It’s hard to think of this show without that well-known Bonanza theme song immediately playing in your mind, and remembering the whole Cartwright clan riding across the Ponderosa. But I have to admit that, as a young teenager, I had something of a crush on Little Joe! Who could resist his character with that handsome smile and beautiful pinto horse? Little Joe and his paint horse were definitely the flashiest combo of the Cartwright clan!
To help put you back in a "Bonanza" mood, click on the center button in the video box below to hear that great theme and see some good pictures of the whole clan!
Background of the Show
The Bonanza tv show was set in the time during and after the Civil War, and was all about the Cartwright family which included the father, Ben, and his 3 sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.
Did you ever wonder why those 3 brothers didn't look anything alike? That's right! Each one had a different mother and none of those women had survived! Wow; Ben had his share of bad luck in that department! Not wanting to mess up a successful formula, the show stayed consistent with that theme - any love interest that developed for a Cartwright man didn't last any longer than a cold drink on a hot day!
Here's a little bit about the Bonanza cast -
Ben (played by Lorne Greene) was the owner of the very large (1,000 square miles) and very prosperous Ponderosa Ranch, which was situated around Lake Tahoe in Nevada.
Adam (played be Pernell Roberts) was the oldest son. He was an architect and built that great ranch house where the Cartwrights lived. Adam was handsome and always dressed in black - quiet, serious, the strong, silent type!
Next was Eric (played by Dan Blocker), but we all knew him as Hoss, who obviously got that nickname because of his size. He was a big guy who looked even bigger in his trademark 10-gallon hat. Hoss was gentle, sometimes naive, and not the brightest member of the clan!
And then there was Little Joe (my personal favorite - played by Michael Landon) who was the youngest. He was hot-headed and, with his good looks and flashy smile, quite the ladies man!
DID YOU KNOW?
Bonanza came close to being cancelled at the end of its first year! But the fact that it was considered a "novelty" because it was shown in color made all the difference! RCA, the parent company of NBC, wanted to sell more color television sets so they used Bonanza as a marketing gimmick and moved it to a prime Sunday night timeslot believing it would attract more viewers there! Obviously they were right; Bonanza was in the Top 5 shows for 9 of its 14 years on TV.
All About the Show
Unlike the usual shoot'em-up, Bonanza was the first “dramatic” TV Western show. The episodes were much more about relationships between the cast members and the guest stars than they were about hunting down the bad guy. Each episode usually had a serious theme to it, something "issue-oriented", built around themes such as racism, prejudice and social injustice. This was a first for TV because the networks were afraid of letters they might receive.
Another first for Bonanza - it was the first Western to be televised in color.
Each show mixed the adventures of one or two of the Cartwrights, their ranching and mining business, and an assortment of characters who crossed their paths in some way.
The 4 main actors were considered equal stars but, in case you didn't notice, the credits were rotated each week so that top billing was given equally.
A supporting cast of other characters also appeared in the Bonanza TV show. They included -
Hop Sing (played by Victor Sen Yung) who was a Chinese immigrant and the Cartwright family cook; Sheriff Roy Coffee (played by Ray Teal); deputy Clem Foster (played by Bing Russell); "Candy" Canaday (played by David Canary) who was the Cartwright's ranch foreman; Ben's friend Dusty Rhodes (played by Lou Frizzel); Jamie Hunter (played by Mitch Vogel) played the orphaned son of a rainmaker and was adopted by Ben in a 1971 episode; and ranch hand Griff King (played by Tim Matheson) was a parolee in Ben's custody.
DID YOU NOTICE THIS?
From the third season on, all of the Cartwrights and nearly every other recurring character on the show wore the same clothing in almost every episode! Why? To cut down the cost of refiming. They could use the same footage over and over. Here's who wore what:
Ben: Taupe shirt, brown leather vest, gray pants, creme colored hat and an occasional green scarf.
Adam: Black shirt, black pants, black hat (sounds a little like a "bad guy"!) and occasionally a yellow trail coat.
Hoss: White shirt, brown suede vest, brown pants, and his trademark 10-gallon hat.
