Michael Landon was one of the greatest TV stars of all time. Known for his iconic roles on the classic NBC TV shows Little House on the Prairie (Charles Ingalls) and Bonanza (Little Joe Cartwright), he is still widely beloved among his long-time fans even decades after his death. But did you know that his son, Michael Landon Jr, has been active behind the scenes as an executive producer? A skillset he most likely inherited from his father who was also known for his producing and directing skills.
Growing up in Los Angeles, California, Landon Jr, one of five children Landon welcomed with second wife Marjorie Lynn Noe, essentially grew up on the set of Little House. As a result, he was quite close with the actresses playing Mary and Laura Ingalls he explained to the Globe and Mail.
"When we had school breaks and they were filming, my sister and I would always go to the set and we were very close with Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson and all the kids. It was a 100-acre backyard in Simi Valley where we would play tag, hide and seek, and hunt for snakes."
He added that it was quite common for Michael Landon to have some interesting pranks up his sleeve to entertain everyone on set.
"My father was a prankster. And he was fearless in terms of putting things in his mouth. So there might be a guest who would show up to the set and [my father] would put a small frog or something in his mouth, a lizard, and then he would go shake their hand and open his mouth and freak them out."
Though you might assume that the charismatic Landon was a high-profile star on the Hollywood scene, his son explained that it was quite the opposite. He loved being home with his family.
"My father was not interested in the Hollywood scene. He had no friends that he hung out with from the film business. He was very much at home with us, didn't go to Hollywood parties. The only thing that was not normal obviously is when you're in public and everybody wants to meet your father, shake his hand [and] get an autograph. But otherwise, it was actually quite a normal upbringing."
Little House ended up being so much more to Landon Jr than just a part of his childhood. The show actually served as inspiration for his hit TV series on the Hallmark Channel, When Calls The Heart. The show came about as a result of a successful Hallmark TV movie, also produced by Landon Jr.
"I had quite a bit of success with Janette Oke and her other bestselling series of novels called Love Comes Softly and when that movie aired for the Hallmark Channel it became the highest-rated movie on the channel by 40 percent," he explained.
"Then when I did the sequel for them [Love's Enduring Promise], it became the highest-rated movie in the history of the channel."
Though Landon Jr's brother Christopher pursued the horror/thriller genre of film, Landon Jr just really loved recreating what he grew up watching his father in. Feel-good family stories set in the old frontier.
"I grew up on Little House on the Prairie, my favorite of my father's work, and it has a very special place in my heart. So being able to do the kind of programming that I grew up on that basically has become extinct in the film and television world was exciting for me. So with that much success, I then pursued Janette Oke's second best-selling series of books, which is When Calls the Heart."
Landon Jr is currently also working on the When Calls The Heart spinoff series, When Hope Calls, and is known for his producing work on other TV films including The Last Sin Eater (which he also wrote), Saving Sarah Cain, and Deep in the Heart. He's shown off his writing skills on various projects as well -- Bonanza: The Return, Love's Long Journey, Love's Abiding Joy, Love's Unfolding Dream, and Michael Landon, the Father I Knew.
The filmmaker wouldn't be a Landon if he didn't experiment with acting in front of the camera right? Landon Jr has only appeared in a few projects over the years, mostly in the Bonanza universe -- Bonanza: The Next Generation, Bonanza: The Return, Bonanza: Under Attack, and served as the host for Back to Bonanza.