Michael Landon left his starring role on Bonanza to create Little House on the Prairie. Launching the historical drama in 1974, Landon recruited several crew members from Bonanza to work on Little House, as well as his pal Victor French.
Landon and French were close friends for years, and went on to team up for NBC’s Highway to Heaven after Little House came to an end. French’s death in 1989 was a blow to Landon, who needed support from a former co-star Little House alum’s funeral.
Michael Landon from ‘Little House on the Prairie’ often had Victor French as his co-star
Landon created the character of Isaiah Edwards on Little House. He lobbied for French to take the role when NBC didn’t want to cast him.
“The network wanted a name actor, but Michael stood by his guns,” French said, according to a 1989 Los Angeles Times article. “That role changed my career. Michael is really my ‘angel.’”
French was close friends with Charlotte Stewart, who portrayed school teacher Eva Beadle for the first four seasons of the show. Though they lost touch after she left the Little House, Stewart always held a special place in her heart for the actor. She was stunned when she received something in the mail from his girlfriend in 1989.
“On the cover of the card was a photo of Victor with a lampshade on his head; I snorted,” Stewart recalled in her memoir Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me. “Typical Victor. Once I opened it up, I had to read the card two or three times before I was able to process what I was reading. It was an invitation to his funeral.”
‘Little House’ star left specific instructions for his funeral
French had kept his terminal diagnosis under wraps, but went about planning his funeral in great detail.
“No one had known Victor had been dying of lung cancer,” Stewart wrote. “But in wild, loving Victor fashion, he’d used his final days to plan out his farewell down to the last moment — food, band, guest list, and a surprise or two along the way.”
The Little House star left behind one rule for guests that would be enforced throughout the entire service.
“The funeral was held in the open-air courtyard at the Gene Autry Museum in Griffith Park in Los Angeles,” Stewart recalled. “After a few people had spoken, Victor’s attorney got up and said, per Victor’s wishes, anyone who cried would be thrown out.”
Charlotte Stewart helped support her former boss and co-star
Stewart noted Landon’s demeanor at French’s funeral, where he struggled to honor his late friend’s wishes of not crying.
“Mike Landon, who was a very emotional guy and had been Victor’s dear friend, was standing next to me and grabbed my hand at this and hung on for dear life,” Stewart wrote. “I’ve never seen a man fight tears so hard in my life.”
Landon was able to get through the service, helped by an unexpected note French had arranged as his final words.
“’Now,” said the attorney, ‘There’s one final message from Victor for you all,’” Stewart recounted. “And he pointed skyward. We looked up, and there above us, a small plane pulled a banner that read, ‘Eat S*it, Love Victor.’ Mike held on tight and I squeezed right back, caught between laugher and a flood of tears that wanted to boil over.”