Release dateDecember 20, 1976 (1976-12-20) NominationsPrimetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie CastMichael Landon (John Curtis), Lance Kerwin (John Curtis as a youth), Melissa Sue Anderson (Nancy Rizzi), Brian Keith (Arnold Curtis), DeAnn Mears (Alice Curtis) Similar moviesSouthpaw, Varsity Blues, The Boy Next Door, Real Steel, Foxcatcher, Cars
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The Loneliest Runner is an autobiographical made-for-television film written, and directed by Bonanza star Michael Landon. It first aired on December 20, 1976 on NBC and starred Lance Kerwin, Brian Keith, DeAnn Mears, and Landon's Little House on the Prairie daughter, Melissa Sue Anderson. The film was nominated for two Emmys.
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The Loneliest Runner follows the story of 13-year-old John Curtis (played by Kerwin, and based by Landon on himself), who still wets his bed. The problem is publicized by his mother Alice (Mears), who goes so far as to hang her son's stained bed sheets up in the window for everyone to see. Fearing his friends will see the yellow sheets, John runs home from school every day and takes them down to avoid further humiliation. Soon, however, the running becomes more than a race home but an ambition. Partly because he loves it, and also to help him forget his shame and hurt of his unhappy home life, John starts running with the junior track team in order to channel his anger. Ten years later, John Curtis (played by Landon himself) is an Olympic marathon runner and a gold-medal-winner. During a post-race interview, he gives credit to his mother for his success as a runner
Creation of film
Michael Landon was the real-life version of the loneliest runner. As a child, he wet his bed until he was 14 and his mother, Peggy O'Neill, really did hang his sheets to dry outside of his bedroom window as punishment. The dysfunctional family life that Landon experienced during his early life were also similar to the ones in this autobiographical film.
The character of John Curtis is modeled after Landon himself, as are his parents and other supporting characters. He reused actor Walker Edmiston of Bonanza to play Doctor Claymore (who coincidentally later took two jobs on Little House guest starring as different Doctors in seasons five and nine, as well as an appearance in season three). Landon also asked his on-screen daughter, Melissa Sue Anderson to play Nancy Rizzi, saying the part was perfect for her. Melissa says she was both honoured and thrilled to have been included.
Prior to acting, Landon also had Olympic ambitions as a javelin thrower. Due to an injury in his shoulder ligaments during university, Landon was unable to pursue a career in sports and started acting, which eventually led to three very successful television series, in addition to other acting, directing, and writing jobs on other shows.