Michael Landon, You Disappointed Me

Actors are celebrities, not saints

Baby-Boomers watched the debut of Bonanza on September 12, 1959, and the nation was immediately hooked. Young people endured the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday night, starting at 8 p.m. while eagerly anticipating Bonanza at 9 p.m. I was 10 years old at the time. Young girls of all ages fantasized about heartthrob Michael Landon, who played Little Joe Cartwright in the series. Bonanza ended in January of 1973 after the sudden death of Dan Blocker, who played the lovable Hoss, but that wasn’t the last we saw of handsome Michael Landon.

Little House on the Prairie

Luckily for Boomers everywhere, Michael Landon came back in 1974 handsome as ever, starring as Pa Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. Pa was the father everyone wished they’d had: morally impeccable, loving, encouraging, a strong protective man, a strong belief in God, the leader of the family, making wife and children feel secure.

Pa was a fantasy, and new generations are buying into the fantasy through reruns of the show.

Michael Landon, At First I Didn’t Believe It

Sometime during the 1980s, a colleague returned to work after a long weekend and shared this story: She had gone to Sonora, in Northern California, on a digging expedition with a group from her geology class. The group went to lunch at a tavern one afternoon. Standing at the bar was Michael Landon with a blonde 19-year-old hanging all over him.

I didn’t believe it. He had a wife and four kids. I had seen him on talk shows, more than once, saying how much he loved his wife. Besides, Pa Ingalls wouldn’t do such a thing. But as it turned out, it was true, and he soon left his wife and four kids, married the 19-year-old, and started a new family.

Abandoning His Children

I recently watched a movie written and directed by Michael Landon, Jr. called A Father’s Son. It details that time in his life when Michael Sr. abandoned his family.

Told from the point of view of Michael Landon, Jr. and his sister Leslie, the movie's beginning shows the two of them looking out the window of an upstairs bedroom anxiously awaiting their father's arrival home from work. Once he arrives, they charge down the stairs screaming with glee and greet him at the door. They all exchange hugs and kisses. The love between father and children is obvious. Michael was that fairy-tale father that every child wants and needs.

As the movie progresses, two more children are born and when the youngest is four years old. Michael leaves for younger pastures. Michael Jr. and Leslie are devastated. Their father no longer comes home after work, and they only see him on weekends. They feel abandoned. They are abandoned.

Troubling Times

The tension between the two oldest children and their father is high. Michael Sr. is enjoying his new wife and new children, oblivious to the fact that he’s the father of two troubled teens. Michael Jr. deals with the pain of his father leaving, by hiding behind drugs. Leslie becomes bulimic, thinking that her father will love her again if she loses weight. Her thinking stems from some thoughtless comments that Michael made about her eating too much.


I write this not as a movie review but as insight into what divorce and abandonment do to children. Perhaps, if Michael could have seen the world through his children's eyes, he would have made better choices.

I felt the pain of his children when their father vanished from their lives. I also loved my father. I anxiously waited for him to arrive home from work. When I saw his car pull into the driveway, I would fly out the door, leap into his arms to receive hugs and kisses. My father died when I was nine years old. Although I, too, experienced the loss of a father, I never lived with abandonment feelings.

Michael Sr. did not run off because his marriage was troubled. He ran off because he was bored, work was stressful, and he no longer found the fulfillment in it that he once did. These are things that everyone experiences on their journey through life. The solution isn’t to change partners. The solution is to work through them with the partner you have, thereby preserving the family — the greatest gift you have.

Michael Landon You Disappointed Me

I thought you were Little Joe. I thought you were Pa Ingles. I thought you were a hero. I thought you were a saint. Now, I find out you were only human—such a disappointment.

A free spirit, visual artist, writer, animal lover, introvert and independent woman.

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