The Life & Times of Michael Landon

by Brittany Rouse

Throughout his life, Michael Landon worked as an actor, producer, director and screenwriter. While he is best known for his television roles on the shows "Bonanza" and "Little House on the Prairie," he also had a tumultuous personal life with three wives, eight children and one stepchild. Landon passed away on July 1, 1991, just months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Basic Facts

Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz in Forest Hills, New York, on Oct. 31, 1936. His parents, Peggy and Eli Orowitz, raised their son and daughter, Evelyn, in Collingswood, New Jersey. According to the Star Pulse website, Michael excelled as a high school athlete before becoming an actor. He received a college scholarship for javelin throwing, but an injury during his freshman year ended his athletic career. Michael first started acting when he auditioned for the Warner Brothers acting school.

Early Years

Throughout his early career, Michael attended classes at the Warner Brothers school and worked as a door-to-door salesman, selling blankets. Michael married his first wife, Dodie Levy-Fraser, in 1956. Around this time he also changed his name from Eugene Maurice Orowitz to Michael Landon. He appeared in films such as "God's Little Acre" and "I Was a Teenage Werewolf."

Film and TV Career Highlights

Michael's first television role as a series regular started in 1959 with the show "Bonanza." The show was set during the Civil War on the Ponderosa Ranch in Virginia City, Nevada. Michael played the role of Little Joe, the youngest of the three children of Ben Cartwright, played by Lorne Greene. The show lasted for 14 seasons; Michael got his start as a writer and director with some of the "Bonanza" episodes. He later created the television show "Little House on the Prairie," based on the book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That show ran from 1974 to 1983 and was set in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Michael also starred in a show he created called "Highway to Heaven" from 1984 to 1989. According to the Bonanza website, Michael based the show on his favorite movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."

Early Family Life

Michael's father died of a heart attack early in his career. According to the Bonanza website, Michael remained estranged from both his mother and sister for most of his adult life. During his time on "Bonanza," Michael began secretly dating co-star Marjorie Lynn Noe and later married her in 1963 after his divorce from Dodie. According to the TV Guide website, Michael adopted two children with Dodie and had four children with Marjorie Lynn and later adopted her daughter, Cheryl.

Late Family Life

According to the Bonanza website, after 19 years of marriage with Marjorie, Michael met Cindy Clerico, a 23-year-old stand-in actress on "Little House on the Prairie." Though she was half his age, Michael and Cindy had a very public affair that led to a nasty divorce from Marjorie. Michael and Cindy married in 1983 and had two children. Michael was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 1991, and later passed away on July 1, 1991. Michael and Cindy's daughter, Jennifer, became an actress. She is most known for her role on "As the World Turns," for which she won three Daytime Emmy awards.

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