My Dad’s life was filled with fierce prejudice, shameful humiliation and broken dreams.
He was a Jew with long hair in an anti-Semitic neighborhood. He had a clinically ill mother who attempted suicide in front of him almost daily, starting at 5 years old. She further terrified him with public humiliation throughout his early tween years.
Dad wrote about this public humiliation in the movie: “The Loneliest Runner”.
Her insanity continued to haunt him at every phase. Fortunately, Eugene Orowitz, (Michael Landon), had a dream of being in the Olympics.
He held the national record for javelin throwing. Awarded a scholarship to USC, Eugene’s dream of escaping the insanity now became reality.
Leaving nightmares of New Jersey
Eugene was excited to leave the nightmares in New Jersey, and start a new life in Los
Eugene Orowitz would finally become somebody special.
But, his dream was short lived.
The USC football players at that time hated Jews and especially Jews with long hair.
Eugene had a Samson complex. He believed his long hair gave him strength.
One day, the players captured Dad and chained him to a sink, shaving his head bald. The next day, Eugene tried throwing the javelin.
To no avail, he tore the cartilage in his elbow from hours of trying to throw the spear.
Needless to say, Dad lost his scholarship and left his dream.
Finding ways to survive
Humiliated, scared and alone in a strange city, he found humble ways to survive. He even worked as a lifeguard at the YMCA, and he didn’t know how to swim.
Yet, every night, he’d sneak into the “Y” and practice how to swim. There were barely any breaks in his life for years until he landed a role in a long-shot gamble television show, “Bonanza.”
Eugene Orowitz became the superstar who would become Michael Landon, reaching millions in the media encouraging hope, belief in God and love.
Dad had a core belief: “Love, it’s the most powerful force, it’s what lets us live on. Don’t ever take it for granted.”
‘How my father got his name.’
I ask you, how is it that a man who had every right to hate and be angry instead teaches us
about the power of loving one another?
It began when Eugene Orowitz became Michael Landon.
Many ask me how my father got this name?
Dad told me when he knew he was destined to be an actor. A friend he met on the job in a warehouse asked him to help with an audition for a play. All he had to do was read the other role.
It was a cold reading, which a person is reading impromptu. No problem.
Well, shocking, Dad’s reading was quite emotional. He easily felt the pain from how sad his
life had been. Dad described how there were huge emotional releases he felt reading the script, which he was a natural. His delivery was passionate, he even cried. It all came to him so easy and he got the part.
Becoming Michael Landon
Eugene was thrilled to have discovered this creative outlet.
He had found a way to release his pent up emotions. This was divine guidance, opening up a perfect arena to be expressive, while earning money.
Now his name was next. One sunny afternoon, Eugene was being interviewed by an agent. He was in a public phone booth.
The agent asked his name.
Dad couldn’t be Eugene Orowitz. So he randomly opened the phone book attached to the phone booth, and there was the name: “Michael Lane.”
The agent told dad that name had been taken. Well Eugene responded, “What about Michael Landon?”
That’s how Eugene Orowitz became Michael Landon.
‘Live out a greater good’
I share this story as I propose a simple yet powerful solution for this holiday season: For each of us to look inside ourselves and see what elements of prejudice, anger, fear, even supremacy we may have hidden.
Pull these roots out.
Outdated beliefs are passed down through generations and need to be tossed out so that destructive, toxic beliefs will go no further.
I’d like to close by borrowing a line from the Rev. Craig D. Lounsbrough, a licensed professional counselor, life coach and minister.
He says: “There’s no greater way to destroy the negative rhetoric in our culture than to consistently live out a greater good.”