Michael Landon, the Father I Knew

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Michael Landon, the Father I Knew
Michael Landon the Father I Knew.jpg
Title screen
Written byLinda Bergman
Story byMichael Landon Jr.
Linda Bergman
Directed byMichael Landon Jr.
StarringJohn Schneider
Cheryl Ladd
Joel Berti
Trever O'Brien
Shawn Pyfrom
Sarah Lancaster
J. Kenneth Campbell
Julie Condra
Theme music composerRichard Bellis
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Mark Bacino
Allen Epstein
Jim Green
Producer(s)Linda Bergman
CinematographyMichael Slovis
Editor(s)Peter Svab
Running time89 minutes
Production company(s)Green/Epstein Productions
Original networkCBS
Original releaseMay 23, 1999

Michael Landon, the Father I Knew is a 1999 American made-for-television biographical drama film directed by Michael Landon Jr. documenting his privileged, but often troubled, childhood as the son of beloved television actor, writer and director, Michael Landon. The film stars John Schneider as Michael Landon, Cheryl Ladd as his second wife Lynn Noe Landon, and Joel Berti, Trever O'Brien and Shawn Pyfrom sharing the role of their eldest son, Michael Landon Jr. throughout his childhood years. The film originally premiered on CBS on May 23, 1999.[1][2][3][4]


The film opens with Michael Landon Jr. as a child (Shawn Pyfrom) living a comfortable and happy life with his family; his father, Bonanza star Michael Landon (John Schneider), his mother, Lynn Noe Landon (Cheryl Ladd), and his elder sister, Leslie Landon (Rachel Duncan). Michael Sr. is a compassionate and loving father who dotes on his children and, when Lynn announces a new baby is on the way, the family moves to a larger house in the San Fernando Valley.

As the family grows and life begins to change, Michael Sr. becomes dissatisfied with his career and home life and his desire to fulfil his own needs begins to take precedence over those of his wife and children. Soon, a now teenage Michael Jr. (Trever O'Brien) and the rest of the Landon family learn that Michael Sr. has begun an extra-marital romance with Little House on the Prairie make-up artist, Cindy (Julie Condra), prompting Michael Sr. to eventually divorce Lynn and marry the younger woman.

Feeling rejected as a result of the distant relationship that develops over time as their father begins a new family with Cindy, a now young adult Michael Jr. (Joel Berti) begins to struggle in his college classes and turns to alcohol, while his sister Leslie (Sarah Lancaster) develops bulimia, believing that her estranged father might take more of an interest in her if she were thinner.

After dropping out of school and overcoming his alcohol dependency, Michael Jr. eventually meets his future wife while working on the set of Highway to Heaven and the young couple are soon married. However, the newlyweds' happiness is short-lived when Michael Jr. learns that his father has been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. In one of their final conversations, Michael Sr. discloses the truth of his own unstable childhood, which may have been part of the reason for his irrational behaviour and turbulent family life as an adult.



Michael Landon Jr. has stated that the film is based on a combination of his own experiences growing up and the last interview his father gave which was published in the June 1991 issue of Life magazine shortly before his death. In February 2005, Landon Jr. explained how the screenplay was conceived, saying "The movie was centered around the divorce, and that was my main reason for making the film. I basically used the guidelines my father had set in his Life magazine article, the last interview he gave before he died. The movie put things in perspective from my point of view — the affair, his drinking, everything in the Life article. I went by the parameters set by my father in that article, and I was not going to disrespect those parameters. The only difference was that it was exploring what I was going through, and my brothers and sisters were going through."[1]


The film received mixed reviews, with some critics detecting an element of retribution in Landon Jr.'s screenplay. Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker gave the film a C+ writing, "[L]ove starved, Michael Landon Jr. harbors little affection for one of TV's most beloved stars. Where the public saw the elder Landon as a cocky-but-concerned family man, Junior recalls a workaholic who neglected the kids of his multiple marriages in favor of a succession of ever-younger wives. [...] As therapy for its creator, The Father I Knew is probably healing; as drama for us, it's congealing. But the movie is also so excessive — in its abject emotionalism, its dime-store psychologizing, its casting — that this version of Daddy Dearest exerts a certain undeniable pull."[2]

People magazine critic Terry Kelleher felt similarly, writing "There's talk of forgiving and moving on in the last stages of this TV movie. But its director, Michael Landon Jr., seems more intent on making sure the world knows that his famous father (who died of cancer in 1991) was a hypocrite. No matter how well-founded the son's grievances, his film memoir feels vindictive as well as heavy-handed. [...] The story ends on a note of reconciliation, but the dominant chord is one of resentment. Bottom Line: Honesty is fine, but this smacks of getting even with Dad."[3]

Variety critic Stuart Levine felt the film did a good job of chronicling the elder Landon's emotional phases, writing "Michael Landon, who starred in wholesome family dramas throughout his five-decade television career before his death in 1991, didn't always find that warmth in his own home, as illustrated in CBS' thoughtful, if somewhat predictable, "Michael Landon, the Father I Knew." John Schneider does a solid job of capturing Landon's life as an actor, father and often-confused husband, but it's helmer Michael Landon Jr.'s memories of a loving but then suddenly distanced parent that make for a touching story."[4]


  1. ^ a b Mark Moring (February 22, 2005). "'He Was My Everything'". Christianity Today.
  2. ^ a b Ken Tucker (May 21, 1999). "'Michael Landon, the Father I knew' Review". Entertainment Weekly.
  3. ^ a b Terry Kelleher (May 24, 1999). "Picks and Pans Review: 'Michael Landon, the Father I Knew'". People.
  4. ^ a b Stuart Levine (May 20, 1999). "'Michael Landon, the Father I Knew' - TV Reviews". Variety.

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