Michael Landon ended his second marriage after finding love with the then-teenager Cindy Clerico, which cost him major endorsement deals.
“Little House On The Prairie’s” cast seemed so united onscreen, but behind-the-scenes, several complications arose, which threatened the overall success of the show.
The most pressing of these was perhaps Michael Landon’s relationship with makeup artist and would-be wife Cindy Clerico.
Not only did that relationship cost him the love and respect of fellow cast members, but it also left his relationship with his kids and a major aspect of his career in stitches.
Landon’s Life And Career
Michael Landon was an American actor, producer, director, and writer, born Eugene Maurice Orowitz in October 1936. His dad, Eli Maurice Orowitz was an actor and movie theater manager, while his mom, Peggy O’Neill, was an actress.
Growing up with famous parents, he quickly gained an interest in showbiz and nurtured his acting dreams. Prior to that, he embraced the world of sports, becoming a champion high school javelin thrower which earned him a college scholarship.
Sadly, the actor sustained a torn ligament in his freshman year, ending his sports career for good. Subsequently, he dropped out of USC and landed a place in an acting school, which geared off his acting career.
His first starring role was in the TV show, “Telephone Time.” The icon, who eventually changed his name to Michael Landon after seeing the name in a phone book, went on to snag roles in “Playhouse 90,” “I Was A Teenage werewolf,” and the hit movie, “Bonanza.”
The star’s role as Little Joe on “Bonanza” made him a household name. He starred in the show for 14 years before its cancellation.
He soon got the chance to direct, executive-produce, and star in “Little House On The Prairie,” based on the Laura Ingalls’ book series, which premiered in September 1974.
Becoming Entangled With Clerico
Cindy Clerico first graced the set of “Little House” when she was eighteen, stepping in briefly as a stand-in for Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls.
Given his role as the charismatic Charles Ingalls, many idolized Landon as the idealistic family man. Yet, somehow, the icon, who was married to his second wife, Marjorie Lynn Noe for almost two decades at the time, fell for the “cute colorful tops and tight jeans-wearing, nice young woman,” Cindy Clerico.
At first, the duo kept their relationship under wraps, but it didn’t take long for the castmates to begin noticing signs that suggested trouble in paradise.
Landon Bragged About His Sex Life
Actress Karen Grassle, who played Caroline “Ma” Ingalls and Landon’s onscreen wife was unwillingly at the receiving end of some of these signs.
In her book, “Bright Lights, Prairie Dust,” the star opened up about her differences with Landon on set, including his unwelcome penchant for openly discussing his “revived libido.”
She recalled how he continuously gushed about the wondrous effect of bee pollen in his sex life. He seemed especially more jubilant and loquacious whenever he arrived at the makeup table.
The cast soon put the pieces together, figuring it was not much of a coincidence that the makeup table happened to be Clerico’s workstation.
The Affair Tainted His Relationship With Co-stars
Discovering the affair between Landon, who they looked up to, and the makeup artist, over 20 years his junior, came as a big blow to the other cast members of the show.
Ultimately, it drove a rift between them, riddled with disappointment. The situation was made worse by the fact that most of the crew members were friends with Noe and knew how much she respected, adored, and doted on her husband.
Melissa Gilbert Shares Her Thoughts
Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls, Charles Ingalls’ daughter, admittedly ended her friendship with her onscreen dad after discovering the affair.
She resolved to remain civil with him, seeing him only as a co-worker in contrast to the father figure he previously held in her life.
In her memoir, “Prairie Tale,” Gilbert recounted thinking she was crazy the first time she noticed Landon and Clerico had something more going on. She was on the set of “The Miracle Worker,” where Clerico worked as a stand-in.
Alarm bells went up when Landon visited the set one day and said hello to the young makeup artist before acknowledging her, which was unlike him. They became closer thereafter, spending more time together while keeping their affair a secret.
When the news eventually broke, Landon and Noe’s relationship already met a rough end. They divorced in 1982 following a 19-year marriage that yielded four children.
Barely one year later, the new chapter with Clerico, who was Michael Landon’s wife for nearly a decade began.
A Nick In His career
While his marriage to Cindy was as successful as could be, the legend encountered several pitfalls in his career, which proved their union was not his best decision after all.
In addition to losing about $26million in divorce settlement, Landon lost several endorsement deals due to his tarnished reputation. Around that time, NBC executives began considering ending his contract and ultimately his role as Charles Ingalls, the upstanding family man.
Following the media onslaught, Landon released a statement in his defense, saying he never considered his 19-year union with Noe a failed marriage. He noted they were simply two people who grew in different directions.
Landon also clarified that he was not perfect, nor was his onscreen character, which made the media expectation of him to live up to a particular standard unfounded.
What Landon’s Kids Thought Of Their Dad’s Affair
Leaving his family of seven kids to start a new life with Clerico ultimately impacted his children more than the rest of the world.
In her book, Cheryl, who is Michael Landon’s stepdaughter, recalled the aftermath of her parent’s divorce. She detailed how her dad kept urging her and her siblings to forge a close bond with Cindy.
However, all that did was make them torn between both parents, who each needed their support. In the end, she decided to stand with the two, irrespective of what she deemed right or wrong.
But her siblings kept struggling to come to terms with that. Landon eventually made it clear to his brood that he’d rather lose them than give up his happiness with Clerico. In the end, neither of his kids took sides but tried harder to hold on to both parents.
The “Love Story” star and his new bride went on to welcome two children, Jennifer, and Sean Landon. Despite the obstacles that faced their relationship, the pair made it work, staying together until Michael Landon’s death from cancer in 1991.