“Bonanza” star Michael Landon was nothing if not a perfectionist. He was a perfectionist as an actor, as a screenwriter and as a director. And when other people were writing or directing, he was a perfectionist about their work, too.
Michael Landon Was a Show Stopper
In fact, Landon often held up the production process quibbling about other people’s work, according to Bonanza: A Viewer’s Guide to the TV Legend by David R. Greenland.
Producer David Dotort recalled that Landon would stop the show constantly. Dotort ultimately had to resort to an intermediary to try to move the process along.
“It got bad because Landon developed very quickly as a good director,” Dotort told Greenland. “Then, as an actor, he began to criticize what he thought were errors being made by other ‘Bonanza’ directors. They’d come to me and say, ‘We spend most of our time arguing.’”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all. Landon also got nitpicky about scripts.
“It was the same with Mike Landon, the writer,” Dotort said. “He’d challenge nearly everyline, every scene, every setup in other writers’ scripts. Everything would halt for endless story conferences on the set, and I finally had to use Dan Blocker as an intermediary to say, ‘Let’s get on with the damned thing.’ It got increasingly bitter toward the end.”
Those who worked with Landon on set remember him as a very sweet guy, but stubborn and impulsive at times.
However, difficult as Landon could sometimes be, Greenland believes it was perfectionism, not ego, that was driving him to such lengths. Joe Cartwright was seldom at the center of his scripts. And his screenwriting was very considerate to the show’s director of photography, Ted Voigtlander, who taught Landon cinematography.
Landon’s Life After ‘Bonanza’
After “Bonanza,” Landon appeared in “Little House on the Prairie” as Charles Ingalls, then “Highway to Heaven” as Jonathan Smith.
He also starred in the pilot of a two-hour movie titled “Us” in 1991. But that same year, doctors diagnosed him with the pancreatic cancer that would kill him that July.
Years after Landon’s death, speculation has arisen over the location of the “Little House on the Prairie” set. Filming took place just 15 miles away from the Santa Susana Nuclear Laboratory, per People magazine.
Subsequent studies concluded that the nuclear laboratory, which was the location of the worst radioactive disaster in U.S. history, was behind the 2,000 cancer-related deaths of local residents.
But forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Hunter said there was no scientific evidence linking Landon’s pancreatic cancer to Santa Susana.
Whatever the cause of the pancreatic cancer that killed him, Landon battled it forcefully and with good humor. In his final appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” Landon joked around and said he “fe[lt] pretty darn good.”
Two months later, he died at home in Malibu with his third wife, Cindy, by his side.