Born in 1915, Canadian Lorne Greene played the patriarch of the Cartwright clan, Ben Cartwright. Before working on Bonanza, Greene was best known as a reporter and the main radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company during World War II. The gloomy news that he announced during WWII along with Greene’s deep, booming voice earned him the nickname “The Voice of Doom.”
Lorne Green: Later
After his many years starring as the head of the Cartwright family on “Bonanza,” Green continued to work in television. Some of the shows he starred in included “Battlestar Galactica” and “Code Red.” He was also a sponsor for a number of commercials for Alpo dog food. Television’s much beloved “Pa” passed away in 1987 at the age of 72.
Not Another Idiot Father
In 1959, when “Bonanza” originally premiered, the television landscape was filled with shows that featured fathers who were depicted as idiots managed by their wives. David Dortort, the producer of the show, wanted to depict Ben Cartwright as a father figure worthy of respect, which caused him to insist that the show be an hour long instead of only 30 minutes so that there was time to properly portray this character.
So THAT’S Why They Never Changed Clothes
Michael Landon: Then
Michael Landon starred as Little Joe Cartwright, the youngest member of the Cartwright clan and perhaps the most beloved by the shows fans. Before his 14 year career on “Bonanza” as the heart and soul of the show, Landon had a number of small roles in a number of movies and TV shows, including the low-budget horror film entitled “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.”
Michael Landon: Later
Landon’s Real Name
“Michael Landon” – it just sounds like the name of someone who was born to be an actor. However, this was not actually Landon’s birth name. In fact, Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz. He chose his new stage name from a phone book. Initially, he chose the name Michael Lane, but there was already an actor enrolled by this name in the Screen Actor’s Guild. So, another look through the phone book led the actor to stumble across the name Alf Landon, and so Michael Landon was born.
The Cast’s Other Talent
Pernell Roberts: Then
Pernell Roberts played the oldest Cartwright son, Adam Cartwright. After only working on the series for 6 years, Roberts decided to leave the show. He didn’t leave the show on the best of terms and was ultimately fired by NBC. However, this wasn’t the end of his career, as we’ll soon see….
Pernell Roberts: Also Then
This Actor Despised the Show
We already know that Pernell Roberts left “Bonanza” after six years on the show, but you may not have known that his hatred of the show started right out of the gate. In fact, it was only after six years of constant pressure that NBC finally gave in and let him go. Roberts’ politics and lack of regard for the intelligence of the script were some of the main reasons for his intense dislike of the show.
The TV Show That Inspired a Restaurant Chain
Dan Blocker: Then
Dan Blocker was the middle son of the Cartwright family, Eric “Hoss” Cartwright. His character was gullible, sweet, and a little dimwitted, which was quite the opposite of Dan Blocker in real life. Before getting involved in acting, Blocker received a Master’s degree and worked as a teacher. Leading up to his role in “Bonanza,” Blocker also worked in a number of Westerns.
Dan Blocker: Later
The Largest Baby Ever Born in a Town in Texas
This fact is definitely one that only the most diehard fans of the show will likely know. Weighing in at 14 pounds at birth, Dan Blocker was, at the time, the largest baby ever born in Bowie County, Texas. By the time he reached the first grade, Blocker already weighed a whopping 105 pounds.
From Barely Surviving to Thriving
David Canary: Then
David Canary was brought onto “Bonanza” and cast as “Candy” Cannaday to help fill the gap that was left when Pernell Roberts left the show. Canary’s character was the honorary foreman of the Ponderosa ranch, and he ended up being involved in many of the family’s adventures. Before his time on the ranch, Canary worked on several other TV shows and off-Broadway plays.
David Canary: Later
The Ponderosa Ranch–From Disappointment to Delight
Because of the success of the show, many fans made the trip to Incline Village, Nevada, the location of the fictional Ponderosa, only to be disappointed when they arrived to see nothing there. Sensing opportunity, land developers Bill and Joyce Anderson partnered with the producers of the show to develop a large theme park in Incline Village, which included a complete recreation of the ranch house. Portions of the show were even filmed at the park, and it continued to attract fans until it closed in 2004.
Hop Sing–He Didn’t Just Play a Chef on TV
A Western Retelling of King Arthur
When Dortort started to think about the show and how it would be put together, he pictured it as an Old West presentation of the legend of King Arthur. In his vision for the show, Ben Cartwright was King Arthur and his sons were his knights. In many ways that premise came true as Ben led and guided his children through life.
This Stock Footage Trick Saved a Ton of Money
Still One Of the Most Expensive Shows on TV
Even with the same clothing being worn every single episode, the show was still not cheap. The network was spending between $100,000 and $150,000 per episode. That made Bonanza one of the most expensive scripted shows to produce on a weekly basis. It was also one of the best performing TV shows which helped justify the large amount of money spent on each episode.
