HomeTrending61 Things You Never Knew About the Cast and Production of Bonanza

61 Things You Never Knew About the Cast and Production of Bonanza

Pernell Roberts: Then

Pernell Roberts played the oldest Cartwright son, Adam Cartwright. After only working on the series for 6 years, Roberts decided to leave the show. He didn’t leave the show on the best of terms and was ultimately fired by NBC. However, this wasn’t the end of his career, as we’ll soon see….

Still One Of the Most Expensive Shows on TV

Even with the same clothing being worn every single episode, the show was still not cheap. The network was spending between $100,000 and $150,000 per episode. That made Bonanza one of the most expensive scripted shows to produce on a weekly basis. It was also one of the best performing TV shows which helped justify the large amount of money spent on each episode.

Big Name Stars Were Avoided

Producers on the show were so certain that the newer medium of color TV was about to produce a new generation of stars that they decided not to cast a bunch of well known actors in the show’s leading roles. That decision paid off and before long the entire cast of the show were huge international stars.

There Was a Very Good Reason The Cartwright’s Were Not Hostile To Visitors

During the first few shows the Cartwright’s were hostile to visitors who came onto their land. However, Lorne Green soon realized that the family ran an important business for the community. That meant many people would visit their homestead to conduct business. The show’s characters were soon altered to make them more approachable for their fellow neighbors.

Landon Joked About All the Female Deaths in the Series

Michael Landon thought it was funny that so many females that showed up on the show would end up dead or mysteriously leaving town. It got to the point where he once joked that the Cartwrights “had to be careful or their horses would trip over the graves” of the past female characters. Maybe not the most tasteful joke but it was right on point.

Dan Blocker: Then

Dan Blocker was the middle son of the Cartwright family, Eric “Hoss” Cartwright. His character was gullible, sweet, and a little dimwitted, which was quite the opposite of Dan Blocker in real life. Before getting involved in acting, Blocker received a Master’s degree and worked as a teacher. Leading up to his role in “Bonanza,” Blocker also worked in a number of Westerns.

Hoss Had a Real First Name


Did you know that Hoss Cartwright was actually named Eric Haas Cartwright. His family and other characters on the show always used the nickname “Hoss” which was a play on his middle name. If you weren’t a die-hard fan of the show you might have missed that little recognized fact.

The End of the Stupid Father Era

Before Bonanza debuted in 1959 there was a common theme among TV shows. The men played bumbling morons who could only support their family with the leadership of their wives. Creators wanted to make sure that Ben Cartwright was a loved and respected father figure who was working hard to support his family and give his children a good life. The idea worked and soon teenage boys all over the country were writing to the show’s studio to say they wanted Ben to be their father.

For 14 years and 431 episodes, “Bonanza” was a fixture of American life. The show chronicled the life and adventures of the Cartwright family, led by their patriarch, Ben Cartwright. In this post, we’ll look at some little known facts about the show and see what happened to the stars of the show after it ended in 1973.

Landon Was Also Incredibly Hard to Work With

As the show started to lose its luster and entered into its final five seasons, Landon became incredibly hard to work with on a daily basis. It was rumored that Landon made sure that no new major characters were introduced to the show. He also regularly delayed production shoots as he attempted to create his own vision for the series.

The Show Stayed on TV To Sell Color TV’s

Bonanza was one of the earliest TV shows to be filmed in color. It was partially kept on the air as it struggled to gain an audience because NBC’s parent company RCA, wanted to sell more color TVs. As the TV show increased in popularity it didn’t have to rely any longer on its ability to sell color TVs.

It Was The First Issue Oriented Western TV Show

Bonanza was the first “dramatic” TV Western that didn’t focus on hunting down and killing bad guys. Instead, each episode of the show focused on “issue-oriented” drama. Issues such as racism, prejudice, and social justice, were addressed during each episode and that was a big risk because the network didn’t know how each show would be rated.

