Why did the show work? Aside from the colours, it was gentler and more family-oriented than most of the westerns. It contained more fist-fights than gun-fights, and centered around the Cartwrights, a loving, loyal family. It dealt with important issues like prejudice at a time when it was not common on television. And of course some handsome actors didn't hurt!
Canadian Lorne Greene played Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the clan. Generally serious and reasonable, Ben kept the ranch running. Thrice widowed, he raised the three boys on his own with a little help from the cook, Hop Sing. There were no women on the Ponderosa.
Before starring in Bonanza, Greene was best known as a reporter for CBC Radio during World War II. His deep, booming voice, coupled with the news he had to report, earned him the nickname "The Voice of Doom". After Bonanza went off the air he continued to work in television, starring in Battlestar Galatica and Lorne Greene's New Wilderness.For more information on the man behind Ben Cartwright, check out my Lorne Greene Page.
Pernell Roberts portrayed the oldest Cartwright son. Adam had a University education, and tended to be more intense than his younger brothers. He was less likely to be involved in in wild antics or passionate love affairs, though he had his share of interesting scrapes over the years. Adam disappeared for parts unknown six years into the series, when Roberts decided to leave the show.
Pernell Roberts' plunge into obscurity after leaving Bonanza became a standing joke for Johnny Carson. It was not until he landed the title role in Trapper John, M.D., that he was able to get past Adam Cartwright and be recognized professionally. In the early 90's he hosted FBI:The Untold Stories, his last series. Now retired, Roberts is the only Cartwright still living.
If you, like me, are a big Pernell Roberts fan, check out my web page with more info and photos.
Dan Blocker was Hoss Cartwright, the middle son. Hoss was gullible and not terribly bright, but he was as sweet and gentle as he was huge. He was constantly involved in hilarious situations, usually innocently, and was the butt of many jokes played by his younger brother, Little Joe.
Blocker, however, had little in common with Hoss. He was a friendly man, but hardly dull. He held a Master's degree, and worked as a teacher before he got involved in acting. He had worked in Westerns before Bonanza, and was well cast as Hoss. Sadly, Dan Blocker died from a blood clot following surgery the summer before the show went into its final season. He was 42.
Michael Landon played the character most beloved by audiences - Little Joe. The youngest member of the family, he was regularly involved in pranks, and even more frequently falling madly in love. He was looked on by his father and older brothers with affection, and was usually at the centre of the most humourous episodes.
Landon came to Bonanza with several previous acting jobs under his belt, including the starring role in the film I Was A Teenage Werewolf. He wrote and directed many of the later episodes of Bonanza, and was with the show for the entire fourteen years. When it ended he went on to play Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, and later starred in Highway to Heaven.
After Pernell Roberts left Bonanza in 1965, a new character was brought in to fill the gap. David Canary was cast as "Candy" Canaday, the Ponderosa ranch foreman. Candy was very close to the Cartwright clan, and became entangled in many of their adventures.
David Canary was familiar to audiences of the time, having come from a role on Peyton Place. Although he holds a degree in music and is an impressive singer, Canary has spent most of his career in television. Following Bonanza Canary moved into daytime TV, and work on soap operas. Since 1983 he has been on All My Children, where he has won five Emmys playing the dual role of twins Adam and Stuart Chandler.
If you would like to learn more about David Canary have a look at my new web page. (Don't miss him as Billy Bigelow in Carousel!)
Mitch Vogel joined the show in 1970 as Jamie Hunter, an orphan taken in by the Cartwrights and later adopted. It was hoped that Jamie would appeal to younger members of the audience, as Michael Landon was now 34 and a bit old for Ben's fatherly advice.
Mitch was 13 when he joined the cast of Bonanza, and stayed with the show until the end. He apparently made an impression on Michael Landon, as he would go on to play on Little House on the Prairie after the Bonanza finished. Vogel left acting in his late teens.
Victor Sen Yung was the fifth man on the Ponderosa - Hop sing, the cook. The character was generally used in comic bits, often involving the small cook chasing Hoss out of his kitchen for stealing food. There were also, however, a few episodes throughout the series that dealt with the anti-Chinese prejudice in the West of the late 1800's.
Sen Yung had a huge number of acting credits, both before and during his years on Bonanza. In the 1940's he was best known as Charlie Chan's Number 2 son in the Sidney Toler Charlie Chan films. He was a regular in Father Knows Best and had roles in many TV shows and movies. Sen Yung died in 1980, at the age of 65.
The horses were always a big part of Bonanza, and I have received a lot of mail asking the names of the Cartwright horses. Here, to the best of my knowledge, is the complete list:
Ben - Dunny Waggoner and Big Buck
Adam - Sport and Beauty
Hoss - Ginger, Paiute and Chubb
Little Joe - Paint and Cochise
|And finally, in September 2009, the official Season 1 Bonanza DVD set was released. Order yours today at Amazon.com. Other seasons will follow soon.|
You can also check out other Bonanza information at Amazon.com:
Bonanza: The Definitive Ponderosa Companion
Bonanza : A Viewers Guide to the TV Legend
Or do a search for other Bonanza books and DVDs here:
Did you know that the theme to Bonanza originally had lyrics? Check them out and see why they didn't last past the first episode!
Here are some other Bonanza sites you might like to check out:Bonanza Legacy
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programmes created by David Dortort: Bonanza and The High Chapparral.
Any person or entity interested in doing anything related to the series Bonanza and
The High Chapparral and/or its characters must obtain permission first, and should
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Web page copyright © 1997-2009 by Karen Millard.