Michael Landon Jr. struggled to fill his father's shoes in Bonanza: The Return
"I really had to become my own person."
Michael Landon Jr. had some serious cowboy boots to fill when he was brought on to play the son of the role his father originated, Little Joe Cartwright, in Bonanza: The Return. Landon Jr. spoke to The Oshkosh Northwestern in an interview and said of the experience, “I’m hoping certain qualities came across that kind of remind you of my father.” Landon Jr., who had previously acted with his father on Little House on the Prairie, was no stranger to the screen but still acknowledged that his father’s fame wouldn’t guarantee he’d be a star.
He said, “One of the main realizations is that any child of a movie star that has been as successful as my father is, I might just be an ordinary guy who’s going to live an ordinary life. It’s not easy.” However, Landon Jr. explained that, ironically, he needed to shed his father’s image and find himself before he could successfully play Little Joe Cartwright. “I really had to become my own person.”
Landon Jr. also described his relationship with his father, which had its ups and downs as any father-son relationship would. At fifteen, Landon Jr.’s parents divorced, which had a profound effect on the young boy. He said, “When he [Landon] left, I was confused and hurt, all of the above.” But with time, Landon Jr. explained that his opinion shifted. “You don’t come to realize until later in life how painful it is for that person, because he knew what he was doing to his wife and children.”
As an adult, however, Landon Jr. had nothing but good things to say about his father. “He was the best dad in the entire world, take away all the fame and fortune. I’m talking about the bare essence of what a dad is all about.”
Still, Landon Jr. understood that his journey as an actor was one that is personal to him, not his father. He concluded, “It’s not because I want to follow in his footsteps. It’s because it’s what I love and want to do.”