Find out about Bonanza, the hit Western TV series that ran from 1959 to 1973 – plus see the opening credits

Bonanza cast TV show

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Life on the Ponderosa Ranch

Adapted from articles in the Daily News-Post (Monrovia, California) Aug 26, 1972 and The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) May 2, 1972

From the rugged, sprawling lands of the Ponderosa, Bonanza tells of the adventure and drama of the legendary Cartwright family.

Since its premiere in 1959, as the first hour-long series filmed in color, Bonanza has grown in popularity. The big Western series which tells of the adventures of the Cartwright family during the mining, ranching and timbering days of the 1870s near Virginia City, Nevada, is filmed in part near Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

The most popular program in television history, the TV series focuses on the colorful Cartwright family, masters of a 1,000 square mile ranch bordering Lake Tahoe and brawling Carson City in the Mother Lode. Through adventurous tales as towering as the mighty Ponderosa Pines, the Cartwrights live with honor and integrity, fighting off the forces of crime and greed. 

The powerful Cartwright family is continuously caught up in the crossfire of the mid-19th century. They are beset by bitter range wars, ruthless get-rich-quick miners, marauding cattle rustlers and reckless timber raiders. Yet the understanding and gentleness within the family is the key to the Cartwright success.

Warmth, closeness, unity — these are the qualities that have made “Bonanza” the most popular program in television history. The television program stars Loren Greene as Ben Cartwright, Pernell Roberts as Adam, Dan Blocker as Hoss and Michael Landon as Little Joe.

Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright), Michael Landon (Little Joe Cartwright), Lorne Green (Ben Cartwright)

The characters of “Bonanza” are known and loved across the country. Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) is the powerful, strong-willed father of grown sons, a widower with a will of iron, and a heart that touches the lives of many. Adam (Pernell Roberts) is second-in-command, responsible, honest, dedicated to preserving the Ponderosa from all enemies. Hoss, played by the late Dan Blocker, is a gentle giant, a colossus of a man, yet shy and a bit awkward around people, especially women. Little Joe (Michael Landon) is young, impulsive, romantic and out for excitement wherever he can find it.

The men are familiar. They have ridden the trail high in the ratings saddle through one successful season after another. These are the original characters — the action-
packed early stories that first took a generation by storm. “Bonanza” also featured a host of famous guest stars. A partial list includes James Coburn, Barry Sullivan, Ruth Roman, Buddy Ebsen, Lloyd Nolan and Jack Lord.

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Looking over the years as the characters have become known to television viewers, certain qualities come quickly to mind. Dan Blocker, who played “Hoss” for the last time in 1972 [the actor’s death], had a certain gentle shyness that, when contrasted with his tremendous size, created a very believable, almost pitiable quality. Yet his strength was legend. Hoss had a way with the ladies that, although not too successful, showed a sincerity and warmth that made him a memorable character. That intensely human and identifiable character lives on for all to enjoy.

Find out about Bonanza, the hit Western TV series

Contrary to popular opinion, Bonanza was not an instant success. The show did so poorly at first that NBC-TV thought of canceling it. But The Cartwrights’ stories of life during the frontier days of the 1870s soon caught on.

As head of the family, Lorne Greene, as Ben, has always been the quiet, studied professional who has shown a subdued but infectious air of enthusiasm for the series —something that I detected on two visits to the Bonanza set in Hollywood. “It’s the only way for me,” Lorne once said. “Besides, I’m convinced that the reason for Bonanza’s success is that everybody, cast and crew alike, always gives his best effort. And that’s the way it has been, day in and day out, year in and year out.”

The stickability of the three principals — Greene, Blocker and Landon — is something amazing in the field of television where stars become “over-expressed” and weary of doing the same show, over and over.

After many years on the show, Blocker told me, “I’m just trying it out. If I like it, I might stay.” Landon has, as the producer of the show pointed out, done everything except sweep out the stables. He has not only starred in every segment over the past 13 years, but he has written some 20 episodes and directed 10. In several instances, he was star, writer and director. Modest, as are the other cast members, Michael said of his career on Bonanza, “It’s all a great challenge, and besides, it keeps me off the streets.”

The color film, exposed in the beautiful Tahoe area, made Bonanza a visual treasure for owners of color TV sets. Unlike most TV programming, which is put on videotape, Bonanza’s episodes had the rich quality of color motion pictures. In recent years, more and more filming was done at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, where a replica of the Cartwright ranch, the Ponderosa, was constructed years ago. Other ranch sites around Los Angeles have also been used.

