‘Bonanza’: Michael Landon’s Intense Smoking Habit Led to Unique On-Set Nickname

by Joe Rutland

Michael Landon is known from NBC’s hit western “Bonanza” as “Little Joe” Cartwright. His off-screen habit earned him an on-set nickname.

Landon developed a serious smoking habit, getting up to four packs of unfiltered cigarettes per day in his body by 1961. It led to set workers for “Bonanza” calling him “Socks.” Why? Because they said that he smoked so much that his socks even smelled of cigarette smoke, according to IMDB.

Yep, he definitely was a serious smoker. Landon reportedly kept it up for many years until quitting in 1989.

Now after “Bonanza” finished its run, Michael Landon continued to find TV series success in “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway to Heaven.”

By autumn 1990, though, he started showing symptoms of having pancreatic cancer. On July 1, 1991, Landon died at age 54.

Michael Landon Stopped Production With Perfectionism

Another trait that Michael Landon had that drove “Bonanza” production people crazy was his perfectionist tendencies.

He was a perfectionist as an actor, screenwriter, and director. When other people were writing or directing, he was a perfectionist about their work, too.

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 constantly stopped the show. Dotort ultimately had to resort to an intermediary to try to move the process along.

Landon Spends Time Criticizing Other Directors’ Errors

“It got bad because Landon developed very quickly as a good director,” Dotort said. “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.'”

Those who worked with Landon on set, though, remember him as a very sweet guy but stubborn and impulsive at times.

Difficult as Landon could sometimes be, Greenland believes it was perfectionism, not ego, that pushed him to such lengths. Joe Cartwright was seldom at the center of his scripts.

His screenwriting was very considerate to the show’s director of photography, Ted Voigtlander, who taught Landon cinematography.