D.O.B.: October 31, 1936
D.O.D.: July 1, 1991
Cause of Death: Cancer
Location: Hillside Memorial; Mausoleum, outside/rear, private room
Michael and Evelyn's parents, Eli Orowitz, a Jew and Peggy O'Neill, an Irish Catholic made life miserable for each other and their children. In a 1987 Redbook interview with Toni Reinhold, Michael said of his father, "I loved my father because I learned a lot from him. He never disciplined me, and he only hit me once. He didn't even want to hit me then, but my mother goaded him into it. He didn't know how to hit me-by the time it happened, I was a half-foot taller than he was-so he slapped me with the back of his hand.
A ring he was wearing cut my lip, and I started to bleed. It didn't bother me, but my father started to cry and left the room. I was really glad it happened because it was the first time my father showed any emotion." When asked what his mother was like, Michael replied, "She was a stabber, a kicker and a wacko. She was off her rocker. She was very abusive. My mother would sit on the sofa in her nightgown-she always wore her nightgown when she was upset-holding a Bible, asking God to kill me. My mother was sad-she never got better and she always kept me a little off balance. I could do all the bad things-fail a grade, skip school for weeks-and she wouldn't say a word. But If I drank milk out of a bottle, she'd dropkick me all over the kitchen."
Life at home was brutal and their was no respite for the Orowitz children in the town of Collingswood, N. J. Michael's sister, Victoria King (Evelyn changed her name when the family moved to Hollywood), related this to me about life at home and in Collingswood, "The original mayor of the town had written in his will that there would never be any 'Jews', or 'Negroes' or any other minority living in Collingswood. My father knew about that, but he liked the house and it was convenient for his work so he sent my mother in to talk to the real estate agent. My mother had blonde hair and blue eyes. My father told her to ask almost immediately where the Catholic Church was! They naturally assumed we were Gentile. The children constantly called us 'Christ Killers' and when I would ride my bike to school they would say 'kick her off her Jew bike'. I got so bruised that I walked to school for the next year. My brother was only 4 years old when we moved there, but when he started school, he would come home with bruises and my mother asked him what happened. He said, "they called me a lousy Jew". She said to him, "Oh, no, you're not a Jew-your father is a Jew-I had you and your sister secretly baptized." Even though my brother and I were being discriminated against, we were being taught bigotry at home."
Michael was offered a scholarship from UCLA for his expertise with the javelin. He was on his way to what he thought would be a successful career in sports. His family were already in the process of moving to California and his father, Eli Orowitz, who had been the head of RKO publicity in New York headed out to California looking for a new job but as Michael said in a 1962 TV Guide interview, "He ended carrying film cans up five flights of stairs to a projection room in a crummy downtown Los Angeles theater. He had come to the West Coast looking for good fortune, believing that everyone here would remember what he had done for them [back in New York]. The problem was that he couldn't get anybody at the studios to talk to him. He couldn't even get on the lot." This is where a young Eugene felt that his father had lost control and that he [Michael] would be in charge of his own destiny.
After tearing a ligament in his arm, while throwing the javelin, Eugene's days at UCLA were numbered, UCLA's loss was Hollywood's gain. After an assortment of odd jobs and the acting bug bit, Eugene Orowitz became Michael Landon.
Westerns were at the height of their popularity in the 50's (39 at the time that Bonanza appeared) and Michael Landon had been in a string of shows, mostly westerns, before appearing on Bonanza in 1959. I first saw him on a 1/2 hour show with veteran movie actor, Robert Ryan. Ryan played the part of a rough and tough 'platoon sergeant' and Michael was the young soldier who had been labeled a 'coward' by his peers. Michael was out to prove them all wrong and prove them wrong he did! Proving himself would be the main theme throughout his career and began with his portrayal of 'Little Joe Cartwright'.
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