Conversation: Michael Landon, Jr.
Fathering his own little house
Michael Landon Jr., son of the late television legend Michael Landon, is carving out his own place in the entertainment industry. He has produced, directed and written screenplays for Fox, CBS, NBC, Disney, TriStar, Cinar and Hallmark. His recent films, Love Comes Softly and Love's Enduring Promise, based on Janette Oke's Christian novels, are the highest rated movies in the history of the Hallmark Channel. Landon directed three 2007 releases: The Last Sin Eater, based on the book by Francine Rivers; The Redemption of Sarah Cain, inspired by a Beverly Lewis novel; and the classic children's story The Velveteen Rabbit. An outspoken Christian, Landon lives in Utah with his wife, Sharee, and their three children, ages 8, 12 and 15. He recently talked with Staff Writer Christina Quick about work, family, faith and his famous dad.
tpe: What kind of relationship did you have with your father?
LANDON: In my early years, I had a wonderful relationship with him. He lived a good life in the sense that he had strong moral convictions and a strong work ethic. He cared for his family and didn't involve himself in a lot of the Hollywood scene. He was a very affectionate man with a gentle heart. He also used discipline when it was necessary to keep us on track.
tpe: What are some of the best memories you have of him?
LANDON: He was physically strong, and he was a handsome man. Yet there was another side to him in terms of his tenderness toward me that I was very grateful for. We were not afraid to kiss or hug. That's one of the things I remember most fondly about my father. I think some men are afraid to be affectionate toward their sons. I was appreciative of his affection, and I'm the same with my son.
Dad had a great sense of humor too. He was one of the best storytellers I've ever been around, and he was also a prankster. You never knew what he was going to do. He would walk up and introduce himself and a frog would jump out of his mouth.
tpe: He put a real frog in his mouth?
LANDON: Oh yeah, several times. He'd do almost anything for a laugh. One time in Hawaii he put a crab in his mouth. He only did that once though. It got hold of his tongue with its little pincer and wouldn't let go. We all thought it was pretty funny.
tpe: In what ways are you carrying on your father's legacy in the entertainment industry?
LANDON: I'm very proud of my father's work, especially how it affected other people's lives. I believe Little House on the Prairie is my father's best and most effective work. Every time you're able to bring a family together and some part of them is touched in a positive way, you have an opportunity to help them connect with one another and with their Creator. That's what I want to do versus the other side of entertainment, which makes a mockery of things that should be cherished and held sacred.
tpe: What appealed to you about The Last Sin Eater?
LANDON: One of the first things that drew me to the story was this bizarre ritual that existed in early Appalachian culture where a male was chosen from the community to be removed and become the sin eater. This historical backdrop was coupled with Francine Rivers' way of telling the story and naturally weaving in elements of faith in ways that feel very real. It introduces the whole question of who can take away our sins. Central to the story is the idea that we can be free from this burden of our own sin we all have to deal with.
tpe: You've experienced that in a personal way?
LANDON: Yes, when I was 15 years old my dad had an affair and my parents separated and divorced. That sent my life into a downward spiral. My foundation was ripped from underneath me, and like many teenagers, I went into a state of rebellion. Years later, I was coaxed by my mother to go to church. Just to appease her, I went. I couldn't tell you what the pastor said that day, but it spoke to my heart. When I was 19 years old, I finally surrendered my life to Christ.
tpe: What difference did that make in your life?
LANDON: It's definitely a process. I started getting rid of vices and was being healed of wounds. The anger I was carrying disappeared. I felt God's forgiveness for the things I had done in my life, sins I had committed. God gave me the strength to forgive others who had hurt me. He gave me direction, purpose and meaning.
tpe: How did your dad's affair affect your family?
LANDON: It devastated our entire family. It doesn't matter if you're Michael Landon or the person next door; it's brutal and painful. An affair is a direct betrayal of your spouse and the vows you made together. It was a difficult time for us.
tpe: How does that experience influence the way you interact with your own wife and children?
LANDON: Cherishing my wife and loving her and being respectful to her are important to me. I never want to allow something to happen that would destroy my family. I guard my marriage.
I believe God makes divorce painful for a reason. It's a constant reminder for me. If there's any temptation, I remind myself of the pain that was caused by my father's affair. I never want to do that to my wife or children.
Of course, I also wouldn't want to ruin my Christian testimony. We're all going to do things we regret. I just want to minimize the mistakes as much as possible.
tpe: Are people who have had difficult childhood experiences doomed to struggle with relationships later in life?
LANDON: I definitely don't think so. First, you need healing in your own life. I really don't think there is any answer but Christ. There are quick fixes out there, but at the end of the day these are issues that are so deep inside of us that I do believe — just as The Last Sin Eater portrays — only God can fix those things and get us back on our feet. So the relationship with God has to be taken care of first. All the other relationships can come after that.
tpe: How does your faith influence the way you approach your job?
LANDON: In my line of business, where you're dealing with ideas, what I allow myself to say or not say is directed by my worldview. Because I believe art does have a profound effect on people, I never want to go against my worldview. It's always intent before content. What's the intention of the artist? I have to look at that first.
tpe: How fulfilling has filmmaking been for you?
LANDON: This is a tough business. It's very competitive. I've been at this for over 20 years. I feel extremely blessed just to be working. There are a lot of talented people out there struggling just to get a movie made. I made a little film called Love Comes Softly for Hallmark, and it took me over 10 years to get that made. When you do get an opportunity to do something that touches people's hearts, that's the part that is so rewarding.
tpe: Is there a place in today's entertainment industry for more family-friendly fare?
LANDON: There are those who believe there is an underserved market out there, and they are willing to try to enter it. Some are obviously going to enter the marketplace for financial gain, while others are sincere. The industry is looking for films with strong spiritual themes for the first time since the 1950s when Hollywood used to make movies like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments.
tpe: Would you make a movie you wouldn't allow your children to watch?
LANDON: I would. There are worthwhile films that aren't suitable for children. The Passion of the Christ is a perfect example. Sometimes Christians have a way of wanting to water down the message. When I read my Bible it's not G-rated. There's violence and lust.
For me, it always goes back to intent first. It's hard to judge the content of a film because that can be subjective. You have to look at the intended message.
Parents need to be more vigilant about what they allow their children to see because the intent behind a lot of entertainment is not good.
tpe: What's the biggest challenge for men like you who are balancing a demanding career with family obligations?
LANDON: It's very stressful out there for husbands and fathers. The amount of things the world is telling us we should acquire to have a happy home life and meet the needs of our wives and children is so high, many people can't keep up. I think we've gotten too materialistic as a society. At some point we have to break away from the lie that you need to have this and own that. We need to simplify life so we can enjoy it.
tpe: What do you want your children to remember about you after they leave home?
LANDON: That I loved God and loved their mother more than anyone else, and that I did everything to protect them and to love them as best as I possibly could. There will be nothing but regrets for the people I see who are putting in 60- and 70-hour work weeks. I don't want to be that guy.
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