The Show Has A Deep Connection To The Original Star Trek

Almost every major actor from the 1966 TV series Star Trek appeared at some point during Bonanza’s run. If you are a fan of the show you can catch the following guest stars in various roles: William Shatner, James Doohan, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, Majel Barrett, and Walter Koenig.

This Stock Footage Trick Saved a Ton of Money

Have you ever noticed that the characters outfits were the same almost every episode? The show’s producers realized that they could easily insert stock footage if the same clothes were used. It was a simple but very effective trick that cut out plenty of big shoots that would have inflated the show’s budget.

Bonanza Reruns Were Under the Title Ponderosa

During the summer of 1972 Bonanza was still being aired on Sunday nights. To ensure that new episodes were not confused with reruns, from 1967-1970, the show aired on Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm under the title Ponderosa. The show, as ratings fell, eventually filled the same time slot with new episodes on Tuesdays.

David Canary: Later

Canary’s history with “Bonanza” was checkered, as he left the show in 1970 due to salary disputes but ended up returning in 1972 (with a new contract for a higher salary) at the request of Michael Landon. After “Bonanza,” Canary went on to star as Adam Chandler in “All My Children” between 1983 and 2010, when he announced his retirement. David died of natural causes in November 2015.

The Ponderosa Ranch–From Disappointment to Delight

Because of the success of the show, many fans made the trip to Incline Village, Nevada, the location of the fictional Ponderosa, only to be disappointed when they arrived to see nothing there. Sensing opportunity, land developers Bill and Joyce Anderson partnered with the producers of the show to develop a large theme park in Incline Village, which included a complete recreation of the ranch house. Portions of the show were even filmed at the park, and it continued to attract fans until it closed in 2004.

The TV Show That Inspired a Restaurant Chain

If the names of the restaurant didn’t immediately give it away, we’ll confirm it: the Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouses were, indeed, inspired by the TV show. Dan Blocker founded the first American Bonanza Steakhouse in Kokomo, Indiana in 1965. The chain had expanded to Canada in 1971. The restaurants are owned by the Metromedia Restaurant Group.

It Was the Second Longest Running TV Western of All Time

The only Western TV series to run longer than Bonanza was Gunsmoke. Bonanza ran for 14 seasons and Gunsmoke ran for 15. Syndication for both shows continues in various parts of the world up until this very day. If you love westerns and you have not watched Bonanza we highly recommend hunting down the series and watching it while you still can.

So THAT’S Why They Never Changed Clothes

Viewers who were paying attention may have noticed that the outfits worn by the show’s main characters were the same for most episodes. The reason? So that it was easier to work in stock footage when necessary. Although you’d think this would lower the production costs for the show, at $100,000-$150,000 per episode, it was still one of the most expensive shows of its time.

Landon’s Real Name

“Michael Landon” – it just sounds like the name of someone who was born to be an actor. However, this was not actually Landon’s birth name. In fact, Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz. He chose his new stage name from a phone book. Initially he chose the name Michael Lane, but there was already an actor enrolled by this name in the Screen Actor’s Guild. So, another look through the phone book led the actor to stumble across the name Alf Landon, and so Michael Landon was born.

Dan Blocker: Later

Sadly, “Bonanza” was the last show that Blocker ever worked on. In 1972, at the age of 43, he died suddenly from a lung clot. His death occurred just 19 days before production on the show’s 1972-73 season was scheduled to start. The show apparently couldn’t survive without Blocker, as its first season without the actor also proved to be its last.

The Show Skyrocketed Michael Landon’s Success

Michael Landon became a massive star thanks to his starring role on Bonanza. He owns the claim to be the only actor to have three TV shows to run consecutively for at least five years. He starred in “Bonanza (1959-1973)”, followed by “Little House on the Prairie(1974-1983)” and finally “Highway to Heaven (1984-1989).”

The Largest Baby Ever Born in a Town in Texas

This fact is definitely one that only the most diehard fans of the show will likely know. Weighing in at 14 pounds at birth, Dan Blocker was, at the time, the largest baby ever born in Bowie County, Texas. By the time he reached the first grade, Blocker already weighed a whopping 105 pounds.

