Bonanza is one of the longest-running shows of all time. It’s a massively important part of classic Western TV with millions of fans and viewers.
Lorne Greene was a key part of its success. He turned his character Ben Cartwright from a gun-toting, stranger-fearing, intimidating figure into a loving father.
Keep watching to learn why Lorne Greene’s funeral is proof of his incredible legacy.
His Early Life and Family
Lorne Greene was born on the 12th of February, 1915, in Ottawa, Ontario. His parents, Dora and Daniel Green, were Jewish immigrants, and they had a major impact on his life and career.
Lorne remembers that Ben Cartwright was originally written as an aloof man who put his rifle in the face of any strangers that entered Ponderosa ranch. One of his early lines was “we don’t care for strangers around here, Mister.”
He never liked the line and decided to make the character more like his own father. He was a man who invited strangers in for dinner instead of chasing them away.
Lorne has several distinct childhood memory of his gentle giant of a father. He was the kind of man who avoided violence or harsh words and used disappointed silence to show his children when they had done wrong.
On Lorne’s eighth birthday, he got a beautiful pocket watch. His father warned him not to wind it yet, promising to teach him how to do it the next day. Lorne didn’t listen, and his father stared at him in silence before fixing the watch.
He also remembers another day when he was 15. He was alone in the house with his father while his mother was in New York visiting her sister. He made it look like he was going to school but forged a sick note instead.
His father offered to have lunch with him, giving him a chance to come clean. He then took him back to school and the truth came out but, once again, his father was silent.
Lorne knew he wanted to be an actor after watching the ones who his father invited into their home. He wanted to go to Queen’s University and took the chemical engineering course even though he chose the college because of its drama program.
He was unsure of what to do next and called his father. He took the 100-mile trip to meet his son there. Another moment of silence helped Lorne feel confident enough to follow his dreams.
Lorne realized he had a talent for radio while he was at Queens University. He worked at the Drama Guild and the campus station CFRC.
Lorne continued to broadcast while in the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. He was a flying officer and the principal newsreader on the CBC National News.
His voice earned him the nickname The Voice of Canada. He was also known as The Voice of Doom because he often had to deliver disastrous news and read out the list of soldiers killed in the war.
He also made an unmeasurable contribution to the world of radio by inventing a stopwatch that ran backward. It would later be known as a countdown clock, and it helped announcers know how much time they had left.
He made another great contribution to the world of entertainment in 1945. That was the year he founded the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto.
90% of its 381 students found work in the industry. A few of the biggest names were James Doohan who played Scotty on Star Trek, Hee Haw writer and actor Gordie Tapp, and Lorde’s own trusted adviser Leslie Nielsen. It was successful but lost money, and he had to close it in 1952.
Lorne continued to freelance for CBC after the war but began acting soon after. He appeared in two Broadway productions in 1953, The Prescott Proposals and The Dark is Light Enough. He also appeared in other famous plays such as a 1-hour adaptation of Othello that year.
Lorne made his Hollywood debut in The Silver Chalice in 1954. He appeared on TV several times after that, including Sailor of Fortune in 1957, an episode of You Are There in 1955, and a role as the prosecutor in Peyton Place.
Lorne’s career changed completely in 1959 when he was 44 and got the role of Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. The producers became interested in him when they saw him on an episode of Wagon Train called “The Vivian Carter Story.” They almost cast him as Ben or Adam Cartwright, but Leslie Nielsen told him to play Ben and he took her advice.
He once threatened to quit the show after the first 16 episodes. He didn’t like the confrontational nature of his character. He convinced them to give Ben more depth and personality, and it worked. He was proud of the new direction and happy to stick with it for as long as it lasted.
Bonanza ran for 12 years and 14 seasons. It was seen by over 400 million viewers in 80 countries. It later entered syndication and has made Lorne Greene a public symbol for generations.
Lorne used his popularity as Ben Cartwright to promote his country spoken word albums. He had a #1 single in 1964 with the spoken-word ballad Ringo. The Saga of the Ponderosa, inspired by the founding of the ranch from Bonanza, reached the #35 spot.
His career after that never reached the same level of success. He played the title role in Griff from 1973-1974. He also played Commander Adama in Battlestar Galactica from 1978-1979 and was the only actor to appear in every episode of that show.
Acting was Lorne’s first love, but it wasn’t his only one. He was also a wildlife enthusiast who hosted Lorne Greene’s Last of the Wild, wrote a book called Lorne Greene’s Book of Remarkable Animals, and was the chairman of the National Wildlife Foundation or NWF.
Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the best western actors of all time. Keep watching to learn more about why Lorne Green’s funeral is proof of his incredible legacy.
His Personal Life
Lorne Greene earned a staggering amount of money during his run on Bonanza. He raked in $15,000 every week by 1971 and $1,000 more every week after that. It was one of the most expensive shows to make at the time at $22,000 an episode, but its earnings made the investment worthwhile.
Lorne used that money to make a replica of the Ponderosa Ranch. It sits on 602 S. Edgewater Drive in Mesa, Arizona, and is part of the Mesa Historic Property Register.
Lorne was married twice. The first was to Rita Hands from 1938-1960. They had his twins Charles and Belinda Susan in 1945.
He was married to Nancy Deadle from 1961 to the time of his death. They had one child together named Gillian.
Lorne Greene passed away on September 11, 1987, at the age of 72. He had surgery to correct a bleeding ulcer but developed pneumonia. He’s interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City.
Lorne Greene had a private internment. It was followed by a memorial service at the Memorial Park chapel that was 40 minutes long and included no eulogies. Lorne’s family wife, three children, and two grandchildren attended.
Several members of Lorne’s TV family from Bonanza also made an appearance. They included his TV sons Michael Landon and Pernell Roberts.
Even the team from Alpo dog food showed up to honor him. Lorne had acted in several commercials for them. His family remembered them and thought it was wonderful to see them again after so much time had passed.
So many friends and family wanted to attend Lorne’s memorial service that they couldn’t all fit in the chapel. It only seated 300, and the rest had to listen on loudspeakers outside.
His Awards and Legacy
Lorne Greene’s crowded funeral is proof of his powerful, lasting legacy and the impact he had during his life and career. The many awards and honors that he earned throughout his life only cement it further.
Ben Cartwright was ranked #2 on TV Guide’s List of Greatest TV Dads of All Time.
Lorne Greene is an Officer of the Order of Canada for his services to the Performing Arts and the community. He received an honorary doctor of law from his alma mater Queens University in 1971.
He got the Earle Grey Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1978. He also got the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement in 1974.
He was one of the first four entertainers to be featured on a 51-cent postage stamp by the Canada Post.
Lorne was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 12, 1985, which would have been his 70th birthday. He also got one on the Canada Walk of Fame in 2015 on his 100th birthday.
Are you a fan of Bonanza? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the best classic westerns of all time.