May 2006 – Michael Landon Jr. is no newcomer to the entertainment industry after growing up in the shadow of his father – actor, producer and director Michael Landon, known for his roles in Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. Landon holds a deep admiration for his father’s work, which inspired him at the age of 14 to become a director.
This inspiration led Landon to write and develop his own projects and eventually get his big break with CBS for a movie he created and directed about his father.
Since then, Landon continues to direct quality films that receive accolades from both viewers and industry insiders. He says his films are family-friendly and contain strong messages of morality, faith and Christianity – very similar to the work of his father.
But following in the footsteps of a Hollywood legend taught Landon more than just the ins and outs of a successful filmmaking career. His happy upbringing – interrupted by heartbreak but restored by God’s grace – taught Landon the importance of being a loving father and a faithful husband who is a passionate about family.
Landon lives with his wife Sharee and their three children in Utah. The AFA Journal recently caught up with Landon on the phone where he shared candidly about his family, profession and love for the Lord.
AFAJ: So you’ve spent the last few days on vacation with your family. Why is family time important to you?
Landon: It’s a necessity. You have to invest in your family. …The family comes second only to my Lord. They’re everything.
AFAJ: What is the foundation of your family?
Landon: I’ve seen it where parents try to live a moral life, but without that cornerstone, without Christ … things are going to break down. … Our culture will definitely throw a lot of mixed messages out there through the media, but to me I’ve seen nothing else to replace Christ.
AFAJ: Tell me a little bit about your own childhood.
Landon: My parents, they lived a really decent, moral life. My father was amazing through my childhood. He was not your typical Hollywood star by any means. He was home for dinner. He spent his time with his family on the weekends. He was not involved in the social side of Hollywood. He was the most affectionate, loving [person]. … He was so funny! He was really my everything growing up. The affection and the admiration that the public had for my father were by-products of who he was personally, as well. [But] when I was 15 years old, that all changed. I didn’t know exactly at the time what was going on, but my parents started to struggle in their relationship. My father did have an affair, and my parents divorced. The family was broken. It took a while for healing to take place.
AFAJ: Prior to the healing, you went through a period of rebellion in response to your parents’ divorce. What do you think that says about how important it is for children to have parents who are faithful to each other?
Landon: It was the most painful thing that ever happened to me. … There are so many things that go on in a child’s mind when parents divorce – in their hearts and in their being; the pain that they suffer, the lack of stability, the loss of direction, the anger. It has the chance of really turning the course of a child’s life to something completely different than what would have been for them. I was graced and blessed to get my life back on track. But not all children get their life back on track. There are just a lot of hurting, suffering children out there.
AFAJ: How has this pain molded the way you define family?
Landon: God set it up a specific way, and when we … break God’s plan it falls apart. And that, hence, is why there is so much pain in it. It’s because of that pain that it is a reminder to myself that I never want this to happen to my children or to my wife. Whatever is broken in the relationship, you need to get it fixed before you call it quits. You need to mend it, to try to salvage it before you divorce.
AFAJ: So what do you do, in addition to vacationing, to protect and strengthen your family bond?
Landon: We pray. We are very open. We share. There is nothing our children can’t come to us with or talk to us about. We try to protect as best we can what comes into our home and that includes the television, the movies they watch, the access to the Internet – all of these things play in as a factor. Unfortunately in today’s world, there is no way to completely isolate your children from hearing or seeing certain things. … But when they come home, I want them to know that they are completely safe and that these things will not invade this place.
AFAJ: Tell me about your other professional endeavor called Max.com.
Landon: Max.com is an Internet filter. Unfortunately, it’s struggling, to be honest. We’ve been at it for years and spent millions of dollars. … There just isn’t an urgency … within the body of the church or [within] individual parents to really understand that they need to protect their children when they’re on the Internet. … There’s a certain growing awareness through MySpace.com that parents are beginning to hear about in terms of the predators that are online.
AFAJ: How have you tried to increase this awareness through Max.com?
Landon: Chuck Norris is one of the spokespersons. We’ve done some very large events … [that led to our being] inundated by thousands of pastors to get the product and try to educate their congregations. There ended up being apathy that took place after that. Whatever enthusiasm we created while we were at the event dissipated and there was no follow-through effort on the pastors’ parts. They might preach a sermon on it, but they’re not giving their congregations the proper tools. … So it’s unfortunate, and it’s pervasive – and not just in the secular world. It’s pervasive within the church.
AFAJ: Your passion for protecting the family obviously spills over into your filmmaking. Why is it important to you to create family-friendly films?
Landon: First of all, I grew up on these types of films. It’s the same kind of films my father made, and I was very proud of my father for his work. He left a certain legacy for us, for his family that I’m also very proud of. So that is definitely a reason why. The other is because I want to leave the same type of legacy for my family, as well. [Plus] I don’t want to do anything to ruin my testimony. I don’t believe art is the end-all. I don’t believe it supersedes morality or our God, our Creator. So I’m not going to do anything that I feel He would object to. I just won’t.
AFAJ: How do you feel about the success of your Love Comes Softly film series based on books written by Janette Oke?
Landon: Well, I always felt that there was a need. There was a need, and there was a void. Hollywood pretty much ended the family hour. You’d be hard-pressed to find just a few shows on right now that the entire family could watch. I knew there was an audience out there.
AFAJ: What was it like getting to this point?
Landon: Janette Oke pioneered the Christian fiction genre. The material to start with was very rich. [But] it took me close to 10 years to convince somebody to do it. But when Hallmark did do it, it ended up being 40% higher than anything else that they had ever aired on that channel. Each time one of these movies airs, it becomes the highest rated movie in the history of the channel. It’s filling a need that I had with my own family, just knowing that there are a lot of people who are like-minded wanting desperately just to sit down and enjoy a film they don’t have to worry about – [one] that speaks to their hearts, that speaks to their faith. So that’s what I tried to do.
AFAJ: What can we expect in the future when it comes to films in this series?
Landon: We’ve done four now. I just finished Love’s Abiding Joy. Fox, who actually distributes these films, … is allowing people like myself to actually have a voice in the marketplace. … Fox has opened up their doors and has actually branded their name as Fox Faith for these types of films. So I’m thankful to Fox for doing that. I believe they’ve ordered two more, which makes a total of six of the films.
AFAJ: So when people hear the name Michael Landon Jr., what do you hope comes to their minds?
Landon: I hope in some way that it draws them closer to God. I want to be an excellent storyteller. I want to be excellent as a director, and these things are very important to me in the craft itself. But I would like my work to draw them closer to God, to our Lord, Christ.
Love’s Long Journey
Michael Landon Jr.’s most recently released project, Love’s Long Journey, is the third installment in his film series based on best-selling books written by Janette Oke.
As a continuation of Love Comes Softly and Love’s Enduring Promise, Love’s Long Journey follows the adventures of newlyweds Missie and Willie Lahaye as they leave family behind and head west in a covered wagon to begin a life of their own.
The journey is full of pain and struggles as well as excitement and surprises as the couple experiences the dangers of building a settlement in the wide-open plains and the joy of becoming parents for the first time.
The third movie is as compelling as the first two, as it draws viewers into an emotional story of faith, love, compassion and commitment rooted in the saving power of Christ.
A redeeming message and direct Scripture references far outweigh the subtle use of alcohol and violence as common to the lifestyle of the Wild West.
Not rated; Available on DVD.