Michael Landon was jealous of one man: Burt Reynolds.
The actor-producer, who proudly cast himself as family man “Pa” in the “Little House on The Prairie” TV series, harbored a secret grudge against the hirsute “Smokey and The Bandit” star.
“In the ’70s, Burt topped the list as the most desirable man in Hollywood,” actress Karen Grassle, who played Caroline “Ma” Ingalls, on “Little House,” told The Post. “Mike was resentful and wanted to take his place.”
So, while Reynolds had famously posed (nearly) nude for Cosmopolitan magazine, Landon — who wrote, produced and directed episodes of the TV series, as well as starring in it — would flaunt his muscles at every opportunity on his G-rated show.
Grassle writes in her memoir, “Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss and Love from Little House’s Ma” (She Writes Press), out Nov. 16, of a first-season episode when Landon penned a scene where his character got down and dirty with some hard labor — giving him a chance to remove his shirt.
“He looked wonderful with his bare torso sweating while he worked,” Grassle admitted in the book
It was no coincidence that, whenever his character suffered an injury, it was usually something like a broken rib as opposed to an arm or leg. This gave him another opportunity to display his ripped physique.
In her 2019 book, “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch,” “Little House” actress Alison Arngrin, who played bratty Nellie Oleson, revealed Landon would go commando under his deliberately tight-fitting breeches.
Sometimes Landon would use the macho persona he adopted to cruel and sexist effect. Grassle describes in her book how he decided to humiliate her in front of the crew after she outraged him by asking for a raise.
“I could see his manipulation,” she writes.“One day, when we were out in the field, just as we were finishing a scene … his usual peck to Caroline became a lengthy and deeply felt kiss.” At the time, Grassle thought: “Really? You’d really try that?”
There may have been a bit of Napoleon complex at play. The five-foot-nine Landon, who wore four-inch lifts in his boots, would reportedly stand on ladders, staircases or even a slight mound of dirt to gain height during filming. “He did everything but dig a hole for the rest of us to stand in,” Arngrin writes in her book.
Surprisingly, for someone so vain, the actor was extremely neglectful of his health, according to Grassle.
“He’d cope with [his fame] with lots of jokes, vodka and eating or not eating at all,” she told The Post, adding that Landon would starve himself during filming during the day, then gorge after hours. “He would come in in the morning at the makeup table, and describe to me what he’d eaten the night before. The amounts were unbelievable. I’m not sure how he did that every night and stayed so trim.”
In “Bright Lights, Prairie Dust,” Grassle writes that the chain-smoking leading man also had a liking for whiskey from the show’s on-set bar.
All the hedonistic excess led to Landon driving his life and career at a million miles an hour.
“Mike seemed able to run on fumes,” Grassle said. “Until he couldn’t.” The workaholic was once taken to the hospital after contracting spinal meningitis and treated with packs in ice, only to quickly return to his high-pressure position in the director’s chair.
Sadly, it all seemed to catch up to him in the end, when Landon died of pancreatic cancer in 1991, at the age of 54.
“He acknowledged that, when he got cancer, his lifestyle had not been healthy,” Grassle said.
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