MICHAEL LANDON BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY:
Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936 in Forest Hills, Queens, New York. Landon’s father, Eli, was a movie theater manager and actor, while his mother, Peggy, was a comedienne, dancer, and actress. In 1941, when he was four years old, the family relocated to Collingswood, New Jersey. In high school, Landon excelled at athletics, setting a national high school record for his javelin throwing. This earned him a scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he injured ligaments in his arm. This ended his athletic career, and caused him to drop out of college after his freshman year.
To make money, Landon worked several odd jobs. Then, however, his friend asked him to help him audition for the Warner Bros. acting school. He got in, but his friend didn’t. Deciding Eugene Orowitz was no name for an actor, he looked in a Los Angeles phonebook and adopted his surname of Michael Landon.
He then began landing multiple acting roles, making a name for himself in Hollywood. He was cast as an actor in NBC’s “Bonanza” (1959-73) in 1959, and during the last five years of his involvement in the show, he was given the opportunity to direct some of the episodes. Thus began Landon’s career as a director.
In 1973 he directed an episode of “Love Story”, and in 1974 he directed two television films: “The Jackie Robinson Story”, which depicted the life of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and “It’s Good to Be Alive”, a story about former Brooklyn Dodger catcher Roy Campanella, whose career was cut short when an auto accident left him without use of his legs. In 1974 the director also landed an acting job in his second successful television series: “Little House on the Prairie” (1974-83). However, this time he directed nearly half of all the episodes he appeared in. The NBC was a huge hit, taken from a 1935 book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and emphasizing family values and relationships. It earned several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
While working on “Little House on the Prairie”, Landon found directorial jobs on a number of television efforts. He made the TV movie “The Loneliest Runner” (1976), about a fourteen year old bed wetter who must run home every day before his classmates can see the wet bed sheet his mother hangs out to punish him. The film was based on his own childhood. Next he directed the television films “Killing Stone” (1978), which followed a man who is released from prison after serving ten years for a crime he didn’t commit, “Little House Years” (1979), a Little House on the Prairie picture set during Thanksgiving, and “Where Have All the Children Gone” (1980), a TV special featuring many big names like Bob Hope, Bill Cosby, Johnny Cash, Carol Burnett and Ron Howard.
In 1981 the director worked on two episodes of his western television drama “Father Murphy” starring Merlin Olsen. In 1984 Landon directed the last episode of Little House, which was turned into a TV movie called “Little House: The Last Farewell”. In the same year he also directed his first motion picture, “Sam’s Son” (1984), a coming of age film that was loosely based on his early life. Landon additionally embarked on his third long-running television series: “Highway to Heaven” (1984-89) co-starring Victor French, a fantasy/drama show that focused on an angel whose purpose was to help save peoples’ live and work for God. He directed 94 of its 111 episodes.
After the cancellation of NBC’s “Highway to Heaven”, Landon worked on the sentimental TV movie “Where Pigeons Go to Die” (1990), then moved to CBS to direct a two hour pilot titled “Us” (1991). Sadly, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in April caused the police drama to never air past its pilot. Michael Landon’s health quickly diminished, and he died from the cancer on July 1, 1991 in Malibu, California. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, both for his contributions to television.
1990 Where Pigeons Go to Die
1984 Highway to Heaven
1984 Sam's Son
1984 Little House: The Last Farewell
1981 Father Murphy
1980 Where Have All the Children Gone
1979 Little House Years
1978 Killing Stone
1976 The Loneliest Runner
1974 It's Good to Be Alive
1974 Little House on the Prairie
1974 The Jackie Robinson Story
1973 Love Story