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Bonanza is an Americanmarker television series that ran on NBC from September 12, 1959 to January 16, 1973. Lasting 14 seasons, it is among the longest running Western television series (second behind Gunsmoke) and continues to air in syndication.


Bonanza originally referred to the Comstock Lode which was "an exceptionally large and rich mineral deposit" of silver, and is derived from a Spanish word meaning "fair weather", and by extension, "prosperity". Virginia Citymarker was founded directly over the lode which was mined for 19 years. The Ponderosa was an alternative title of the series, used for the broadcast of syndicated reruns while Bonanza was in first-run on NBC. Ponderosa is also the name of a series prequel airing on PAX-TV from 2001-02.

The Bonanza pilot, "Rose for Lotta," was written by David Dortort, who also produced the series. Dortort's other creations include The Restless Gun, The High Chaparral, The Cowboys, and the Bonanza prequel, Ponderosa. For most of its 430 episode run, the main sponsor of Bonanza was Chevrolet and the stars occasionally appeared in commercials endorsing Chevrolet automobiles. All of the regular cast members had appeared in numerous stage, television and film productions before Bonanza, but none was particularly well-known. Dortort was hired to create Bonanza by NBC's Vice President of Programming Alan W. Livingston, who oversaw production of the pilot.

The opening burning map of the Ponderosa Ranch was illustrated with incorrect bearings. David Dortort, choosing not to redo the map, altered the compass points. The original painting was done by artist Robert Temple Ayres.


The show chronicled the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by the thrice-widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright (played by Lorne Greene). He had three sons, each by a different wife: the eldest was the urbane architect Adam Cartwright (played by Pernell Roberts) who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric, better known by his nickname "Hoss" (played by Dan Blocker); and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or "Little Joe" (played by Michael Landon). The family's cook was the Chinesemarker immigrant Hop Sing (played by Victor Sen Yung). "Bonanza" was considered an atypical western for its time, as the core of the storylines dealt with Ben and his three dissimilar sons, how they cared for one another, their neighbors and their land.

The family lived on a thousand-square-mile ranch called Ponderosa on the shore of Lake Tahoemarker in Nevadamarker; the name refers to the Ponderosa Pine, common in the West. The nearest town to the Ponderosa was Virginia City, where the Cartwrights would go to converse with Sheriff Roy Coffee (played by veteran actor Ray Teal), or his deputy Clem Foster (Bing Russell). Greene, Roberts, Blocker, and Landon were equal stars. The opening credits would rotate the order among the four stars. As the series advanced, writers began to showcase one or two Cartwrights in each episode, while the others would be seen briefly in the prologue and epilogue. Not only did this provide for more thorough character development, it also gave all four actors more free time.

Originally, the Cartwrights tended to be depicted as put-off by outsiders. Lorne Greene however, objected to this, pointing out that as the area's largest timber and livestock producer, the family should be less clanish. The producers agreed with this observation and changed the Cartwrights to be more amiable.

Early in the show's history, the thrice widowed Ben Cartwright, recalls each wife in flashback episodes. A recurring situation (which also occurs in the TV western The Big Valley), was that every time one of the Cartwrights became seriously involved with a woman, she died from a malady, was slain, or left with someone else.

In a few 1964 episodes, Ben has a nephew named Will (Guy Williams), who visits the Ponderosa ranch. He was the son of Ben's deceased brother John.

The cast

Lorne Greene - Ben Cartwright

The cast of Bonanza
Though not familiar stars in 1959, the cast quickly became favorites of the first TV generation. All but Roberts had appeared in Dortort's earlier "Restless Gun" series. Lorne Greene, known as the "Voice of Canada," was a fairly successful announcer, actor and drama coach in his native land; he gained notice during World War II for his deep, resonant voice, and the maudlin task of reading the weekly casualty list to his radio audience. Ben Cartwright, as Greene once described him, was "suede leather," as he was both a strong and soft patriarch. Greene recorded several record albums in character as Ben Cartwright, scoring a #1 hit with his dramatic spoken word performance of "Ringo." He also recorded a version of the Bonanza theme. Greene was the only actor to appear in the majority of the Bonanza episodes for his 14 seasons on air, except for 11, for a total of 419/430 episodes.