Zorro Could Have Played Adam Cartwright
Hoss Had a Real First Name
Did you know that Hoss Cartwright was actually named Eric Haas Cartwright. His family and other characters on the show always used the nickname “Hoss” which was a play on his middle name. If you weren’t a die-hard fan of the show you might have missed that little recognized fact.
Fans Started Joking About the “Cartwright Curse”
That’s a Lot of Fake Hair
It’s really amazing how many guys on the show wore a toupee. Among that impressive club were Blocker, Roberts, and Green. Michael Landon managed to appear on the show with his own full head of hair. If you watch closely you’ll realize that the hair on the show was just as real as the show itself.
Equal Screen Time Was Very Important
The Cartwright Curse May Have Extended To His Sons
It wasn’t just the family’s patriarch who had trouble keeping his wives in town or alive. Whenever his boys would fall in love the women they liked would either fall ill, die, or leave town with another man. The Cartwright Curse was apparently a family problem that just wouldn’t go away.
The Show’s Title Is Slang
The Other Reason For the Same Clothing
Yes, wearing the same clothing made it easy to insert stock footage, but it came down to more than that. When editing footage from the show, reshoots were easier to match up with great continuity because the clothing on the actors and actresses were always the same. Apparently an encapsulated wardrobe has a ton of positive returns for TV producers.
The Show Stayed on TV To Sell Color TV’s
Michael Landon Was Obsessed With the Show
Michael Landon didn’t just have a role on the TV show, he was also highly devoted to every filmed frame. Landon appeared in all but 14 of the shows 416 episodes. It was also the show where Landon started his writing and directing career. You might not be aware that Landon actually wrote and directed some of the series’ most beloved episodes.
Landon Was Also Incredibly Hard to Work With
Dan Blocker Was Turned Down For a Role in Nash
Dan Blocker was considered one of Robert Altman’s top choices for a lead role in the movie MASH. Altman fought for his part in the film but the movie’s producers refused Altman’s request to cast Blocker. The movie was still a huge success but it would have been interested to see which role would have been written for one of TV’s favorite actors.
It Was The First Time a Show Acknowledged a Character’s Death
Guest Stars Were Paid More Than The Show’s Stars in the First Season
For the first season of the show it wasn’t a certainty that viewers would tune in to watch a bunch of unknown actors. In response, many famous guest stars were brought in for guest appearances. The show’s producers paid those actors more than the show’s actual stars. By the second season the show’s ratings were increasing and the show’s actors has become bonafide stars.
Johnny Cash and the Bonanza Theme Song
The First Western TV Series Filmed 100% In Color
Bonanza wasn’t just filmed in color, it was the very first US Western TV show to be 100% produced in color. That decision was partially why it was so expensive to film the popular TV series. If it wasn’t for that decision the show would have been canceled before it had the chance to become one of the most popular TV shows of all-time.
It Was the Second Longest Running TV Western of All Time
There Was a Very Good Reason The Cartwright’s Were Not Hostile To Visitors
During the first few shows the Cartwright’s were hostile to visitors who came onto their land. However, Lorne Green soon realized that the family ran an important business for the community. That meant many people would visit their homestead to conduct business. The show’s characters were soon altered to make them more approachable for their fellow neighbors.
The Chevrolet Connection
The Show Has A Deep Connection To The Original Star Trek
Almost every major actor from the 1966 TV series Star Trek appeared at some point during Bonanza’s run. If you are a fan of the show you can catch the following guest stars in various roles: William Shatner, James Doohan, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, Majel Barrett, and Walter Koenig.
Landon’s Repeated Attempts To Write Scripts For The Show Originally Failed
It Was The First Issue Oriented Western TV Show
Bonanza was the first “dramatic” TV Western that didn’t focus on hunting down and killing bad guys. Instead, each episode of the show focused on “issue-oriented” drama. Issues such as racism, prejudice, and social justice, were addressed during each episode and that was a big risk because the network didn’t know how each show would be rated.
The Credits Were Rotated Each Week
Ponderosa Ranch, Incline Village, Nevada
In 1967, Bill and Joyce Anderson realized that many tourists visited the eastern side of Lake Tahoe in search of the Ponderosa. The couple decided to make money off the Bonanza phenomenon by building a theme park at Incline Village, Nevada. They even recreated the Cartwright’s ranch house. Portions of the show were even filmed at the park. It remained in operation until 2004.
A Bonanza Theatrical Release?
Saturday Night Nearly Killed the Show
When the show started on Saturday nights it seemed doomed. The series was targeted for cancellation but given one final chance when it was moved to Sunday nights at 9:00pm. By the mid-1960s ratings had skyrocketed and it reached #1 nationwide. Not bad for a show that barely made it past one season and then went on to finish 14 years of filming.
Michael Landon Wore Heels While Filming
Landon Joked About All the Female Deaths in the Series
Michael Landon thought it was funny that so many females that showed up on the show would end up dead or mysteriously leaving town. It got to the point where he once joked that the Cartwrights “had to be careful or their horses would trip over the graves” of the past female characters. Maybe not the most tasteful joke but it was right on point.
