“Some folks say that when we dream of a loved one who has passed,” said Melissa Gilbert in a recent Instagram post, “it’s their way of visiting us.” The Little House on the Prairie star shared a heartwarming photo of herself with Michael Landon on the set of Little House. She captioned it, “Dreamt last night that I was back on the set working with this phenomenal man. I’d say that I miss him but I was just with him in my dreams.”
Michael Landon played Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie from 1974 to 1982. Melissa Gilbert played his daughter Laura Ingalls Wilder, a fictionalized version of the author of the Little House books.
In addition, Landon died in 1991 of aggressive pancreatic cancer. He was interred in a private mausoleum in California.
Remembering Michael Landon
Landon became a household name when he starred as Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza from 1959 to 1973. With 431 episodes, it is the second-longest running Western in the U.S., behind Gunsmoke. Set in the 1860s, the show follows the wealthy Cartwright family and is known for “presenting pressing moral dilemmas.” For its time, Bonanza was considered an “atypical Western.” Senior editor for TV Guide Stephen Battaglio said once, “Bonanza was a period drama that attempted to confront contemporary social issues. That was very difficult to do on television.”
Of deciding to pitch Little House on the Prairie, Landon said, “I came home and found my 12-year-old daughter devouring the Laura Ingalls Wilder books…So I went to NBC and told them Little House was it.”
Subsequently, as Charles Ingalls, Michael Landon was the rock at the center of the family. Charles was “wise, funny, loving, compassionate and hardworking,” and his character resonated deeply with viewers. Little House was a lighthearted show at its core, but it dealt heavily with darker, more serious themes. This included “prejudice, faith, poverty, alcoholism, domestic abuse, physical disability, and terminal illness.”
Additionally, Melissa Gilbert was extremely close to the Landon family; she went to school with Landon’s daughter Leslie. It was Leslie who informed Gilbert that she had won the part of Laura Ingalls Wilder. After a falling out with Landon over his affair with Little House makeup artist Cindy Clerico, Gilbert reconnected after Landon went on Johnny Carson with the news of his cancer. Gilbert visited Landon in California, staying by his bedside for an entire afternoon; Michael Landon passed a week after.
Of Landon on Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert has said that he made her “feel safe” and was “paternal.” When she had a son with then-husband Bruce Boxleitner in 1995, they named him in honor of Michael Landon.