Name: Victor French
Birthday: December 4, 1934
Birthplace: Santa Barbara, California
Height: 6' 1"
Date of death: June 15, 1989
Cause: Lung cancer
Originally signed as a guest star on the show, Victor was added to the
regular cast in the 1975-76 season. Victor was born in Santa Barbara,
California, and had a strong background in directing and teaching in
theater. He directed a Los Angeles company in an adaptation of Gorki's
"The Lower Depths", and his play, "My Daughter Comes on Thursdays", was
performed by a Minnesota college group. His debut in television was in a
small role in a "Lassie" episode during the 60's. His father was an
accomplished stuntman in the business named Ted French.
He won the Los Angeles Drama Critic's Award for his direction of "12
Angry Men". When Michael Landon was casting for the "Little House on the
Prairie" pilot film, he remembered him from the last few years of
'Bonanza', when Victor was a guest star on the series. NBC wanted a
famous actor to played Mr. Edwards, but Landon said it's either Victor
French or no one. As usual, he won.
French came into Michael's life just a few years before Dan Blocker
died and it was only meant that the two come together for "Little
House", a few years after Blocker's unexpected death in 1972. He damn
near stole the pilot film from Michael. Any other actor would have made
sure French would never threaten their popularity again, but Landon
insisted he stay on as a regular for "Little House". Victor would direct
one of three episodes, to relieve the stress off Landon in the "Little
At the end of the 1976-77 season, Victor felt he was underpaid and quit
the show, after getting into a contract dispute with NBC. The network
hired him for a country comedy called "Carter Country", which lasted
only two seasons into 1979. His friendship with Landon chilled those few
years and when word got out Landon thought French personally rejected
him as a friend, the two were called together and everything was
forgotten in five minutes.
French returned to the show in the 1979 episode "The Return of Mr.
Edwards", and later in the 1981-82 season's "Chicago", "A Promise to
Keep" and "He Was Only Twelve". Victor signed on as a regular in the
final 1982-83 season of the series. After the series ended in 1983,
Michael hired Victor to play Mark Gordon, his sidekick in his new
series, "Highway to Heaven", which debuted on September 19, 1984. NBC
insisted a good-looking actor play the character, but Landon said it's
Victor French or no one else. As usual, he won.
When the series completed it's fifth year in February 1989, the cast
and crew went on hiatus, and the show's fate was not certain, due to
NBC's poor treatment of Michael Landon, who wasn't sure he should
continue the show and call it a day. In the meantime, Victor was hired
to direct a film in Ireland, in March of 1989.
When his assignment was completed, he returned to Los Angeles in
April, but was losing weight and felt ill. He went for medical tests and
was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was too late for any surgical
procedures or chemotherapy to stop the spread of the disease, the result
of being a heavy smoker. The doctors gave him 3 months to live. By June of 1989, Victor was much worse and Michael was devastated when
he entered the hospital in Sherman Oaks on June 7th. He later died on
June 15th at the age of 54. All those close to him were at his bedside
those last few days.
There was a television tribute to Victor shortly afterwards, with
Michael as host and other close friends, including actors Ned Beatty and
Hal Burton and NBC publicist Bill Kiley. Victor was married to actress
Julie Cobb in the mid-1970's. They had three children; Tracy and Kelly,
twin daughters and Victor, Jr. For his work in "Little House on the
Prairie", he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of
the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998.
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