First Globally Accepted TV Series
The Show Skyrocketed Michael Landon’s Success
Michael Landon became a massive star thanks to his starring role on Bonanza. He owns the claim to be the only actor to have three TV shows to run consecutively for at least five years. He starred in “Bonanza (1959-1973)”, followed by “Little House on the Prairie(1974-1983)” and finally “Highway to Heaven (1984-1989).”
There Are Three Reunion Movies
The End of the Stupid Father Era
Before Bonanza debuted in 1959 there was a common theme among TV shows. The men played bumbling morons who could only support their family with the leadership of their wives. Creators wanted to make sure that Ben Cartwright was a loved and respected father figure who was working hard to support his family and give his children a good life. The idea worked and soon teenage boys all over the country were writing to the show’s studio to say they wanted Ben to be their father.
Even The Show’s Theme Song Was a Hit
Bonanza Reruns Were Under the Title Ponderosa
During the summer of 1972 Bonanza was still being aired on Sunday nights. To ensure that new episodes were not confused with reruns, from 1967-1970, the show aired on Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm under the title Ponderosa. The show, as ratings fell, eventually filled the same time slot with new episodes on Tuesdays.
The Show’s Premise Was The Result Of David Dortort Writing An Episode Of ‘Fireside Theater’
Big Name Stars Were Avoided
Producers on the show were so certain that the newer medium of color TV was about to produce a new generation of stars that they decided not to cast a bunch of well known actors in the show’s leading roles. That decision paid off and before long the entire cast of the show were huge international stars.
The Show Was Full Of Musicians Who Released Albums
Truly Equal Billing
Did you know that all four Cartwrights sang on the 1964 album Christmas at the Ponderosa? Greene even released a single titled “Ringo” that was a huge hit in the US and Canada. Greene also sang the theme song to Bonanza. It has gone on to become one of the most recognizable and popular TV theme songs of all time.
Lorne Green Was A Music Star, Too
‘Bonanza’ Means Exactly That
The show was named Bonanza after its real world counterpart, a slang term used by miners to describe a large mineral deposit, synonymous with “jackpot”. An actual bonanza was discovered close to the Cartwright’s ranch, the famous Comstock Lode.
‘Bonanza’ Almost Got Cancelled … Like Immediately.
Bonanza’s competition (Perry Mason) proved to be so powerful, that NBC was tempted to cancel the cowboy show. However, Bonanza was one of the earliest shows to be filmed in color, so it provided temptation for people to buy color TVs like the ones sold by NBC’s parent company RCA.
Dan Blocker Died Before The Show Finished
Oh That Michael Landon
Michael Landon (Little Joe) was so committed to the role that he even began writing and directing episodes of the show. However, apart from being extremely difficult to work with, he was reportedly the reason that no new major characters were admitted to the cast.
Lorne Green Is One Of America’s Favorite Tv Dad’s
Dan Blocker, Almost Mash Star
Blocker was one of Robert Altman’s top choices for an unknown lead role in MASH. Unfortunately for Blocker, the film’s producers refused to give Altman permission to cast the actor.
Mark Twain would have been the Cartwright’s neighbor.
It was one of the final victims of the ‘Rural Purge.’
In the early 1970s, the networks canceled a slew of rural-themed shows to make way for more urban-centric programming. Bonanza was no exception, although it remained on the air after the initial purge in 1971. Bea Arthur’s Maude finally took down Bonanza in 1973, when the Western was moved to a timeslot opposite the All in the Family spinoff. The only show to last longer was Gunsmoke, which was canceled in 1975.
Lorne Greene was also known as “The Voice of Doom.”
Dan Blocker broke records as a baby.
The hefty actor weighed 14 pounds when he was born on December 10, 1928, making him the largest baby born in Bowie County, Texas. The record still stands to this day.
Blocker founded the Bonanza restaurants.
It was the first show to address the death of a young male character.
When Blocker died in between the show’s 13th and 14th seasons, the producers had no choice but to address the death of the character. The sentiment at the time was no one could fill Blocker’s shoes to portray Hoss Cartwright. It was the first time a television series killed off a major young male character.
Michael Landon got his name from an unusual source.
They have a Christmas album!
The holiday season may have just passed, but remember to put this on your playlist for next year. In 1964, the four Cartwright cast members came together to release Christmas at Ponderosa. The festive album features Christmas staples like “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells.”
The series was almost canceled after its first season.
They wear the same outfits for a reason.
Have you ever noticed how the characters’ clothes don’t change from episode to episode? From the fourth season onwards, the Cartwrights wear the same outfits like cartoon characters. The standardization was made to make it easier to reuse stock footage for action sequences and to make it easier to duplicate the wardrobe for the stunt doubles.