Several things struck me immediately about Michael Landon, the actor, the writer, the director, the person. First, he had come by his spurs honestly, moseying through guest appearances on Wanted Dead or Alive, Jim Bowie, Tales of Wells Fargo, Cheyenne, The Rifleman, The Texan, Tombstone Territory and several other TV Oaters—all this before being cast as “Little Joe” and after playing the Kingston Trio’s favorite Confederate soldier, “Tom Dooley”, in his second movie role.
So, Eugene Maurice Orowitz set off to pay his dues in the Wild West before settling into his 14-year run as Joe Cartwright. Legend has it he chose the name, Michael Landon, out of a Los Angeles phone book when he began his acting career in the 1957 cult classic, I Was a Teenage Werewolf. In an era where network television was inundated with Westerns, Michael persevered, matured and eventually outgrew the TV saddle, becoming one of the most popular and innovative stars ever to appear on television. In 1959 there were 32 Westerns running in network prime time, and the professional mortality rate for the actors was astounding. Lead players in prime time Westerns like Sugarfoot’s Will Hutchins, Wagon Train’s Robert Horton, Bronco’s Ty Hardin, The Deputy’s Allan Case who played alongside Henry Fonda, and a host of others found little work of consequence after their cowboy days. These were good actors, but success as a TV cowboy didn’t always translate into a long career.
Cast as the youngest Cartwright, he could have easily disappeared as another teen heartthrob with limited appeal. However, Michael both wrote and directed numerous episodes of Bonanza, produced and directed dozens of episodes of……………..