If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s roughly what was going through Michael Landon’s head when he decided to use a premise from his Little Joe days on “Bonanza” for an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” And hey, the stuff he tapped into worked like a charm on both occasions. It doesn’t hurt that both of the episodes were directed by the same guy, either.
In 1970, “Bonanza” had long been dominating television. And the show’s 11th season was no exception. In the season’s 28th episode, titled “A Matter of Circumstance,” Michael Landon’s Little Joe Cartwright is left to watch the Ponderosa on his own. During a storm, he suffers a badly broken arm. He begins to fear that the wound is infected. And he has to decide between fighting off the infection or parting with the arm entirely.
Six years later, a Michael Landon-produced episode of “Little House on the Prairie” featured an eerily similar plot. And for good reason. The former Little Joe Cartwright actor loved the premise so much that he wanted to tell the story again. But this time it would be Karen Grassle’s Caroline Ingalls at the center of attention.
A few of the details were changed. It was her leg instead of her arm, for example. But aside from that, the episodes mirrored each other. Michael Landon even went so far as to honor the original telling by naming the “Little House on the Prairie” episode “A Matter of Faith.”
To really drive home the similarities, both episodes were directed by William F. Claxton. As a result, many of the shots mirrored each other as well.
When the Media Played a Game of Telephone with the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star’s Life
A few years before the “Bonanza” episode in question aired, Michael Landon survived an attempt on his life. And by that, we mean somebody threw a rock at him during a parade. In reality, no one even knows if the rock was intended for him. Even if it were, and it struck true, the “Little House on the Prairie” star probably would have brushed it off and continued to smile and wave.
But the tabloids, and Landon’s own agent, had a very different scenario in mind when they got out of bed that fateful day in 1967. They, as they’re wont to do, took the story of a rock being thrown in Michael Landon’s general direction as an assassination attempt.
Can you guess what happened next? The “Little House on the Prairie” star’s agent fed told a local columnist that someone threw a rock at Landon, much to the actor’s disappointment. The columnist, seeing his opportunity, spun the story. He painted the rock toss as someone making an attempt on Landon’s life. From there, the story gained a life of its own.
All of a sudden, it was Michael Landon and his wife narrowly escaping death after a boulder falling from a window missed their car. And so the story evolved.