CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Michael Landon’s Early Years

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936 in Forest Hills, a neighborhood of Queens, New York.

He was placed under a tremendous amount of stress as a youth. His mother suffered from deep emotional problems and frequently attempted suicide, with Michael as the lone person there to try to save her. Because of the stress, Landon had issues with excessive vomiting and bedwetting. According to an unauthorized biography, Michael Landon: His Triumph and Tragedy, his mother would often hand the stained sheets outside on their front porch, and Michael would have to run home to try to remove them before his friends would see it.

Landon excelled at track and field, earning a college athletic scholarship before a torn shoulder ended his experience at the University of Southern California. He turned his attention towards acting and worked at a gas station to pay his bills. While working there, he came across a talent agent. He decided to change his name and found his nom de plume in the phone book.

1957 was a big year for Landon. After getting a job as an off-screen voice actor, he quickly received offers to be the lead on both a television show (Telephone Time: The Mystery of Casper Hauser), and a film, I Was A Teenage Werewolf. In the same year, he recorded singles that were issued because of Landon’s success in the movie. More of his songs were released a few years later as part of a Bonanza soundtrack.

Michael was kept busy the next two years appearing in various films and TV guest spots. In 1959 at the age of 22, he landed the role of Little Joe Cartwright as part of an ensemble cast on the long-running western Bonanza.

The show and Landon’s popularity gained momentum throughout the 1960s. The program finished several years rated as the number one television show in the Nielsen Ratings, and Landon wrote and directed a number of episodes during its run.

In 1972, he penned what was planned as a two-part episode that would see his longtime television brother, Hoss, played by the gregarious Dan Blocker. However, Blocker died unexpectedly just weeks before the new season was set to start filming.

Bonanza never recovered from the loss of its popular cast member, and the program’s ratings slowly declined throughout its final season. Upon its cancellation, Landon was asked to write and direct an ambitious new romantic anthology series, Love Story for NBC.

However, that show never found an audience. At 37, the one time heartthrob who hada near 20-year run of successes in films, television and in song, found himself out of work.

But a man by the name of Ed Friendly had an idea, and wanted Landon to play a major role in it.

We’ll examine the second half of Michael’s career–one filled with more triumphs…and tragedies…next week, here at The Showplace.

In the meantime, tune in for Michael Landon’s breakout role on Bonanza this Sunday at 9:00 a.m. on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN-TV check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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