Shannen Doherty says “Little House” co-star Michael Landon “spurred” her interest in acting: “He was a mentor”

Little House on the Prairie was one of the most popular and beloved shows of its era, making stars out of many of its cast members.

One star who got her big break on the frontier classic was Shannen Doherty, who played Jenny Wilder in the show’s final season.

Recently, she opened up about her experience on Little House — and the major, lasting impact that star Michael Landon had on her career.

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Doherty, 53, is better known for her later roles in shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Charmed, but she got her big break as an 11-year-old playing Jenny Wilder in the show’s ninth and final season, which aired from 1982 to 1983.

“I used to watch Little House on the Prairie. And I wanted to work with Michael Landon really desperately,” Doherty recalled in a 1995 interview with SPIN Magazine.

Doherty had previously guest starred in the series Father Murphy, which was created and produced by Landon, and it seems her performance impressed Landon enough to get her cast on Little House.

READ MORE: Back in the day, Jason Bateman made his big breakthrough on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

She played Jenny Wilder, the niece of Laura’s husband Almanzo, who comes to live with the family after her father’s death. That same season, Landon had decided to step back from his longtime role as patriarch Charles Ingalls, reportedly to focus on work behind the camera.

But even so, Doherty recalls that it was Landon who truly inspired her as an actress during her time on the show.

“I adored him. He was a mentor. He taught me so much,” Doherty recently said on her podcast, Let’s Be Clear With Shannen Doherty.

Michael Landon (1936-1991), US actor, poses with his arms crossed and resting on his knee with a log cabin the background in a portrait issued as publicity for the US television series, ‘Little House on the Prairie’, circa 1974. The drama, adapted from the novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), starred Landon as ‘Charles Ingalls’. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

“It was really the experience on Little House that spurred that passion on for being an actor,” Doherty says. “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.”

READ MORE: Behind Melissa Gilbert’s famous rift with Michael Landon

Landon’s wholesome image was fractured when an on-set extramarital affair came to light, which reportedly caused a lasting rift between him and star Melissa Gilbert. But even so, the show’s youngest stars recall him being a positive influence on them and keeping them away from a lot of the issues that often plague child stars.

“I think that’s why none of us ended up in rehab or sticking up a convenience store,” Gilbert said, according to Cheatsheet. “I don’t think any of us could stand the thought of [Landon] seeing our mug shot.”

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Little House on The Prairie Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Many years after Little House, Doherty would be known for her “bad girl” image, as stories of her wild partying and on-set feuds with co-stars made the tabloids.

In hindsight, Doherty says that many of her jobs were “unenjoyable to be a part of, a little bit toxic,” but still fondly remembers her year on Little House as a highlight.

“That show, Little House, shaped me in so many ways and it still is the best experience of my entire career,” she said on her podcast.

In recent years, Doherty has been in a serious battle with cancer: she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, which progressed to stage IV in 2019. Last year, she announced that the cancer had spread to her bones and brain and was terminal. But in a recent update, she said she was undergoing a new “miracle” cancer treatment.

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Hollywood can be tough for child actors, but it’s great to hear that a young Shannen Doherty had such a great mentor in Michael Landon while she was on Little House on the Prairie and it was such a lasting influence on her career.

Please share this story if you love Little House on the Prairie!

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