“Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie” star Michael Landon was comfortable in front of the camera. So comfortable, in fact, that he went on Johnny Carson’s show and enlisted the studio audience’s help in getting Carson to play tennis with him.
In Landon’s “Tonight Show” appearance, he and Carson bickered like an old couple about whether and when to play tennis.
“Many of you out there have known, over the last few years, that I have begged and cajoled and done everything I can do to get over to Johnny Carson’s house to play tennis,” Landon began. “And the last time I was on the show, John said to me, ‘Let’s do it.’ … I haven’t been there yet, guys.”
“I lost your number,” Carson said.
‘Bonanza’ Star Really Wanted to Play Tennis With Johnny Carson
Landon accused Carson of forgetting their entire earlier conversation. Carson countered that he thought Landon was just coming over to be nice and didn’t really want to play tennis with him.
Then Landon pointed out that the one time Carson had asked him over, Landon had been working on “Little House on the Prairie.” He went on to imply that his job was tougher than Carson’s.
Carson joked, “Do you want me to talk to somebody about that?” But Landon was relentless. He pressed Carson to make a commitment to him in front of the show’s entire audience.
Next the “Bonanza” star learned that Carson had lights on his tennis court. He seized the opening: “How about tonight?”
“I do have an engagement tonight,” Carson said, to disappointed boos from the audience. Landon frowned disapprovingly. Carson quickly added that he could prove it.
“Could I just go to your house and be there when you get home?” Landon pressed.
Finally, the two agreed to play that Sunday at Carson’s house. But they weren’t done bickering. The next dispute was who had won their last game.
Watch Landon and Carson go at it here:
Landon’s Final Appearance on Carson’s Show Was Poignant
In his final appearance on Johnny Carson’s show, Landon was full of wisecracks and funny stories.
The May 9, 1991 appearance followed Landon’s April 8 diagnosis of inoperable cancer of the pancreas and liver. Landon died in July of 1991 at age 54.
“Didn’t do a h— of a lot of good to call the press conference, though,” the “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie” star said of the press conference that he held at his Malibu home after receiving his diagnosis, an attempt to head off rumormongering by the tabloids. “Did you see all the stuff that came out after that? I mean, it’s amazing.”
Landon added that, contrary to the rumors, he was happy with his nine children and wasn’t trying for a tenth. He and Carson went on to discuss a range of subjects, from wacky cures that people had suggested to Landon, to a prank that Landon had pulled on Carson, to Landon’s outrage at the tabloids, which he called a cancer on society.
But Landon ultimately had the last laugh, with those tabloid headlines disappearing from public memory and his work on “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie” standing the test of time.