Here's why Lorne Greene thought Bonanza was something special

It takes someone special to know something special.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Bonanza aired on NBC for a total of 14 seasons from 1959 to 1973. The Western was considered a mega-hit because of its consistently high ratings, incredible fanbase, and its longevity. 

Lorne Greene was just one of the millions of people to give Bonanza a high review, and not just because he had a starring role in the series, but because he believed it deserved a high mark.

He was one of Bonanza's biggest fans, and according to a 1968 interview with Springfield News-Sun, he was also the biggest fan of his own character. Greene played the role of Ben Cartwright, or "Papa Cartwright" as some liked to call him. 

"Ben Cartwright, like old wine, has mellowed and is a lot easier to live with now," Greene said. "I have continued to maintain my interest because the character never ceases to surprise me. I don't get tired of him any more than you would of an old friend."

In Bonanza, the circumstances change but the character tends to remain the same. When the circumstances are dull, Greene said he had to find something new within his character to keep the story exciting. "It's a constant challenge," he added. 

"I've changed Ben Cartwright over the years," Greene said. "When we first started in 1959, over 468 episodes ago he was a rather tyrannical patriarch who quoted from the Bible and shot a gun at will - any man who was jealous of his land."

Any time a stranger arrived in Ponderosa it was fight on sight for Ben Cartwright. However, Greene developed Ben to be a bit more hospitable and a lot more kind to visitors.

He believed the change in his character would help the Bonanza storyline become a lot more interesting. His character no longer felt as though he had to chase every stranger out of town, but rather invited them in to catch up on what's happening in the world.

Bonanza's characters, co-stars, and story were the three main components that made Greene believe it was the perfect series. 

But the thing Greene loved the most about being in Bonanza was his fans. According to the article, no matter where Greene traveled to, he always made time for Bonanza fans he met along the way. 

"People by the thousands come up and shake my hand and tell me what they think of the show and how, in many cases, it has affected their lives," Greene said. 

According to Greene, Bonanza could be seen in around 79 countries, in 14 different languages, and was watched by over 400 million people each week. Greene believed it was the fan's ultimate dedication to the series that made it thrive for over 14 years. 

"When I get off the plane in Rome the porter yells, 'Signor Bonanza,' and in Spain, it's 'Papa Bonanza.' It's a wonderful thing to know that Bonanza is not being shown behind closed doors," Greene said. "It's being seen and people like it and that stimulates me and makes me feel alive. We're an accepted member of the community no matter where we travel."

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6 Comments

Runeshaper 2 months ago
Bonanza is a GREAT show! I like 'Signor Bonanza' and 'Papa Bonanza.'
rsheafer 2 months ago
Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have gun will travel, Rawhide, Maverick, Bat Masterson the Rifleman and many others were the first est westerns ever produced. It sadde s me how far tv has fallen over the years, we've lost the wholesome shows that hacked back to a simpler time.
ncadams27 2 months ago
Ben was like an old wine. Adam was like an old whine, always whining about something.

While Ben would fire at will, the others asked, “Which one’s Will?”
Thacket ncadams27 1 month ago
Will is Will. The cousin, Will Cartwright!
Andybandit 2 months ago
I love Bonanza. I love that it had so many seasons. So many great actors. My least favorite was Jamie. He was annoying. So to be mean about him.
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