A popularity Bonanza (1963)

By Charles Witbeck – The Daily Register (Red Bank, New Jersey) June 6, 1963

RENO — Four years ago the gamblers, divorcees and the farmers stopped a moment to watch a Saturday noon parade of bands, horses and open cars carrying men in cowboy outfits who waved to a baffled crowd. A giant man with big blue eyes, a white-haired fellow with long sideburns and two smaller cowboys — all feeling like fools — bravely pretended to act like celebrities and went through with the stunt.

That night, after a world premiere of a television series in a local movie house, “Bonanza’s” unknown stars — Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon and Pernell Roberts — began writing autographs. It has become a constant habit ever since.

In public, the men probably write at least one every three minutes. Recently, Lorne Greene, accompanied by Dan Blocker, returned to Reno to accept the 14th Silver Spurs Award, an annual affair honoring the most popular western star as voted by TV critics around the country.

Before TV, the spurs seemed to belong only to John Wayne, then interest in the video cowboys saved the affair and the Silver Spurs hoopla survived, thanks to “Gunsmoke’s” Jim Arness, Richard Boone of “Have Gun, Will Travel” and the “Bonanza” group. Last year Hoss (Dan Blocker) won; this spring it went to his Dad (Greene) on the series. It’s a small family group with a huge impact on the viewers.

Bonanza TV show cast

No good word

Nobody has a good word to say about westerns in Hollywood right now—it’s simply not fashionable, but the word evidently hasn’t gone past the San Fernando Valley. Blocker and Greene weren’t ignored in Reno. As the two giants ambled down the street, pens and papers were thrust at them at every step.

Fans at least let Hoss roll the dice occasionally, but women would watch and grin, saying: “He’s a very good actor you know… I love him, just love him.”

Vintage Pennsylvania Dutch and other Colonial-style barn signs for good luck (1959)

Dan, who plays Hoss, the clod-kicker with the big hat, is polite and friendly to fans, but would rather be left alone. His privacy s is relegated to his home or studio, otherwise, he belongs to his fans, and this grates when the attention is constant. It’s part of becoming a western star, and Blocker can’t express any sour grapes, but says if he had any idea of what being a star was like, he would have stayed with the teaching profession.

Lorne Greene, the Canadian actor who plays father Ben Cartwright, welcomes the attention and can handle it without being bothered inwardly. After accepting the Silver Spurs, he flew back to Hollywood the next morning in time to be an Emmy presenter.

Lorne Greene of Bonanza

Song album

Greene’s rolling voice will fit any occasion and he can be heard in a new record album, singing songs like “Just In Time.”

One wag dubbed Greene “the poor man’s Walter Huston,” and it seems apt, because Lorne hopes to do a Broadway musical after “Bonanza” fades away. With white hair, the husky body and legs apart, Greene, who has the confidence of a senator, seems a natural out on stage while the orchestra booms below him in the pit. Will Blocker sing next? “I can’t sing,” says Dan.

“We are all forced to sing in one album. Pernell Roberts (Adam) has had training and knows what he’s doing. I’m the clodkicker.” Though he pretends to be the big country boy, Blocker has sophisticated tastes — car racing, and admits he’s hooked by the sport.

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“Fans don’t care who you are in the pits,” he says. “Now there’s a sport — man creates a machine, and then he tests his creation to its nth degree in a way which can involve death. To me, it’s far above other sports — animal against animal, man against animal, man against man. Man, I dig it.”

With that, he began signing “Hoss” to waiting pieces of paper held by giggling fans.

Bonanza TV show opening credits & theme song

YouTube video

Lorne Green discusses his ‘Bonanza’ boys

Daily News (New York, New York) Oct 27, 1963

LORNE GREENE isn’t sure who said it, but the tv star is in complete agreement with whoever authored the phrase: “It’s a wise father that knows his own child.” (It was Shakespeare.) It’s taken Lorne four years of playing daddy to the “Bonanza” boys to get to know them well.

In that time, the no-nonsense boss of the Ponderosa has formed some definite opinions about his tv children — Mike Landon, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts. The husky monarch of the mesa gained insight into his brood by acting, drinking, touring and going into business with them. Lorne has a pleasant relationship going with all his lads, but doesn’t hedge when it comes to sizing them up off and on-camera. Here are his appraisals of his NBC-TV sons.

Bonanza TV show cast

MIKE (Little Joe) LANDON: “Our Mike’s a very sweet guy but extremely stubborn. He shows a need of maturing_ He’s too impulsive. Mike will do a thing one day that he’ll regret eight days later. When it comes to a sense of humor, Mike has a terrific one. As an actor, Mike’s developed with remarkable speed. When he first appeared on the show, he didn’t have too much experience. What about his singing ability? Well, he has the wherewithal, but Mike isn’t serious about that phase of show business.”