Little Joe: Gray shirt, green corduroy jacket, tan pants, tan hat. And, from the tenth season on he also wore black leather gloves.
Candy Canaday: Crimson shirt, black pants, black leather vest, black hat and a green scarf.
The Cartwrights were America's favorite Western family for 14 years while the show ran from 1959 to 1973. But Dan Blocker (Hoss) died suddenly from a post-op bloodclot in 1972 and the show was moved from its Sunday night spot (crucial to success) to Tuesday night, opposite the new comedy "Maude". Many believe that Hoss was an essential character because he balanced out the all male cast, and that his loss had much to do with the show's cancellation.
What Happened to the Actors?
DAN BLOCKER died suddenly in 1972 from a post-op bloodclot following gallbladder surgery in Los Angeles. He was 43 years old.
Here's a little personal info about Dan Blocker:
He was born in DeKalb, TX and was a big guy right from the start.... weighing 14 pounds at birth! He spent most of his boyhood years in O'Donnell, TX and that town has a bust of Dan on display in the O'Donnell Heritage Museum. He was married (wife's name Dolphia) and they had twin daughters (Danna and Debra) and 2 sons (David and Dirk).
LORNE GREENE died in 1987 of complications from prostate cancer in Santa Monica, California. He was 72 years old.
Here's some other info about Lorne Greene:
He was born in Ottawa, Canada and his real name was Lyon Green. His deep, rich voice got him into broadcasting and, during the early years of World War II, he was known as "the voice of doom" because his reporting of the international conflict was so somber and dramatic. In addition to "Bonanza", Lorne was in several movies and TV series, such as "Griff", "Code Red, "Battlestar Gallactica", and he had a number 1 hit record in 1964 which was a spoken (not sung) ballad called "Ringo".
MICHAEL LANDON had 2 very successful series after Bonanza - "Little House on the Prairie" and "Highway to Heaven". He had filmed the pilot for another series when he was diagnosed with pancretic cancer and died in 1991. He was 54 years old.
PERNELL ROBERTS starred in the successful series "Trapper John, M.D." after Bonanza. His last appearance was in an episode of "Diagnosis Murder" in 2001. Pernell died from pancreatic cancer on Jan. 24, 2010.
Here are some more details about Pernell Roberts:
He was born May 18, 1928 in Waycross, GA and showed his talents from a young age. During high school he played the horn, sang, and acted in school plays. His involvement with music continued while he was in the Marine Corps, playing tuba and horn in the Marine Corps Band.
His first professional appearance on stage was at the Olney Theatre in Maryland, in 1949, in "The Man Who Came to Dinner". Over the next 10 years he appeared in lots and lots of productions, including the American Shakespeare Festival, playing both leading and supporting roles.
Pernell Roberts made his television debut in 1956 in an episode of Kraft Television Theater ("Shadow of Suspicion"). From then until he was cast in Bonanza in 1959, he had guest roles in many TV shows such as Gunsmoke, Sugarfoot, Have Gun - Will Travel, Route 66, Lawman, Bronco, 77 Sunset Strip, GE Theater, The Detectives, and Cheyenne. He continued doing theatre productions during this time and also co-starred with James Coburn in "Ride Lonesome". He felt a bit type cast by Westerns but some say those were his finest roles.
He had some reservations about the concept of Bonanza when he was offered the part of Adam Cartwright in 1959, mainly that 3 grown men were portrayed as adolescents needing their father's permission or approval for everything they did. But he accepted the role when he was promised that all 4 characters would be clearly defined with carefully prepared scripts. This never happened, according to Pernell, who considered himself to be a more "serious" actor. While he appreciated the success and popularity of the show, he said that he just didn't enjoy doing it. He fulfilled his 6-year contract and then left the show. Later episodes explained Adam's absence by saying that he was running the family ranching business on the East Coast, or that he was traveling in Europe, or that he was at sea.
The last episode that Pernell Roberts appeared in was "To Own the World" which aired on April 18, 1965. The story line was kept open in case he wanted to come back, but he never did. Show Producer David Dortort later said that he didn't appreciate Pernell enough and regretted letting him leave the show.
