According to a cast member, Landon dealt with the pressures on the show by secretly drinking on the set a great deal.
‘Little House on the Prairie’ was everything to Michael Landon
Landon was already a Hollywood veteran when he took on Little House. A regular on Western series Bonanza from the 1950s, the actor wanted this new venture to become as successful.
Melissa Gilbert in her memoir Prairie Tale wrote of the star’s unswerving dedication to his roles on the series, all with the ultimate goal of “creating a family,” Gilbert wrote.
“Many on the crew had worked with him on Bonanza, and some had even been with him before that on other shows,” she wrote. “He inspired loyalty and expected it in return.”
Landon, according to Gilbert, had no favorites and treated everyone on his cast and crews equally.
“He was always Mike,” she wrote. “I was quickly corrected after the first time I called him Mr. Landon. ‘It’s Mike,’ he said. Even though I’d never referred to an adult by his first name, it was Mike from then on.”
How Alison Arngrim discovered Landon’s drinking
In her memoir chronicling her life and years on Little House on the Prairie, actor Alison Arngrim who played the hateful Nellie Oleson on the series described how she accidentally discovered Michael Landon’s drinking habit.
Arngrim noted in her book her love of hiding on the set’s trucks for regular naps. During one such nap, she overheard Landon’s voice and was shocked into full alertness.
“When I heard the voice, I froze,” she wrote. “It was Michael [Landon]. I peeked around the seat to see Michael smiling in his Charles Ingalls boots and suspenders, extending a Styrofoam cup. ‘Hit me.’
“[Crew member] Ron produced a bottle of Wild Turkey. No, not a bottle, a jug. He began to pour. ‘About four fingers,’ instructed Michael, wanting to leave some room for the coffee, I suppose.”
Arngrim went on to say that she realized soon that not only did Landon drink, but that “most of the crew of Little House drank constantly.”
Landon seemed to draw energy from bourbon
Arngrim noted that, while alcohol might slow down anyone else, she noticed it appeared to actually energize Landon. She admitted she was not shocked to discover Landon was drinking on the set because most of the crew did.
Their work ethic was undaunted: “From their performance, you would have thought Coors beer was some kind of miracle drug or performance-enhancing steroid.”
As for Michael Landon, Arngrim wrote: “You would never suspect he’d been swilling Wild Turkey all morning; on the contrary, he was so keyed up and energetic, and had such stamina, you’d think he was on an amphetamine IV.
“He positively bounced off the walls with energy.”