A Western Retelling of King Arthur

When Dortort started to think about the show and how it would be put together, he pictured it as an Old West presentation of the legend of King Arthur. In his vision for the show, Ben Cartwright was King Arthur and his sons were his knights. In many ways that premise came true as Ben led and guided his children through life.

Michael Landon Wore Heels While Filming

Michael Landon wasn’t exactly short at 5’ 9” but that didn’t stop him from wearing heels on the set of Bonanza. Several sources claim that his new shoes added a few inches to his stature. Adding height to an actor or actresses appearance isn’t something new and the technique is still used to this very day.

Fans Started Joking About the “Cartwright Curse”

Every woman that Cartwright fell in love with either ended up dead or left town. It became a joke among the shows actors and fans and there was obviously a “Cartwright Curse.” We would have settled for just one marriage that lasted but this dad was obviously cursed to raise his kids as a strong father figure with no mom in sight.

Michael Landon: Then

Michael Landon starred as Little Joe Cartwright, the youngest member of the Cartwright clan and perhaps the most beloved by the shows fans. Before his 14 year career on “Bonanza” as the heart and soul of the show, Landon had a number of small roles in a number of movies and TV shows, including the low-budget horror film entitled “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.”

Saturday Night Nearly Killed the Show

When the show started on Saturday nights it seemed doomed. The series was targeted for cancellation but given one final chance when it was moved to Sunday nights at 9:00pm. By the mid-1960s ratings had skyrocketed and it reached #1 nationwide. Not bad for a show that barely made it past one season and then went on to finish 14 years of filming.

It Was The First Time a Show Acknowledged a Character’s Death

After Blocker’s unexpected death, it was announced that Hoss would be killed in an accident in an episode of the show. It was the very first time in television history that a show had dealt with, or even mentioned, the death of one of its characters. “Just as we personally suffered a loss,” explained Bonanza producer Richard Collins, “so the audience suffered one, too.”

The Show Was Full Of Musicians Who Released Albums

Did you know that all four Cartwrights sang on the 1964 album Christmas at the Ponderosa? Greene even released a single titled “Ringo” that was a huge hit in the US and Canada. Greene also sang the theme song to Bonanza. It has gone on to become one of the most recognizable and popular TV theme songs of all time.

Equal Screen Time Was Very Important

The four men of the Bonanza household shared screen time. It was really important for the show’s producers that none of the stars overshadowed the other three. Every script was closely scrutinized to make sure there were four stars during every episode. It paid off and led to a very well-balanced show that offered the chance for many stars to shine.

First Globally Accepted TV Series

Bonanza wasn’t just a massive success in the United States, it was also the only show to air in every nation on the planet that had an available TV station. That’s a claim that even today’s most advanced connected internet streaming channels like Netflix can’t touch. Bonanza was truly the first globally accepted TV series.

A Bonanza Theatrical Release?

Bonanza actually had a theatrical release — in Mexico. The episodes “Ride the Wind: Part 1” and “Ride The Wind: Part 2” were given a full release in theaters in Mexico. The episodes were combined and renamed “Jinetes del Viento.” There were no other theatrical releases of the Western TV show.

The Credits Were Rotated Each Week

If you closely watch the opening sequence you will quickly notice that the order of the actors’ names were swapped out so nobody always had top billing on the show 100% of the time. As previously mentioned, the four main actors were considered equal stars and that was a carefully monitored part of the show.

Michael Landon Was Obsessed With the Show

Michael Landon didn’t just have a role on the TV show, he was also highly devoted to every filmed frame. Landon appeared in all but 14 of the shows 416 episodes. It was also the show where Landon started his writing and directing career. You might not be aware that Landon actually wrote and directed some of the series’ most beloved episodes.