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DAN (Hoss) BLOCKER: “The big man is a non-stop practical joker. He’s forever coming up behind someone and pinching him. Hoss, a very bright guy, is an exceptional storyteller. After a day’s work, we’ll start gabbing on the set, then move to a bar. When we steal a look at the clock, it’s usually two in the morning. The one thing Hoss definitely can’t do is sing. As he himself says: ‘I ain’t got no rhythm!’ Hoss isn’t kidding, either!”

PERNELL (Adam) ROBERTS: “Pernell’s an extremely intelligent guy and a fine actor. He’s also the best singer in our group, thanks to earlier vocal training. Pernell’s a strange guy, though, in many ways. He’s quite moody. Sometimes, he’ll refuse to say good morning to any of us. Hours later, he’ll snap out of it. I like Pernell, and sincerely hope he’ll be with the show after this season. I know he wants to stay.”

Bonanza TV show cast

As for Lorne himself, he’s a sturdy 6-1-1/2″ 205-pounder who enjoys nothing better than to boom out in sonorous tones how much he relishes portraying Ben Cartwright. “I knew nothing about cowboys until I took this role,” he says. “I couldn’t ride a horse. I couldn’t fire a gun. You might say I’m still the- second slowest draw in the West. It annoys me the way many people tend to degrade the cowboy role in television. I consider it just as serious an acting endeavor as the one I did on Broadway some years ago in a straight dramatic play with Katharine Cornell.

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The brown-eyed Western hero, now pushing 50, envisions a long life ahead for “Bonanza.” But Lorne, a native of Canada, isn’t taking any chances. Currently, he is pursuing a singing career. “I’m quite serious about it, and RCA-Victor is serious about it too,” he says. “I’ve cut two albums, and a third one will soon be released. Actually, I consider myself more of an interpreter than a singer. I can’t compete with other vocalists in the musical department, but I do have the equipment to sell a song.

“I admit that certain qualities of my voice aren’t quite good. For instance, I’m not placing my voice properly and have a tendency to tighten up.” To remedy these defects, Lorne, a baritone, is taking voice lessons. He’ll appear in a Lake Tahoe, Nevada, night club next year, and he has aspirations of appearing in a Broadway musical. “I’m not a bad dancer, either,” he says.

The TV straight shooter answers all his mail personally. “If a person applauds through a letter,” Lorne says, “I think it’s only right that I pen a thank-you note.” Lorne’s popularity doesn’t figure to diminish despite the addition of still another actor to the cast. He won’t get any more gray hairs worrying over it, anyhow. Lorne’s hair turned completely gray seven years ago.

Bonanza, the hit Western TV series 1963

Bye, bye Bonanza after 14 seasons and 431 episodes (1973)

By Jerry Buck – The Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin) January 7, 1973

Few people thought “Bonanza” would last long after its shaky start in 1959. When it finally caught on and became ingrained in the viewing habit, it seemed it would never end.

But the end came swiftly in the middle of the 14th year. Dan Blocker, as Hoss Cartwright — the most popular attraction — died last May. NBC switched the show from its comfortable Sunday niche to Tuesday. When it faltered in the ratings, the network abruptly killed it. The last show will be aired Tuesday, Jan. 23 [1973].

Despite its removal from the network, there is no chance that “Bonanza” will fade away like a played-out silver mine. The show, with 431 episodes in living color, has entered the fabric of American folklore. The mythical Ponderosa, the father image of Lorne Greene, Blocker’s gentle giant, the other larger-than-life inhabitants and the horseback morality plays they participated in, will glow on tubes around the world for many years to come.

WATCH BONANZA: Get the show on-demand or on DVD here!

David Dortort, the executive producer, still nursing his bitterness over the cancellation, said, “I broke the tradition of the Western hero as a rootless, homeless wanderer with no family who went out with the sunset. I said this wasn’t true at all. So we started the tradition of a group of people in one place.”

Dortort said he wanted a strong father image and a strong feeling of mutual respect and love among the family to counteract television’s portrayal of the father as a boob.

At the time the show was being formulated, a Canadian named Lorne Greene, who had not taken up acting until after a successful career as a newscaster, was closing a play in New York.

His agent told him “Omnibus” wanted him for a starring role, but he decided to turn it down. Next, he was offered a guest part on “Wagon Train.” He took it, but his agent was aghast that he would spurn a $4,000 job and take one for $1,000.

But that role brought him to the attention of the people at NBC who were looking for a cast of father and three sons. Greene was first offered the role of the oldest son, but he said he’d rather play the father, Ben Cartwright.

Cast of Bonanza TV show 1968

He said he was attracted to the show because “it was a love story of four men. A true story of mankind. It showed the difference between good and bad. And I liked the idea of the strong father and based my characterization upon my own father.”

