Michael Landon wore a lot of hats on the set of classic drama Little House on the Prairie. Landon directed, produced, and wrote many episodes. He also, of course, starred on the series as family patriarch Charles Ingalls.
The former Bonanza star ran a tight ship, according to many of the show’s former cast members. One actor recalled Landon’s fury becoming unleashed after an incident with chewing gum on the show’s set.
Michael Landon treated the child actors on set as equals
With most of the cast made up of child actors, Michael Landon had to figure out how to manage working with children and young adults. His strategy? Treat them just like any other actor, according to Nellie Oleson actor Alison Arngrim.
“Everyone always asks me if Michael [Landon] was like a father to me, if he loved me,” Arngrim wrote in her 2010 memoir, Confessions of a Prairie B*tch. “I have no idea if he loved me, but he went one better as far as I’m concerned. He respected me.”
Arngrim credited Landon with instilling a sense of responsibility and accomplishment in the young cast, saying, “If you’re never asked to meet a standard, nothing’s ever your fault, but then nothing’s ever to your credit, either. This was never the case for any child actor [on the show]. And I do believe we owe that to Michael.”
The appearance of chewing gum on the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ set
Arngrim recalled that “one of the ADs, a man who insisted on being called ‘Uncle Miles’” began bringing gum and candy to the set.
He would hand it out as a reward for the young talent, saying “‘Okay, boys and girls; now, if everybody’s good today, Uncle Miles will give you gum!’
“I was a bit old for this,” Arngrim continued. “I also thought it was kind of lame, if not downright creepy.”
Landon brought the hammer down on rewarding child actors
The showrunner, according to Arngrim, was “not amused” with the gum-for-good-behavior campaign.
Landon, who died in 1991 of pancreatic cancer, reportedly said to Uncle Miles, “Gum if you’re good? They don’t need gum. They’re here to do a job like everyone else. They’re getting paid, they can go to the store and buy their own damn gum! They don’t need to be given gum if they’re good. If they’re not good, they’re fired.”
And with that, the gum giveaway was ended.
The Nellie Oleson actor wrote of her gratitude for Landon’s reaction.
“I thought it was one of the greatest things Michael ever said,” she wrote.
“He didn’t want us treated as if we were stupid or worse, like trained animals performing for treats. We were to be treated as thinking human beings, as actors, equal to anyone else on the set and just as accountable for our actions.”
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