'He Was My Everything'
In many ways, Michael Landon Jr. is following in his famous father's footsteps. He's directing family-friendly TV fare about pioneer life (sometimes even on a prairie!), including his latest film, Love's Enduring Promise, a smash hit on the Hallmark Channel which comes out on video today. It's the follow-up to another Hallmark hit, Love Comes Softly, and the second film based on the popular series of Christian novels by Janette Oke. Both films are warm and filled with life and light, and Landon will be making at least two more movies in the series—to first air on Hallmark, and to be later released to video.
But in other ways, Michael Landon Jr., 40, is nothing like his father. Sure, the elder Landon, who died of cancer in 1991, played characters that American TV audiences grew to know and love—Little Joe on Bonanza, Pa Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, and the angel Jonathan Smith on Highway to Heaven. But away from those impeccable characters, Landon wasn't always the consummate role model. He had an affair with a make-up artist on the set of Little House, which led to a divorce that devastated his wife and his kids—including Michael Jr. The younger Landon, who had worshiped his father, was 15 when this happened. He then went into an emotional and rebellious tailspin for the next four years before becoming a Christian and turning things around.
Today, Michael Landon Jr. is, in many ways, continuing his dad's legacy of being a part of wholesome entertainment. But, married for 18 years and the father of three, he's also bound and determined not to repeat his father's sins. We talked to the younger Landon about his dad, his commitment to his family, and what he's hoping to accomplish with the Love Comes Softly movies.
You've done two films now in the Love Comes Softly series. What attracted you to these stories?
Michael Landon Jr.:Book one was given to me a little over ten years ago. I had a passion for the genre—that 1850s pioneer era—through my father. Little House on the Prairie was by far my favorite of my father's work. The other part of my attraction was Janette's ease of naturally intertwining faith elements into the stories, and another thing that really drew me was Clark's character. He embodied everything I would like to be as a father and husband. It's rare in the movies these days to find a male role model who actually prays to God and lives out his faith.
Now the sequel is out. How would you describe the story of Love's Enduring Promise?
Landon: It is the continuation of Love Comes Softly, centering around Missie ten years later. She's now 18, and this is her love story.
You like the fact faith comes through subtly in these stories, instead of in your face. Why is that important to you?
Landon: In the Christian filmmaking community, sometimes I feel like there's too much manipulation in trying to get their faith element across; sometimes it's a little too heavy handed. I just think if you allow your characters to live out their faith in their lives, that speaks for itself.
Are you planning to do all eight books in the series?
Landon: We're doing two more this spring and summer, shooting them back-to-back. All eight? Hallmark wants to wait and see. If it continues to do well, I think we might finish off all eight.
Was there ever any talk of trying to get these into theaters?
Landon: Not really. It would be a very tough sell. The material lends itself more towards television.