Michael Landon is best known for his portrayal of Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. Many fans would agree he was the heart and soul of the long-running series. However, there was a time when Landon was missing from an episode during season 1. Here’s why the late actor wasn’t there.
Michael Landon wore many hats on the set of ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Landon was an executive producer, writer, and actor on Little House on the Prairie. His former co-star, Karen Grassle, acknowledges how tough it must have been for Landon to balance everything at once. “Somehow Mike was able to play both his part as Pa and direct,” marveled Grassle in her book Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma.
Why Michael Landon was missing from a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ episode
Grassle says Landon worked hard to produce each episode of Little House on the Prairie. She says he seemed to be able to “run on fumes.” However, Landon reached a point where he couldn’t run on fumes any longer. He didn’t appear in Little House on the Prairie Season 1 Episode 12 (titled “The Award”).
Grassle says before the episode was filmed, the show’s producer, John Hawkins, called her. She knew something was wrong because Hawkins never called her. After taking the call, Grassle learned Landon was in the hospital, and the next episode would have to be rewritten. When she asked what was wrong with him, she found out Landon had spinal meningitis.
Grassle had to take on the lead role in the episode. The revised script pages were sent to her, and she had to learn new lines and be ready to film by the next morning. The absence of Landon’s character, Charles Ingalls, was addressed briefly. The revised script explains Charles is away working in Mankato, Minnesota.
Michael Landon’s career after ‘Little House on the Prairie’
After Little House on the Prairie ended, Landon produced and starred in Highway to Heaven alongside Victor French, who appeared in Bonanza and Little House. Landon preferred to hire cast and crew members who worked with him on other shows. He felt an obligation to keep his staff employed. He wanted nothing more than for his loyal workers to earn a stable income. Highway to Heaven turned out to be another success. The show aired on NBC from 1984 to 1989.
The following year, Landon produced and appeared in Where Pigeons Go to Die. Tom Ito, author of Conversations with Michael Landon, says he saw Landon’s boyish side come out during the production of this film. Landon liked to invite some of the crew members to hang out with him after work while he edited. He would tell jokes and stories while doing his work. Ito compared Landon to a “shyly affectionate kid.”