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Shannen Doherty Says Michael Landon Inspired Her To Work Past “Toxic” Acting Gigs

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They became icons of very different genres of television but would still find common ground essential to their passion for acting. During her time on Little House on the Prairie, Shannen Doherty worked with Michael Landon and gained wisdom from him that inspired her to work through the “toxic” jobs she took after the Western drama.

53-year-old Doherty starred as Jenny Wilder from 1982 to 1983 in Little House, playing the niece of Laura and Almanzo. Jenny was part of a deeply emotional arc that saw her character grieving the loss of her father, so heartbroken that she attempted to end her own life. The job proved highly educational for Doherty as a whole, and especially through the series lead Landon.

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Shannen Doherty reflects on working with Michael Landon as a source of inspiration that stayed with her throughout her career

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, (standing, l to r): Dabbs Greer, Kevin Hagen, Victor French, Matthew Labyorteaux, Michael Landon, Stan Ivar, Dean Butler, Richard Bull, (2nd row from bottom): Pamela Roylance, Melissa Gilbert, Leslie Landon, Allison Balson, (front): Lindsay Kennedy, Shannen Doherty, David Friedman, 1974-83, © NBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Doherty was just 11 years old when she secured the role of Jenny Wilder in Little House on the Prairie, shortly after landing a guest role in Father Murphy, which had been created and produced by Landon. On the May 27 episode of her podcast, Let’s Be Clear with Shannen Doherty, the Charmed alum spoke with her mother, Rosa Doherty, and reflected on just how formative that job had been.

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“That show – Little House – shaped me in so many ways and it still is the best experience of my entire career,” mused Doherty, giving a fond shoutout to Landon, who starred as Charles Ingalls and served as a director for numerous episodes.

“I adored him,” she continued. “He was a mentor. He taught me so much.” She went on to call him “so, so, so talented, so kind, so considerate” and credited his wisdom with helping her even long after the cameras stopped recording for Little House.

The ‘Bonanza’ star shaped the rest of her career and ability to navigate unpleasant work environments

Her experience working with Landon had been nothing but positive and inspiring / ©NBC / courtesy Everett Collection

“It’s kind of amazing,” Doherty continued to marvel, “because, when I think about the long span of my career, but also how rough some jobs were — and unenjoyable to be a part of, a little bit toxic — it was really the experience on Little House that spurred that passion on for being an actor.”

“And it was having a mentor like Michael Landon — and I don’t care what anybody else’s experience was like, I know the truth about that man, and he was just unbelievable,” she said, adding that “he was incredibly caring for my entire family.”

Doherty was just 11 when she landed the powerful role / Thomas Fricke/©USA Network / Courtesy Everett Collection

Indeed, testimony concerning the nature of Landon’s character gets plenty of mixed responses; many are glowing reviews such as what Doherty shared, while others paint a picture of frustration and disrespect. His Little House co-star Karen Grassle claimed that he could be a sexist bully fond of foul language while filming. He also reportedly refused Grassle’s request for a higher salary when the show reached season two; adding insult to injury, he then said her pay should be equal to what the child actors earned.

“I felt insulted as his co-star on a hit series,” said Grassle, who starred as Caroline Ingalls. “I didn’t want to gouge anybody, but I expected a fair wage.” On top of that, when filming scenes in the TV couple’s bedroom, Landon would reportedly allow himself to be egged on into making crude comments and using foul language, including the C-word. Grassle also said he would “make disgusting jokes about how a woman smelled after sex.” Commentary like this made Grassle want to “disappear.”

He taught her what kind of director she wanted to be, as well as how to stand up for herself / Everett Collection

Even when offering this testimony, Grassle also noted, “He was very highly strung, but he was carrying the weight of the show on his shoulders.”

Doherty’s experience, however, had been colored only by positivity, learning from Landon as an actor and director. “I just remember how he was as a director,” Doherty recounted, adding that he helped her “realize what kind of director I wanted to be” as well as teaching her own to “be true to myself” and “embrace my voice, to stand up for myself.”

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