Alison Arngrim rose to fame when Michael Landon recruited her to play nasty Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Working closely with Landon during her seven seasons on the historical drama, Arngrim learned there were many contrasting sides to her boss and co-star.
Michael Landon had a difficult childhood
In her memoir, Arngrim shared how Landon’s own upbringing was very different from the home front he represented on Little House. His character Charles Ingalls was the epitome of a loving husband and father, though he never experienced parental gentleness as a child.
“Charles and Caroline Ingalls (played by Karen Grassle) represented for all of America the ultimate perfect parents, and their brood had the happiest of childhoods,” Arngrim wrote in her book, Confessions of a Prairie B****. “Yet Michael’s own childhood had been utterly miserable.”
Arngrim revealed that Landon’s mother, who was a self-declared Christian, was abusive. She was often at odds with Landon’s father, who was Jewish, on what religion they should raise their son to practice.
“Little House was one of the most religious – and most specifically Christian – shows ever on television,” Arngrim noted. “Yet Michael was Jewish and had grown up in a home filled with religious conflict, including ugly battles over how he was to be raised.”
‘Little House’ star’s personal life was different from Charles Ingalls
While Charles Ingalls was the walking definition of morality and faithfulness, Arngrim pointed out that Landon’s own marital history was spotty.
“Michael Landon was one of the biggest walking bundles of contradictions I have ever met,” the Little House alum revealed. “He was a ‘family man’ and talked endlessly about Lynn, his second wife, and his children, to whom he seemed utterly devoted. He had divorced his first wife, with whom he also had children, when he got caught having an affair on the set of Bonanza with Lynn (she was working as an extra and a stand-in).”
History repeated itself on the set of Little House when Landon fell for a stand-in on the NBC series. His actions often seemed in sharp contrast to the traditional persona Landon projected off-camera.
“He went on to divorce Lynn for Cindy (a Little House stand-in…) when Lynn caught them at it,” Arngrim wrote. “I can’t imagine what must have gone through her mind then, after having gotten her start the same way.”
Alison Arngrim called Michael Landon ‘driven’ and ‘intense’
The former Little House star was quick to share her respect and love for her previous boss and co-star, yet realized that Landon’s strong personality was not for everyone.
“I loved him and loved every minute of working with him,” Arngrim remarked. “But I have to think that being around someone that driven, that focused, that, well, just plain intense, on a regular, day-to-day basis would be enough to drive most people completely out of their minds. Michael was like Charles Ingalls. Except when he wasn’t.”
Regardless of his flaws, Landon made a great impact on Arngrim’s life and she was grateful for her time working with the actor.
“Everyone always asks if Michael was like a father to me, if he loved me,” she wrote. “I have no idea if he loved me, but he went one better as far as I’m concerned. He respected me.”