Eugene Michael Orowitz (1936 - 1991) MP

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Birthdate:
Death: Died
Occupation: Actor
Managed by: Stacey Carol Lewis
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

    • Dodie
      ex-wife
    • Josh Frasier
      son
    • Marjorie Lynn
      ex-wife
    • Cheryl
      daughter
    • Leslie Ann
      daughter
    • Michael
      son
    • Shawna
      daughter
    • Christopher Beau
      son
    • Cindy
      wife
    • Jennifer Rachel
      daughter
    • Sean Matthew
      son

About Eugene Michael Orowitz

With a career that spanned three decades, Michael Landon is widely known for his roles as Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza (1959–1973), Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie (1974–1983), and Jonathan Smith in Highway to Heaven (1984–1989). His twenty-eight years of full-hour television acting surpasses that of TV legends Lucille Ball and James Arness. He has appeared on the cover of TV Guide twenty-two times, second only to Lucille Ball (TV Guide, July 6, 1991). For his contribution to the television industry, Michael Landon was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 N. Vine Street.

He was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936 in Forest Hills, a neighborhood of Queens, New York. Landon's father, Eli Maurice Orowitz, was a Jewish American actor and movie theater manager, and his mother, Peggy O'Neill, was an Irish American Catholic dancer and comedienne. Landon was Orowitz' second child; his sister, Evelyn, was born three years earlier. In 1941, he and his family moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Collingswood, New Jersey, where he attended and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue, in Haddon Heights, an area that did not allow Jews until after World War II. His family recalls that Landon "went through a lot of hassle studying for the big event, which included bicycling to a nearby town every day to learn how to read Hebrew and do the chanting." He later attended Collingswood High School.

Landon spent most of his childhood keeping to himself, reading comic books and taking long walks alone. The actor later told Redbook magazine in 1987 that he wasn't popular in elementary school because he was a conscientious, straight-A student. He tried to change that in high school by focusing on sports rather than academics, and he became a champion javelin thrower. He set a national high school record in javelin-hurling with a toss of 211 feet, 7 inches, but he graduated second from last in a class of 301.

Landon's track performance more than compensated for his dismal academics, bringing him an athletic scholarship from USC. In his freshman year, however, he lost 50 feet off his best record. He then injured ligaments in his arm by trying to make up his shortened distance. His athletic career at an end, Orowitz left USC at the end of his freshman year.

To make ends meet, the college dropout sold blankets, worked as a stock boy, and unloaded freight cars at a warehouse. But Orowitz's big break came soon enough, when a friend asked for his help in an acting audition. Orowitz landed a place in the acting school instead of his friend, and changed his name to Michael Landon after finding the name in a phone book. Four months later, Landon was cast in a starring TV role in the show Telephone Time.

After appearing in small roles in television Westerns and drama series including Playhouse 90, he made his film debut in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), which became a cult hit. He then endeared himself to audiences as Little Joe in the television western series, Bonanza (1959–73), which became the No. 1 show on television from 1964 to 1967. Along with Lorne Greene, Landon appeared in all 14 seasons of the western.

The year after Bonanza was canceled, Landon went on to star as Charles Ingalls in the pilot of what would become another successful television series, Little House on the Prairie (1974–83) based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's book series, again for NBC. The show was taken from a 1935 book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose character in the show was played by eight-year-old actress Melissa Gilbert. In addition to Gilbert, two other unknown actresses also starred on the show: Melissa Sue Anderson who appeared as Mary Ingalls, the oldest daughter in the Ingalls family, and Karen Grassle as Charles's wife, Caroline. Landon served as executive producer, writer, and director of Little House. The show, a success in its first season, emphasized family values and relationships. Little House became Landon's second-longest running series. The show was nominated for several Emmy and Golden Globe awards. After eight seasons, Little House was retooled by NBC in 1982 as Little House: A New Beginning, which focused on the Wilder family and the Walnut Grove community. Though Landon remained the show's executive producer, director and writer, A New Beginning did not feature Charles and Caroline Ingalls. A New Beginning was actually the final chapter of Little House, as the series ended in 1983. The following year, three made-for-television movies followed.

After the cancelation of Little House, Landon went on the produce, write, direct and star in Highway to Heaven (1984–8). He portrayed Jonathan Smith, a probationary angel whose job was to help people in order to earn his wings. His co-star on the show was best friend Victor French (who had previously co-starred on Landon's Little House on the Prairie) as ex-cop Mark Gordon. NBC didn't feel the show would last very long, but it proved to be another hit for Landon. This was also the first religious fantasy drama series, starting a specialized sub genre which included later shows such as Touched By An Angel. Though Landon liked directing and writing more than acting, he continued to act because actors were paid more, and his top-billing enticed network executives to buy his series. Highway to Heaven was the only show throughout his long career in television that he owned outright.

Landon was loyal to many of his Bonanza associates including producer Kent McCray, director William F. Claxton, and composer David Rose, who remained with him throughout Bonanza as well as Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

Up through the run of Highway to Heaven, all of Landon's television programs were broadcast on NBC. However, after the cancellation of Highway, he moved to CBS and in 1991 starred in a two hour pilot called Us. Us was meant to be another series for Landon, but with his diagnosis on April 5 of pancreatic cancer, the show never aired beyond the pilot. He had just completed the pilot for Us before his sudden death from cancer on July 1, 1991.

PERSONAL LIFE

Landon was married three times, and the father of nine children.

Dodie Levy-Fraser (married March 1956/Landon filed for divorce in March 1962 - divorce finalized in December 1962)

  • Mark Fraser Landon, born October 1, 1948 (adopted, Dodie's biological son), died May 11, 2009
  • Josh Fraser Landon, born February 11, 1960 (adopted as infant)

Lynn Noe (married January 12, 1963/divorced 1982)

  • Cheryl Lynn Landon, born November 16, 1953, was Lynn's daughter from her first marriage and was nine when her mother and Landon married. Though Landon was unable to legally adopt her, he referred to her as his daughter. Cheryl Landon has a Master's degree in Education and a teaching credential. She has one son.
  • Leslie Ann Landon, born October 11, 1962. She is the biological child of Lynn Noe and her second husband, Mannie Baier. She was legally adopted by Landon. With a Ph.D. in psychology, Leslie Landon is a therapist, specializing in children who have experienced loss. She is married and has four children.
  • Michael Landon Jr., born June 20, 1964
  • Shawna Leigh Landon, born December 4, 1971
  • Christopher Beau Landon, born February 27, 1975

Cindy Clerico (married on February 14, 1983)

  • Jennifer Rachel Landon, born August 29, 1983. Jennifer Landon is a Daytime Emmy-winning actress (now playing Gwen Norbeck Munson on As the World Turns).
  • Sean Matthew Landon, born August 5, 1986

Landon was survived by his third wife, Cindy, a Hollywood makeup artist, whom he married in 1983; five sons, Mark, Josh, Michael Jr., Christopher Beau and Sean, and four daughters, Cheryl, Leslie Ann, Shawna Leigh and Jennifer.

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDB

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Michael Landon's Timeline

1936
October 31, 1936
1948
October 1, 1948
Age 11
1956
March, 1956
Age 19
1962
March, 1962
Age 25
December, 1962
Age 26
1963
January 12, 1963
Age 26