This wrestler-turned-actor from Monster Squad took the stage name Michael Landon really wanted

Would you know the Bonanza star by any other name?

The Everett Collection

In 1958, a year before Michael Landon became a household name when he joined the cast of Bonanza in 1959, he appeared in a memorable episode of The Rifleman.

"End of a Young Gun" found Landon at the cusp of transforming from a featured guest-star into a TV icon.

It was far from the "End of a Young Gun" for Landon. This was just the beginning of one of the most special television careers, as he determined to do more than act in poignant scenes, but also write, direct and produce them.

Landon did not foresee this future when he was a boy. He grew up a track star, who vaulted out of his high school after winning a major javelin throwing championship. He thought for sure that he'd be an athlete, or perhaps a coach… until an injury forced him into working at a Hollywood warehouse, where he labored instead. One day, when an actor friend was heading to an audition, he offered an enticing suggestion: Why not tag along?

There was a rumor for years that Landon was discovered as an actor while he was a track star, but the real truth was his star rose due to sheer serendipity. He followed his warehouse friend to the audition, where he caught the casting director's eye.

"I went to the audition just to see what it was like," Landon told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1958. "The director asked me to read. That's all there was to it."

Landon got the role, even though he'd only ever acted in a couple of plays back in New Jersey. After that, the casting directors were calling him. They knew all they needed was a catchier stage name to sell him to studios.

You see, "Michael Landon" was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz. The first stage name he tried to register with the Screen Actors Guild was "Michael Lane."

The Guild rejected the name because a professional wrestler was already using it. This other Michael Lane had just started getting cast in movies. At that time, no two actors were allowed to register the same stage name.

There's no way any casting director could have confused the two actors, though. Mike Lane, the wrestler, was 6-foot-8-inches, weighing 275 pounds. When he was a circus wrestler, he was called "Tarzan Mike." Lane's massive frame made him the perfect choice to play "Frank N. Stein," the green-skinned, flat-headed legend in Monster Squad. This was the 1976–77 Saturday morning series with Fred Grandy (better known as Gopher from The Love Boat), not the 1987 film The Monster Squad.

Landon, of course, eventually became best known as "Little Joe" for a reason. He was no towering figure, although he stood at a respectable 5-foot-11. He weighed in 100 pounds less than the actor who frequently played heavies, Mike Lane. 

Perhaps this was the very reason the Guild was concerned over any confusion — nobody expecting larger-than-life Mike Lane would be pleased to see smiling "Little Joe" Landon, or vice versa!

Still in need of a catchy name, Landon had to think quickly, and it's his second stage-name choice that we all know him by today.

The Guild registered him as Michael Landon. From that point on, nobody reading the credits after watching the many Westerns that both actors appeared on would ever have to worry about confusing Mike Lane the wrestler with Michael Landon the Cartwright boy.

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MMeans1 7 months ago
Reminds me of the story Michael Keaton told about choosing a stage name since he couldn't use his real name of.....Michael Douglas :D
WGH 19 months ago
The other explanation is that there was a Big Joe. I don't remember exactly, but I think little Joe had a different father than Hoss and Adam .

I know that my uncle Dan had a kid that they called the boy Little Dan. And uncle Dan became Big Dan. And they kept those names for life. Even though Little Dan grew to be over 6 foot.

WGH 19 months ago
Michael Landon was 5 foot 11 BUT the other actors on that show were huge.

I don't know exact heights but Hoss Lauren Green and Pernell Roberts are all known for being very tall men
Zip 20 months ago
Never knew Michael wanted a different stage name. I'd like to think that it would be weird to call him "Michael Lane" but it probably wouldn't if we had all grown up knowing him by that name. It may just be my opinion, but Landon does seem to fit him better.
audie65 20 months ago
I'm 56. Definetly remember the Saturday show Monster Squad. Came on after the cartoons around 11 or 12. Young Fred Grandy was the star with monsters Frakenstein, Dracula. and the Werewolf. Wasn't on very long. Just the one season I believe.
scp 21 months ago
I was a kid in 1976-77 who loved classic monsters and Saturday morning TV, and I have no recollection of "Monster Squad" whatsoever.
Tarakian10 scp 21 months ago
I am not certain, but I think they are talking about the Monster Squad Movie, not a TV Show.
WGH Tarakian10 19 months ago
There was definitely a television show. I have a really good memory and I remember the show was really bad.
Wiseguy 21 months ago
"At that time, no two actors were allowed to register the same stage name."

Are you saying it is allowed now?
WGH Wiseguy 19 months ago
They're running out of names.

I remember Michael J Fox wanted to just be Michael Fox. But someone had that name so he had to use a middle initial. His middle name began with the letter A... And he didn't want to appear conceited calling himself Michael A Fox (get it?)

I guess he picked Jay out of the air.

Just like Michael Keaton's real name is Michael Douglas but Kirk Douglas's kid already had that name. so he used his first name and Diane Keaton's second name because he liked her
Wiseguy 21 months ago
It's not clear in the article what the audition was for or how long ago it happened, but I've seen Michael Landon in an episode of Suspicion from Oct. 1957 (the Halloween episode "The Story of Marjorie Reardon," starring Rod Taylor, Margaret O'Brien and Henry Silva).

Suspicion, by the way, is often mistakenly referred to as having been totally produced by Alfred Hitchcock, when in reality he only produced ten of the 42 episodes, one of which he also directed ("Four O'Clock"). The Michael Landon episode was not one Hitchcock's episodes.

MrsPhilHarris 21 months ago
I do not believe he was 5’ 11”. He looked more like 5’ 8” or 9”.
texasluva MrsPhilHarris 21 months ago
!!Wanted!! but preferred Alive
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That caught my eye too, no way was he 5'11. One of my favorite actors when I was growing up. He was 5'9 and was known to wear lifts. Celebheights has a lot of info on what the real height of actors are.
I never knew the site existed. I’m going to have a look around. Thanks!
WGH JohnnyBoyohBoy 19 months ago
The other guys in the show were really really tall. Lauren Green is like 6 foot five. And I know Dan Blocker was a really big guy. Pernell Roberts was really tall too as you may remember from Trapper John MD. And he wore a shorter hat.
Andybandit 21 months ago
Nice story. Michael Landon was my favorite on Bonanza. His Daughter Jennifer Landon looks just like him with Blonde Hair. She is on FBI Most wanted.
Moody Andybandit 21 months ago
Wow! What did she do?
Pacificsun Moody 21 months ago
(Oh you're bad... but still, it made me laugh out loud!!)
Andybandit Moody 21 months ago
I am sorry, it is a tv show on CBS on Tuesday nights. She is an actress.
Moody Andybandit 21 months ago
I knew that. It just looked funny the way you wrote it. Just having a little joke. Sorry.
texasluva Pacificsun 21 months ago
!!Wanted!! but preferred Alive
Those that wish to participate in the Weekly Movie Quiz.
Conversation as to what this movie might be
Winners name in MeTV Lights
Just plain ole fun
Let's Do it at: Are these cartoon villains facing off against Bugs Bunny or someone else?
No later then 10 P.M CT
Cartoons: Hong Kong Phooey tonight
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