Michael Landon Chose His Hollywood Name In The Most Hilariously Average Way

Michael Landon was one of the most famous and beloved television actors of the 20th century, thanks to hits such as "Bonanza," "Little House on the Prairie," and "Highway to Heaven." In fact, he was so well-known that he was one of just four celebrities to grace the cover of TV Guide more than 14 times — an honor that was only otherwise achieved by megastars Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson (via Outsider). 

The combination of three major hits in a row ensured that Landon was a constant presence on American TV screens for almost 30 years straight. But while Landon was a familiar face to audiences of the 1950s and beyond, his original name would probably come as a surprise to many of his fans. According to Brittanica Online, Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz in 1936 in Queens, New York. It wasn't until acting school that Landon decided to change his name to the one known today.

Just how Michael Landon chose his name

Landon was not the first actor to change his name, but he might have done it with the least amount of flair. According to Biography.com, he decided to chose his on-stage persona by flipping open a telephone book and seeing which name caught his eye. Michael Landon was the winner. 

The relaxed way in which Landon chose his name stands in stark contrast to how other Hollywood stars opted for their new identities. For example, "Mommy Dearest" star Joan Crawford was given her name after a movie studio ran a contest about it in the magazine "Movie Weekly" (via New World Encyclopedia). 

Crawford was not the only actor that had a new name chosen by a movie studio; in fact, many thespians were subject to strict contracts that gave the studio the right to craft an identity that would be most appealing to audiences, per Harper's Bazaar. Fortunately, the name Michael Landon seems to have met Hollywood's approval as it remained unchanged throughout Landon's career.

The sad reason behind the change

Though Landon never publicly explained why he opted for a different name, there are two likely explanations behind the switch. The first was probably to avoid any anti-semitism that his original surname, Orowitz, would attract. 

Though Landon got his big break in Hollywood just 10 years after the United States defeated the Nazis in World War II, prejudice against the Jewish people was still commonplace in both society and  Hollywood. For example, Joseph Breen, the man who headed the Production Code Administration until the mid-1950s, was open about his anti-semitic bigotry.

"He blamed evil films and Hollywood's dissolute lifestyle on the 'lousy Jews,' claiming that '95 percent . . . are Eastern Jews, the scum of the earth,'" noted film historian Steve Alan Carr, per The Washington Post.

The second reason why Landon may have changed his name was a personal one: an unhappy childhood. According to EW, Landon suffered as a young boy — his father's business was unsuccessful, his parents constantly fought with one another, and his mother was suicidal. One of the saddest stories reported was that Landon's mother used to shame him for wetting the bed by displaying the soiled bedsheet out of the window for passers-by to see.

In light of such horrible memories, it is not out the question that Landon jumped at the chance to create a new identity  — and distance himself from his old one — as he embarked on his exciting acting career.