What ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Alum Melissa Sue Anderson Said About Michael Landon Going Public With Cancer Diagnosis

Michael Landon cast Melissa Sue Anderson to play Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Though Anderson left the historical drama in 1981, she formed a solid relationship with Landon over their years together on the show. Landon shared his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 1991, and Anderson noted there may have been some good that resulted from his announcement.

Michael Landon and Melissa Sue Anderson of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Michael Landon and Melissa Sue Anderson of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | Ted Shepherd/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Melissa Sue Anderson often sought guidance from Michael Landon

After hitting stardom on Bonanza, Landon created Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Taking on the lead role as Charles Ingalls, Landon also served as executive producer and frequent director and writer on the NBC series. Anderson related to his ambition and often counted on Landon for words of wisdom.

“Over the years, even as an adult, I went for advice from him,” she told HollywoodChicago.com in 2010. “I think I reminded him of himself when he started out, even though I was much younger than he when he did Bonanza. We both wanted to learn so much.”

Landon died from pancreatic cancer in July 1991 but shared his diagnosis with the public when he received the news. Anderson saw the outpouring of support from fans he received as a silver lining in a somber situation.

“It might have been one of the first times a celebrity came out so publicly with an illness,” she commented. “And it just was unfortunate that he only survived three months. I think he did it because he knew he had to. He didn’t want to be found out by the press, because maybe he thought it would have been worse. It was fortunate in a sense that he got to see how much he meant to people.”

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Sue Anderson Said Michael Landon’s Comment on Her Emmy Nomination ‘Stopped Me in My Tracks’

Michael Landon had a difficult childhood

In her memoir, Anderson revealed that Landon had sides to his personality that were challenging. She pointed out that his abusive upbringing most likely caused some of those more difficult traits.

He was controlling,” Anderson wrote in her 2010 memoir, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House. “He grew up in an environment fraught with anxiety and cruelty. … I directly attribute this behavior to the way he grew up. I certainly don’t think anyone comes out of a childhood like that unscathed and without serious trauma to the psyche.”

The Little House alum emphasized that Landon was a caring and loving person who she could count on, despite any shortcomings.

“Having said all of this, I must say that [Landon] was just like the rest of us – flawed,” Anderson shared. “He was a huge television star with huge insecurities, and underneath it all, a huge heart. Mike Landon, the regular guy, was great. I loved him. He looked out for me when I was growing up … he was always there with a shoulder to lean on, if I needed one.”

Melissa Sue Anderson and Michael Landon of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Sue Anderson and Michael Landon of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | Bruce Birmelin/NBCU Photo Bank

‘Little House’ wouldn’t have aired without Michael Landon, according to Melissa Sue Anderson

Though Little House was a hit during its nine-season run, Anderson doesn’t think the family-friendly drama would be well-received today.

Little House would never make it now,” she said. “It was too slow. … I think our show was a quieter and more slowly paced drama, and I don’t know if people would sit through it now.”

She added that without Landon, Little House wouldn’t have a chance on today’s airwaves and probably wouldn’t have been on the small screen at all if not for him.

“That show would never have sold if it wasn’t for Mike Landon,” Anderson remarked..

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Sue Anderson Reveals Why She Left the Show: ‘I Just Couldn’t Take it Anymore’