David Canary: Then

David Canary was brought onto “Bonanza” and cast as “Candy” Cannaday to help fill the gap that was left when Pernell Roberts left the show. Canary’s character was the honorary foreman of the Ponderosa ranch, and he ended up being involved in many of the family’s adventures. Before his time on the ranch, Canary worked on several other TV shows and off-Broadway plays.

The Cartwright Curse May Have Extended To His Sons

It wasn’t just the family’s patriarch who had trouble keeping his wives in town or alive. Whenever his boys would fall in love the women they liked would either fall ill, die, or leave town with another man. The Cartwright Curse was apparently a family problem that just wouldn’t go away.

Not Another Idiot Father

In 1959, when “Bonanza” originally premiered, the television landscape was filled with shows that featured fathers who were depicted as idiots managed by their wives. David Dortort, the producer of the show, wanted to depict Ben Cartwright as a father figure worthy of respect, which caused him to insist that the show be an hour long instead of only 30 minutes so that there was time to properly portray this character.

Pernell Roberts: Also Then

In the immediate aftermath of leaving “Bonanza” and being fired by NBC, Roberts went on to do some stage work, starring as King Arthur in “Camelot” and appearing in several prestigious theaters alongside the likes of talents such as Ingrid Bergman. Roberts also starred in many television shows after “Bonanza,” notably appearing as the title character on “Trapper John: M.D.” He retired in the 1990s, and died in 2010 at the age of 81 following a battle with cancer.

Ponderosa Ranch, Incline Village, Nevada

In 1967, Bill and Joyce Anderson realized that many tourists visited the eastern side of Lake Tahoe in search of the Ponderosa. The couple decided to make money off the Bonanza phenomenon by building a theme park at Incline Village, Nevada. They even recreated the Cartwright’s ranch house. Portions of the show were even filmed at the park. It remained in operation until 2004.

The Other Reason For the Same Clothing

Yes, wearing the same clothing made it easy to insert stock footage, but it came down to more than that. When editing footage from the show, reshoots were easier to match up with great continuity because the clothing on the actors and actresses were always the same. Apparently an encapsulated wardrobe has a ton of positive returns for TV producers.

Lorne Green: Then

Born in 1915, Canadian Lorne Greene played the patriarch of the Cartwright clan, Ben Cartwright. Before working on Bonanza, Greene was best known as a reporter and the main radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company during World War II. The gloomy news that he announced during WWII along with Greene’s deep, booming voice earned him the nickname “The Voice of Doom.”

From Barely Surviving to Thriving

If not for the fact that “Bonanza” was one of the first TV shows ever to be filmed and broadcast in color, the show may never have survived its first season on air. Initially, the show aired on Saturday evenings, where its ratings were dismal. However, because NBC was intent on keeping the show running due to its color production, they moved it to Sunday evenings, where its ratings soared. “Bonanza” eventually reached number one in 1964.

The Show’s Premise Was The Result Of David Dortort Writing An Episode Of ‘Fireside Theater’

Series creator and producer David Dortort had a spark of genius for the show when he was writing an episode of Fireside Theatre in 1953. He came up for the idea that would eventually become Bonanza while writing the episode titled Man of the Comstock. He ran with the idea and it paid off with a TV show that lasted for 14 years.

This Actor Despised the Show

We already know that Pernell Roberts left “Bonanza” after six years on the show, but you may not have known that his hatred of the show started right out of the gate. In fact, it was only after six years of constant pressure that NBC finally gave in and let him go. Roberts’ politics and lack of regard for the intelligence of the script were some of the main reasons for his intense dislike of the show.

Johnny Cash and the Bonanza Theme Song

We know the instrumental side of the Bonanza theme song but it also had lyrics.
The song was created by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and there is footage of the lead actors singing those lyrics. Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon sang a lyric version for the pilot, but it never aired. Famed singer Johnny Cash recorded his own version of the theme Bonanza theme song.

