“Little House on the Prairie”: My obsession is you

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As the pop culture-y type of person that I am, I tend to relate different moments in my life to what I watched on television at the time.

But none defined my childhood – and early adulthood – as much as “Little House on the Prairie.”

I could totally relate to Laura Ingalls. No, I wasn’t a tomboy. But Laura was so gloriously awkward and not part of the cool crowd that I couldn’t help but love her unconditionally.

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Who knew “Pa” was a Jersey boy?

There are a lot of names you can call Michael Landon –  Little Joe, the “Teenage Werewolf” and “Pa” top that list – but I had no idea “Jersey boy” was one of them.

That’s right: My childhood “Little House on the Prairie” idol, Michael Landon (aka “Oogie” Orowitz), grew up in Collingswood, N.J.

I learned that surprising fact recently while watching a “Biography” episode about Michael.

“Oogie” (short for Eugene) as he then was called, wasn’t the greatest student. According to “Biography,” he ranked 199th out of 201 students at Collingswood High School. Not too good, eh? But his athletic skills – he was especially adept at javelin-throwing – landed him a scholarship to the University of Southern California. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear Michael didn’t have fond memories of his time in the Garden State. His parents apparently hated one another, and he and his sister were stuck in the middle.

Still, Michael’s former high school classmates had good things to say about him.

“He had so much charm and such a lovable way about him,” remarked Ed Kurkian, who, along with Michael, is listed in the high school’s athletic hall of fame.

But the Jersey connections don’t end there, oh, no. Michael’s oldest daughter, Cheryl Landon, asserts in her book “I Promised My Dad” that her father at one point was addicted to Miltown, a tranquilizer sold by Wallace Laboratories – which named the drug after Milltown, N.J.

And when Michael began his brief battle with pancreatic cancer in 1991, he turned to oncologist Charles Simone of Lawrenceville, N.J. (who had previously treated Ronald Reagan’s colon cancer). His struggle is documented in this 1991 People article.

“Pa,” as I like to call him, had a unique way of making viewers – me included – feel like part of his TV family.  I think it’s especially fitting that I discover, decades later, that I also share my home state with him.

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