We’re drawn to Bonanza, one of TV’s most iconic Westerns, based on the well-off Cartwright family and their one-thousand square mile Ponderosa Ranch, the site of the Comstock Silver Lode, during and after the Civil War. The beloved TV series created by David Dortort is based on the adventures of Ben Cartwright and his three sons as they run and defend their ranch while helping the surrounding community in and around the area of Virginia City, Nevada, bordering Lake Tahoe. Set in the 1860s, Bonanza starred Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts (who left after six seasons), and later David Canary and Mitch Vogel. NBC’s longest-running western was known for presenting moral dilemmas and how they overcame them.
Bonanza chronicled the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by the thrice-widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene). He had three sons, each by a different wife: the eldest was the urbane architect Adam Cartwright (Pernell Roberts) who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric “Hoss” Cartwright (Dan Blocker), and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or “Little Joe” (Michael Landon).
1. Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright
Canadian actor and musician Lorne Greene landed the role of Ben Cartwright, the widowed patriarch of the clan. In 2007, a TV Guide survey listed Cartwright as TV’s #2 favorite father. Greene died in 1987 at the age of 72 due to complications from pneumonia, but not before appearing in numerous TV shows and films throughout his career. Ben Cartwright an amazing TV dad!
2. Not Another Idiot Father
When Bonanza first premiered, TV’s conventional method of depicting fathers was a dimwitted man often managed by their wives. However, producer David Dortort wanted something different. He wanted Ben to be an admired father-figure worthy of respect. Dortort insisted the show also ditch the 30-minute limit for a full hour show to better explore the character.
3. They Never Changed Clothes
Eagle-eyed fans of the show might have noticed the characters never changed clothes. This tactic made it so production could work in stock footage when necessary and lower production costs. Despite the lower costs, the show was still one of the most expensive of its day.
4. Michael Landon (Joseph “Little Joe” Cartwright)
American actor, writer, director, and producer Michael Landon played the role of Little Joe, the youngest Cartwright son, whose mother was of French Creole descent. Before his successful career in Bonanza, Landon had a number of small roles in movies and TV shows. He died in 1991 at the age of 54 after a battle with cancer.
5. Michael Landon’s Real Name
Michael Landon’s real name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz. Initially, Orowitz wanted the screen name, Michael Lane, but another actor already had the name in the Screen Actors Guild. Going back to the ol’ phone book (memba those?) Orowitz stumbled across the name Alf Landon and soon Michael Landon was born. (We would have taken Alf, if we’re being honest.)
6. A Multi-Talented Cast
7. Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright)
8. Pernell Roberts Hated the Show
9. The TV Show That Inspired a Restaurant Chain
Restaurants Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouses were actually inspired by the show and started by Bonanza cast member Dan Blocker. He founded the first American Bonanza Steakhouse in Kokomo, Indiana in 1965. The chain expanded to Canada in 1971. The restaurants are owned by the Metromedia Restaurant Group.
10. Victor Sen Yung (Hop Sing)
In a case of art imitating life, Victor Sen Yung, the actor who played the Cartwright family’s chef Hop Sing, was actually an accomplished chef in real life. After the show ended, Yung supported himself by appearing on cooking shows and authoring The Great Wok Cookbook in 1974.