By Stephanie Nolasco
Published January 24, 2019
Jennifer Landon still has vivid memories of her beloved father, Michael Landon.
The television star, who won fame as Little Joe Cartwright in “Bonanza” before becoming iconic frontier father Charles Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie” and then an angel sent by God to help mankind in “Highway to Heaven,” passed away in 1991 at age 54 from cancer.
But despite all the fame and fortune Michael achieved in his lifetime, his daughter Jennifer insists that his greatest role was that of just being a dad to his nine children from three marriages.
“He was always so present as a father,” Landon, 35, told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue. “He’d watch me jump around the pool for an hour straight. I think he genuinely enjoyed it. I felt admired by him — which is an amazing feeling to have as a child.”
Landon insisted that despite a thriving career that spanned more than 30 years, Michael always put his children first.
“He was just the best!” she told the magazine. “That doesn’t mean we had free rein. There was a tremendous amount of respect and discipline that was implanted in our house — but my dad always made things so fun, too. He had this ability to make you feel like something magical could happen or that you were on the edge of discovery.”
Landon said that one of her favorite memories of Michael, a well-known prankster, occurred one Easter when he transformed the snow outside their holiday ski lodge in Vali, Colo. a bold pink.
“He had taken Nestle Quik — which was a favorite snack of mine — blanketed the entire backyard and sent us over there with spoons!” recalled Landon. “To be in snow up to your waist and just eat it like it was one big slushy was pretty amazing!”
And there was one special reason Michael was completely dedicated to giving his children a sense of wonder. Despite his high-profile career, Michael was also determined to give his children a stable upbringing — one that he himself never experienced growing up.
“My dad didn’t believe in allowing past hardships affect your present circumstances in a detrimental way,” explained Landon. “None of the things he experienced was ever apparent in the way he parented. He was all about turning things around. That’s why he liked underdogs and identified with them.”
“I always had this feeling that even if I was afraid of something that I would do it, because I wanted my father’s respect,” Landon continued. “I wanted to be brave.”
Landon’s mother, Cindy Landon, Michael’s third wife and widow, also told Closer Weekly she remembered her husband as a loving father to all of his children.
“People thought he was extremely serious, but that wasn’t Michael at all,” said the 61-year-old. “He was excited about his work, but always came home happy. He was a fantastic father who was curious about everything and loved to teach the children.”
Cindy added that despite all of his accomplishments, Michael revealed that his biggest regret in life was not spending even more time with his children.
“He wished he’d spent more time traveling with the family,” said Cindy. “We did some. He got to go to Africa – which he said was one of his dream places – but we thought there would be a lot more, too.”
Back in 2017, his former “Little House on the Prairie” castmates told Closer Weekly that they really were like a family when cameras stopped rolling.
“There was no real cast drama because Michael would not allow it,” said Alison Arngrim, who played "nasty Nellie.”
“I think we are the only cast that never had any arrests!” she joked.
Rachel Greenbush, who played Carrie Ingalls alongside twin sister Sidney, also had fond memories of working with Michael.
“For all the kids’ birthdays, he would have a cake made and throw a little party,” she recalled. “When it was time to work, you had to be focused.”
And while Michael expected hard work from everyone involved, he wasn’t afraid to get out of character to make anyone smile. Greenbush revealed he “was a big practical joker.”
“We used to go with Melissa [Gilbert] to catch frogs in the creek,” she said. “We would bring them back to Michael, and then he would put them in his mouth and walk up to people, open his mouth and the frog would jump out! People would freak out.”
Arngrim, now 57, previously told Fox News that “Little House on the Prairie” is currently airing in 140 countries and has kept her busy traveling to make appearances, especially in France, where the show has a cult following.
“When the show first stopped back in the ‘80s, I and a lot of the other actors thought people would stop talking about it… [but] it began rerunning in all the other countries,” she explained. “It didn’t go away, it only escalated.
"I get recognized more now than I did when the show was running… There was a time in my 20s when I would say I didn’t want to be recognized as Nellie forever… but Nellie was a lot of fun to play… Indeed, I thought I’d be sick of it, but now, it just makes me smile.”