Audiences may have just not recognized him. Landon acted as actor DeForest Kelly’s stunt double on the set of the western. Kelly played a guest role as Slate Prell during the 1959 “Rawhide” episode “Incident at Barker Springs” and needed a double for a fight scene. Kelly and the “Rawhide” gang recruited Landon for the part. The actor was just starting out on the popular western “Bonanza.”
It turns out that most of the “Bonanza” cast left their own set to watch Landon film the episode’s climactic fight scene.
“We disrupted the ‘Bonanza’ set. Lorne [Greene] and everybody came over to watch Michael [Landon] do a fight scene on my set,” late “Rawhide” producer A.C. Lyles once told the Television Academy Foundation. “Which they didn’t allow him to do on his set. It ruined their filming. And DeForest was watching it. And Michael did a great job. They put on the most – it was hell bringing. I thought Michael was going to get killed. It was great. It turned out well.”
Michael Landon and ‘Rawhide’
Landon’s stunt work ended up being one and done. But the producer always cherished the fight scene they managed to produce on “Rawhide.” Prior to his death, Lyles had a picture of Landon dressed in Kelly’s character’s wardrobe.
“There’s a picture of me with Michael Landon with DeForest Kelly’s wardrobe on,” Lyles continued. “Where he has his elbows all padded and everything. That’s because he was doing [the fight].”
Landon would play the part of Little Joe Cartwright on “Bonanza” for a total of 14 seasons. The show ended up being one of the longest of Landon’s career and his most substantial western. Landon quickly became a star on the set of the western, even though he was in many ways just starting out prior. By the time “Bonanza” ended, Landon had become a household name.
The actor wound up following his role with a lead on “Little House on the Prairie,” which pushed his fame to even greater heights. As a result, Landon never felt the need to continue his stunt work past the “Rawhide” episode. But his behind-the-scenes work proved the actor was really to duke it out and get rough if the part called for it.