So in early 1959, they were cast. Lorne Greene as the father, Ben Cartwright; Pernell Roberts as Adam, the oldest son; Dan Blocker as Hoss, the gentle giant, and Michael Landon as Little Joe, the hot-headed, fun-loving youngster.

Each received $1,250 an episode in the beginning, but as the show became successful the salary steadily climbed. Roberts left the show in 1965. Near the end, the other three were getting $15,000 a show, plus another $15,000 for the first rerun.

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Three years ago, the principals sold the residual rights to the first 11 years back to NBC. The figure was undisclosed, but it made them millionaires. Personal appearances and shrewd investment of their earnings also added to their fortunes.

“Bonanza,” shown in 87 countries, undoubtedly is the most successful television show ever made. Dortort figures that since the beginning the show has taken in $250 million, although he is not certain what the profit has been. He said his take has been “a good percentage” of the profits.

With 431 episodes — all in color- -and the timeless nature of the stories, “Bonanza” is certain to continue earning millions of dollars a year in reruns.

Dortort, Greene and Landon could live comfortably for the rest of their lives without working again. Blocker’s family is financially fixed for life. But, of course. none of them wants to lay back and live off the profits. Dortort has moved onto the Universal lot, where he has a series under development and is discussing other deals with ABC and CBS.

Bonanza cast TV show

Acting is a series of beginnings and endings, and there is always the fear that each ending may be the last.

Greene said, “What ‘Bonanza’ has given me is freedom without fear. Actually, I never was fearful. I gave up a $70,000-a-year job as a newscaster to go into acting. But today I have a firm financial base to work from. I can only wish it for every actor.”

Since the end of “Bonanza,” the offers have been pouring in to Greene. “I’ve had offers from two networks, two major studios. offers to do Broadway musicals,” he said. “It’s too early to tell.”

Landon, who joined the series as a youth with only a few minor movie credits, grew to manhood on the show and matured as an actor and developed into a writer and director. The last “Bonanza” will be one he wrote and directed.

“I’m reading a lot of properties and working on some of my own,” Landon said. “I’d like to do whatever is good. As an actor, writer and director, although not necessarily all at the same time.”

Mitch Vogel, who played the adopted Cartwright son. Jamie, is making a movie in Canada. Victor Sen Yung, the other actor in the show from the beginning, as Hop Sing. recently appeared in a “Kung Fu” episode and will be seen in the NBC movie special “The Red Pony.” He has no firm plans for the future.

Pernell Roberts, who left the series in 1965, has had a successful career as a freelance actor. Most recently, he was filming a guest role for “Marcus Welby, M.D.” He declined to discuss his connection with “Bonanza.”

Bonanza Lorne Greene Michael Landon Dan Blocker

Bonanza TV show canceled: Last roundup for ‘Bonanza’ (1973)

by Bob Martin, TV-Radio Editor – The Press Telegram (Long Beach, Calif.) January 16, 1973

“Bonanza” bites the dust tonight. The 430th and final episode in the long-running NBC series airs at 8 this evening, the network having decided to kill the show in the middle of its 14th year.

For a show that was canceled before it ever went on the air on September 12, 1959 — Lorne Greene told me it was canceled after the first six episodes were shot, but then revived — “Bonanza” did all right.

And even though it is ending its run of original telecasts, “Bonanza” will continue to be seen on a rerun, syndicated basis on about 100 independent and network-affiliated stations in the United States. It also will be viewed by an international audience of more than 400 million people in more than 80 countries, including some behind the Iron Curtain. (Greene told me in an interview of being approached by a number of well-wishers and autograph seekers while visiting a museum on a trip to Russia with his mother several years ago. His parents were born in Russia, and Greene is a native of Canada.)

Bonanza Ponderosa Ranch, Incline Village, Nevada

Michael Landon, who was just a young man when the series started with him in the role of Little Joe Cartwright, wrote and directed tonight’s episode, as he did the first one of this season.

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In tonight’s episode, Joe shares a meal in the open country with a psychotic stranger (played by Tom Skerritt), who the next morning warns the unarmed Joe he has four hours to escape — and then he is going to track him down and kill him.

Landon and Greene are the only two of the four original stars to be with “Bonanza” to the end. Pernell Roberts, who played Adam, the oldest Cartwright son, quit the series in 1965, and Dan Blocker, who portrayed the lovable Hoss, the gentle giant, died last May.

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. That was a bad season for westerns. They also cancelled James Garner’s “Nichols’ after only one season, killing off the main character in the last episode and replacing him with his twin brother, who was a tougher gunslinger. This series introduced us to Margot Kidder.

  2. That’s isn’t a backstory, it’s a forward story about where the actors are going to go after the end of the show. I wanted to read about the family came to be, a widower with 3 sons, and such a huge estate to manage. A long synopsis, if you will, about how this family came to be.

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