‘Little House on the Prairie’: Michael Landon Liked Playing Family Men Because of His Traumatic Childhood

Those who’ve watched Little House on the Prairie are quite familiar with Michael Landon. Landon made a name for himself in Hollywood thanks to a number of successful projects, but he was particularly invested in Little House. And while his character, Charles Ingalls, was a family man doing everything he could to give his wife and kids the best life possible, Landon’s real-life childhood was quite different.

Here’s why Landon liked to play family-oriented men on TV — and it had everything to do with his upbringing.

‘Little House on the Prairie’ star Michael Landon had a difficult home life

Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls on 'Little House on the Prairie'
Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

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Landon certainly didn’t have it easy at home. He was bullied a lot as a child, and his home life with his parents was extra difficult. His mother was in a constant state of depression, and she attempted suicide more than once. The stress of his childhood even caused Landon to wet the bed numerous times as a teen — and his mother would hang the urine-soaked sheets in the window as a way to shame her son, INSP reports.

While Landon had a promising athletic career after high school, he left it all behind after an injury and decided he would pursue the arts. He got into acting and changed his name from Eugene Orowitz to the name we all know him as today, Michael Landon.

Landon’s friend he met on the set of Bonanza, Kent McCray, spoke about Landon’s childhood, too. “Mike was a very shy person,” McCray told Medium. “When he was growing up in New Jersey, he had a very sad home life. He would go out and play by himself in the surrounding, wooded areas.”

Landon liked playing family-oriented men because of his upbringing

Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, and Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls on 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, and Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Due to Landon’s difficult childhood, he loved playing family-oriented men on TV, and he was drawn to wholesome content rather than anything violent or offensive.

“It’s because my family background was so different,” Landon explained in an interview, The Tampa Bay Times reported. “It was filled with religious prejudice, a judgmental upbringing, and lots of silence. My parents went weeks without speaking. I created family relationships where people stay together because they communicate.”

Landon’s desire to play the family man on-screen also translated off of TV. While he married three times, he remained extremely devoted to his nine children, and he stayed close with all of them until his death.

Some members of the cast talked about Landon’s explosive temper

'Little House on the Prairie' cast
‘Little House on the Prairie’ cast | NBCU Photo Bank

Landon had good intentions when it came to his career and acting alongside others. But some reported having difficult experiences working with him. It seems Landon had a temper — and Melissa Gilbert, a fellow Little House on the Prairie star, reported on it.

“One day, as we shot an emotional scene for the episode titled ‘The Gift,’ I sensed his famous temper was about to blow,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “It was my fault. I couldn’t remember my lines.”

After multiple takes of the same scene, Landon reportedly grew more and more frustrated with Gilbert. “Did you not study the scene?” he asked her. Eventually, this led the young Gilbert to start crying — and Landon helped calm her down. But she wasn’t out of the woods yet, as he still scolded her after the crying spell until she reassured him she’d never forget her lines again.

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