The Chevrolet Connection

A large portion of the TV show’s budget was earned by a long-standing partnership with Chevrolet. The car company sponsored almost all of the TV show’s 430-episodes which helped keep the series in production. The stars appeared in numerous Chevrolet commercials as part of the sponsorship deal which showed them endorsing various vehicles.

Landon’s Repeated Attempts To Write Scripts For The Show Originally Failed

Show producer David Dortort wouldn’t allow Michael Landon to write scripts for the show. While his first attempts failed, Landon eventually submitted a script that Dortort thought was good enough to produce. Not only would he become a regular writer and occasional producer on the show, he eventually wrote many scripts for Little House on the Prairie.

Dan Blocker Was Turned Down For a Role in Nash

Dan Blocker was considered one of Robert Altman’s top choices for a lead role in the movie MASH. Altman fought for his part in the film but the movie’s producers refused Altman’s request to cast Blocker. The movie was still a huge success but it would have been interested to see which role would have been written for one of TV’s favorite actors.

The Show’s Title Is Slang

Here is a fun language fact from the show. Bonanza was a slang term used by miners to describe a large mineral deposit or ore. It’s also a term that is synonymous with “jackpot.” A real life bonanza was discovered right by the Cartwright’s ranch in the famous Comstock Lode.

There Are Three Reunion Movies

Because of Bonanzas continued success in syndication, the show continued to broadcast new TV specials even decades after the show went off the air. Those TV features included Bonanza: The Next Generation (4/20/1988), Bonanza: The Return (11/28/1993), and Bonanza: Under Attack (1/15/1995). It was a truly groundbreaking show and viewers continued to enjoy it for a long-time after the final episode aired.

The Cast’s Other Talent

We all know they can act, but did you know that most of the show’s main actors can also sing? In fact, most of the actors created their own albums at one time or another, and all four of the Cartwrights sang in a 1964 Christmas-themed album titled “Christmas at the Ponderosa.” Lorne Greene even had a single, “Ringo,” that was a huge hit in the US and Canada.

Michael Landon: Later

After “Bonanza,” Michael landed another big role as Charles Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie.” This series was an instant hit with audiences and Landon got the chance to play a new role as a responsible, hard-working husband and father. After “Little House” came another hit, “Highway to Heaven,” which Landon directed, wrote, and acted in. Landon died in 1991 after battling pancreatic and liver cancer.

That’s a Lot of Fake Hair

It’s really amazing how many guys on the show wore a toupee. Among that impressive club were Blocker, Roberts, and Green. Michael Landon managed to appear on the show with his own full head of hair. If you watch closely you’ll realize that the hair on the show was just as real as the show itself.

Even The Show’s Theme Song Was a Hit

The show’s theme song was written by Hollywood songsmiths Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. They had many top movie hits of the 1940s and 1950s, and their theme even reached No. 19 on the hit parade in 1961. You know your show is successful when its theme song can become a popular hit on local radio.

Hop Sing–He Didn’t Just Play a Chef on TV

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.

Guest Stars Were Paid More Than The Show’s Stars in the First Season

For the first season of the show it wasn’t a certainty that viewers would tune in to watch a bunch of unknown actors. In response, many famous guest stars were brought in for guest appearances. The show’s producers paid those actors more than the show’s actual stars. By the second season the show’s ratings were increasing and the show’s actors has become bonafide stars.

Lorne Green: Later

After his many years starring as the head of the Cartwright family on “Bonanza,” Green continued to work in television. Some of the shows he starred in included “Battlestar Galactica” and “Code Red.” He was also a sponsor for a number of commercials for Alpo dog food. Television’s much beloved “Pa” passed away in 1987 at the age of 72.

The First Western TV Series Filmed 100% In Color

Bonanza wasn’t just filmed in color, it was the very first US Western TV show to be 100% produced in color. That decision was partially why it was so expensive to film the popular TV series. If it wasn’t for that decision the show would have been canceled before it had the chance to become one of the most popular TV shows of all-time.

Zorro Could Have Played Adam Cartwright


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