After Bonanza he returned to his favorite medium, theatre, and played regional and circuit theaters as well as Broadway where he had the opportunity to use his accomplished singing and acting talents. He wasn't thru with television, though, as he continued to guest star in a variety of regular shows.
In 1979 he returned to television in the starring role of Trapper John, MD until its final airing in 1986. He received an Emmy nomination for this role in 1981.
Pernell Roberts hobbies were reading literature, cooking, swimming, running, and playing tennis. He was married 4 times. At the time of his death he was married to Eleanor Criswell, and he had only 1 child (with his first wife, Vera Mowry). His son Christopher Roberts was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989 at the age of 37.
What do you remember most about Bonanza?
Please share your special memories of the Bonanza show and its great cast of characters.
What Other Visitors Have Said
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Doing something as family After supper we would watch Disney & then Bonanza. My dad was sleeping on the couch, mom was in her chair and us kids were on the floor.... me, my oldest …
Candy When I was in the Army in Texas he came and did a USO show. At that time I think he a singer.
Little Joe Not rated yet I can relate to Little Joe because my relationship with my own father was real similar to his relationship with Ben.
Adam, Hoss and Little Joe Not rated yet I still am In love with BONANZA!!! When I was 4 or 5 I would sit and wait for hours during the day, right in front of the tv with my grandpa, for Bonanza …
Respect for each other, good family show Not rated yet Am now 82 and enjoy the reruns more, feel like I know them well, all their characters were perfect, miss them, too bad there is not anything like that …
Some more facts Not rated yet Did you know:
Pernell Roberts was bald & he didn't like horses.
None of the cast had ever been on a horse prior to being cast for the series.
Pernell Roberts Not rated yet I recall that the last filmed episode of Bonanza with Pernell Roberts was titled "Dead And Gone", with Hoyt Axton. And I believe "To Own The World" was …
Everything Not rated yet I have watched the show growing up and now i'm 56. My mother loved the show as i do, too. it still comes on here in Portland, Oregon on channel 2.2 everyday …
Leprechaun Not rated yet One of my favorite memories is when Hoss found a leprechaun. It was so funny. No one believed him.
Michael and Lorne Not rated yet Two of the most generous and honest people you could ever know. I didn't meet them in person, but as a sick child my mother wrote to them both. I not …
Loretta Swit Not rated yet I liked the episode where Loretta Switt, if I remember right, was married to a bad man who wanted her to help him thwart an attempt to take him to jail. …
M*A*S*H Cast Members Not rated yet On three episodes of this show three Cast Members from MASH guest starred.
-Loretta Swit in A visit to Upright (She played Major Houlihan in MASH)
Lil Joe Cartright Not rated yet Lil Joe was such an outstanding person, in character and personality. I watched him as a child growing up and as a young adult in Little House on the Prarie …
The fireplace Not rated yet I have always been in love with the fireplace in the Bonanza ranch house. I would love to some day have a replica of that fire place.
THE BONANZA "FAMILY" Not rated yet THE SHOW WHEN JOE AND HOSS WERE GOING TO MAKE A FORTUNE RAISING RABBITS WAS MY FAVORITE.THOSE TWO WERE BEST WHEN THEY PLAYED FUNNY ROLES.THE CLOSE FAMILY …
BONANZA MEMORIES, TOO MANY TO MENTION Not rated yet I've always been a fan of westerns, even at a young age. I've watched other shows, but Bonanza has always been my favorite. Of the four characters, Adam …
Too many to say Not rated yet We watch Bonanza five days a week on Encore Western's and love watching them. Many of them I had never seen and we watched it all the time as a kid! Right …
Adam Not rated yet One of my favorite memories was of Adam playing the guitar and singing. Also he was very smart I believe, and a very handsome man.
The scenery Not rated yet Born and raised in a small town, Auburn, Ca., only about an hour and a half from Lake Tahoe. We traveled and camped at Lake Tahoe every weekend until …
Hoss Not rated yet I think Hoss was named after his mothers brother..according to an episode I saw. His Uncle Hoss came for a vist & I believe he was scandinavian.. not sure …