11 solid gold facts about 'Bonanza'
Dan Blocker set records with his birth and death.
Image: Everett Collection
It was the Western that defied stereotypes. In a television environment where sitcoms were typically the family-focused shows, Bonanza broke the mold by featuring stories about the trials and tribulations of the Cartwright clan on the Western frontier.
For 14 seasons, the Cartwrights — portrayed by Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon — ran the famous Ponderosa ranch while garnering bonanza ratings for the network.
This week marks 44 years since the legendary Western went off the air. Here are a few things you might not have known about the show, the ranch and the Cartwrights.
1. Mark Twain would have been the Cartwright's neighbor.
Samual Clemens lived in Virginia City, Nevada, in the 1860s. He arrived in the city to mine silver, but eventually worked for the newspaper Territorial Enterprise. It was there he adopted the pen name Mark Twain.
2. 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.
3. Lorne Greene was also known as "The Voice of Doom."
The Canadian actor was originally a radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company during World War II. His official nickname was "The Voice of Canada," but his booming voice and his role delivering stressful news about the war lead people to give him the nickname "The Voice of Doom."
Image: Public Domain
4. 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.
5. Blocker founded the Bonanza restaurants.
Not only is the popular buffet chain named after the show, it was founded by one of its cast members. Blocker started the chain in 1963, which eventually boasted 600 locations by 1989. Ponderosa restaurants started in Canada in the early 1970s and expanded to the United States in the 1980s. Today, both chains are owned by the same company.
6. 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.
7. Michael Landon got his name from an unusual source.
Born Eugene Maurice Orowitz in 1936, Landon picked his stage name from a phone book.
8. 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."
9. The series was almost canceled after its first season.
Because the long-running Western faced off against Perry Mason during its first season, it wasn't among the top 30 shows in 1959-1960. However, NBC decided to keep the show because it was one of the first to be broadcast in color. A time slot change after the show's second season caused Bonanza to rise in the ratings, eventually becoming the No. 1 show from 1964 to 1967.
10. 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.
11. Most of the cast members wore hairpieces.
During the last few years of the series, Greene, Roberts and Blocker all had to wear hairpieces because their natural hair was thinning. Greene and Roberts started the series wearing hairpieces, while Blocker started wearing a toupee in 1968.