Talking about her father, Cheryl Landon said, "I always think of my dad as a little boy who was never quite loved enough, so he went around creating love for others."
Michael Landon will always be cherished for playing the perfect family man onscreen and is still remembered for being the famous Charles Ingalls or "Pa," the father who would do anything for his wife and children on the show, Little House on the Prairie. But the reason he was drawn to family-centric stories was that they were starkly different from what he experienced with his own family growing up.
Landon's eldest daughter, Cheryl Landon Wilson believes that her father could have turned into a "terribly depressed person" because of his childhood trauma, but instead, he "chose to live his life through the power of love."
Born as Eugene Maurice Orowitz, the actor had a tough upbringing and grew up watching his miserable parents constantly fight with each other. Because he was a late bed-wetter, his mother would deliberately embarass him, rather than show any warmth, by putting his wet sheets out to dry for the entire town to see.
"Michael wet the bed," wrote Alison Arngrim in the book Confessions of a Prairie B*tch, according to Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “His mother punished him viciously for this, even though it was a medical problem and not under his control."
"Knowing the school bus pulled up right in front of their house," Landon's mother would leave the dirty sheets outside his bedroom window for everyone to see, which in turn forced a very humiliated and desperate young Landon to start waking up as early as he could "to take the sheets down the street to the local Laundromat and wash them, then get back home without his mother knowing," Arngrim wrote.
Apart from being taunted by his emotionally abusive mother, Landon also witnessed his parents' "ugly battles over how he was to be raised," Arngrim added.
What also greatly affected the actor's childhood was seeing his mother struggle with her mental health as he had witnessed her trying to end her life right in front of him. "She did crazy things all the time. Like, she kept making dramatic attempts to commit suicide," the actor once recalled, as quoted by AP.
"I’m this little boy and I’d walk into the kitchen and find her with her head in the oven and the gas turned on."
On another occasion, his mother ventured out after an argument and walked towards the sea, according to Grunge. When Landon looked outside the window, he saw her going deeper and deeper into the water, and although he didn't know how to swim, Landon ran after her and safely brought her back.
"He had one of the most abused childhoods I've ever heard of. His mother was mentally unstable and often tried to commit suicide in front of him," Landon's daughter, Cheryl told Chicago Tribune as she spoke about her book, I Promised My Dad. "He was a bed-wetter, and she would hang his urine-soaked sheets for everyone to see. But he took the problems and turned them into challenges. His childhood could have made him a terribly depressed person. Instead he chose to live his life through the power of love."
As Landon turned his life around and became successful in showbiz, he became the ideal family-man who may have married thrice but remained a loving father to his children much like the characters he played in front of the camera.
"It’s because my family background was so different," Landon said according to The Tampa Bay Times, as quoted by Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “It was filled with religious prejudice, a judgmental upbringing, and lots of silence. My parents went weeks without speaking. I created family relationships where people stay together because they communicate."
Cheryl, who will always remember her father's "incredible power to love," told Chicago Tribune, "I always think of my dad as a little boy who was never quite loved enough, so he went around creating love for others."
Cover image source: (L) Getty Images | Photo by Keystone Features and (R) Little House on the Prairie/Facebook