“Little House on the Prairie” star Michael Landon was a formidable person. His co-stars looked up to him. Hollywood executives listened to him. He even reportedly earned the nickname “the Jesus of Malibu.”
Landon Inspired Admiration in His ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Co-Stars
“I could hardly take my eyes off him,” Gilbert wrote. “I’d never seen a man in person who was built like him. He was an upside-down triangle, thick and muscular, and tough beyond my imagination.”
Landon did all kinds of things to add to his masculine image. He was a chain smoker, and he was constantly smoking on the set of “Little House on the Prairie.”
“On our first day of shooting, we were out in the snow and he was giving us direction when he took his cigarette and stubbed it out in the palm of his glove,” Gilbert recalled. “I wanted to run over to my mom and say, ‘Did you see that?’ He did that all the time. Then he took out the tobacco, sprinkled it on the ground, and put the filter in his jacket pocket, where over the course of the day he’d build up a fair collection, which he threw out later.”
“I’d never seen such a macho man,” Gilbert added. “He was like James Bond—or Batman.”
The Actor Picked His Showbiz Name from a Telephone Book
Landon grew up as Eugene Orowitz in Queens, New York. He did not get into acting until he left school at the University of Southern California after his freshman year.
The actor had his major break when a friend asked him to help with an acting audition, according to Biography.com. Landon got the call back instead of his friend. At that point, he became Michael Landon, having found the name in a telephone book.
Within four months, Landon had a starring role in the show “Telephone Time.” Soon thereafter, he landed a role in the film “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” in 1957. By 1959, he was playing Little Joe Cartwright in “Bonanza,” which would go on to become a hit TV show.
After that show ended in 1973, Landon starred in “Little House on the Prairie.” He was a major part of the creative decision-making process on “Prairie,” which lasted until 1983.