallach, who is best known for starring in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” opposite Clint Eastwood. Landon’s role bookends the film, which is the coming of age story about a future Hollywood director.
Michael Landon Starred in Three TV Shows
The most likely reason that Landon never much explored a film career is that he was incredibly busy. The actor starred in not one, not two, but three back-to-back long running TV series. It didn’t leave much room for Landon to try for a career in movies. But Landon quickly became one of TV’s most famous leading men.
The actor first gained national prominence on the hit series “Bonanza” in 1959. For 428 episodes, Landon played Joseph ‘Little Joe’ Cartwright. The show explored the adventures of the Cartwright family in the Old West and the challenges that they faced. A year after “Bonanza” ended, Landon joined “Little House on the Prairie” in what would be his most iconic role. He played Charles Ingalls, the patriarch of the family, for eight seasons.
Landon also lent his expertise behind the camera as well, directing several episodes of the shows he starred in. When Landon said goodbye to the Ingalls clan, he quickly hopped aboard “Highway to Heaven” as Jonathan Smith. That show lasted up until 1989.
Less than two years later, Landon died from an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. “Highway to Heaven” ended up being the actor’s last on-screen role as a result.