Pernell Roberts - Adam Cartwright

Georgia-born Pernell Roberts was a familiar face at television studio lots in the late 1950s according to producer David Dortort, who saw him in a Gunsmoke episode. The young actor won a prestigious Drama Desk award in 1955 for his performance in an off-Broadway rendition of Macbeth. Roberts had long disdained the medium's commercialization of his craft, and for its mass production, assembly-line mindset. In 1964 he told Look magazine's John Poppy, "I just get on and ask somebody for the lines and say them. They have to turn out 34 a season, one every six days." But the B-movie quality of the scripts were what the actor loathed most, "the plots, the godawful plots. They take a plot and write it six different ways for six different Sundays. One week its lawyers night, next week it's ranchers night. You change protagonist, but it's the same old plot. And the writing-GAD!" An accomplished singer as well as stage actor, he recorded an album of folk ballads entitled "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies." He left the series in February 1965 after disagreements with writers and producer David Dortort. According to the July 2005 Bonanza Gold issue, David Dortort said his intent was to have a married Adam appear less frequently, thus making him a semi-regular. It was a move to broker with Roberts, who vowed not to renew his contract. Attempts to replace him were made by introducing Ben's stepson, Clay, (played briefly by Barry Coe) and Will, a nephew (played by Zorro star Guy Williams), but neither lasted. Two of the remaining stars felt that storylines which created new Cartwrights could potentially defeat their own contract negotiations, so Williams' Will Cartright wound up leaving the series with Adam's fiancèe. Williams moved on to Lost in Space and never revived the Will Cartright role.

Dan Blocker - Hoss Cartwright

Three hundred pound Dan Blocker played the gentle middle son Eric a.k.a. Hoss. Born in Texas, he was a teacher before Hollywood. The Hoss character had a warm heart and a penchant for lost causes. The character was originally conceived as "lovable but slow-witted." Blocker, however, was the only cast member with an advanced degree, a Masters in Dramatic Arts.Prior to starring in Bonanza, Dan had a recurring role as Tiny Budinger in the 1958-1959 TV western series Cimarron City starring George Montgomery, also on NBC. That series' cancellation after only one season freed him to be cast as Hoss Cartwright, his most famous role.

In 1972, Dan Blocker died suddenly from a post-op blood-clot to the lungs. The show's producers chose to simply mention the character's death in passing (TV producer Sheldon Leonard was the first to "kill off" major characters, starting in 1956 with Make Room For Daddy and in 1963 with The Real McCoys, wherein the female leads of each show chose not to renew their contracts).

Michael Landon - Little Joe Cartwright

It was young Michael Landon who received most of the fan mail, and was seen in female-oriented teen magazines. In addition to acting, Landon began to develop his skills in writing and directing Bonanza episodes, starting with "The Gamble." Some of the shows Landon directed are considered to be the most moving including, "The Wish," "He Was Only Seven," and "Forever." According to David Dortort (Bear Family boxed CD liner notes), Landon himself grew difficult during the last five seasons the show ran, "Nearly every line, every scene, every set up... everything would halt for endless story conferences on the set... it got increasingly bitter toward the end." In a 1992 memorial retrospective directed by the star's son Michael Jr., "Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love," cast member David Canary said that the one word that most described Landon to him was, "fearless."

In the episode, "Marie, My Love" (1963), the episode detailing Ben Cartwright's wooing of Little Joe's mother, we learn that Little Joe has an older half-brother named Clay Stafford, who later spends time at the ranch. On Lorne Greene's 1964 song "Saga of the Ponderosa" (Bear Records), Marie's first husband was "Big Joe" Collins who dies saving Ben. After Ben marries Marie, they chose to call their son "Little Joe". Whether to Stafford or Collins, Marie Cartwight was previously married.

After Bonanza, Landon produced and starred in two other successful NBC series, the first being the pioneer adventure, Little House on the Prairie, which aired for roughly nine and a half seasons between 1974 and 1983. Landon's character was absent the ninth season with the final half season a series of movies. Landon also appeared in all but fourteen Bonanza episodes for its 14 years on-air, a total of 416/430 episodes.

David Canary - Candy Canaday

In 1967, David Canary joined the cast as "Candy" Canaday, a plucky army-brat turned cowboy, who became the Cartwrights' confidant, ranch foreman and timber vessel captain. The character vanished in 1970 after Canary himself had a contract dispute with Dortort. He would later return.

Mitch Vogel - Jamie Hunter/Cartwright

In 1970, 14-year-old Mitch Vogel joined the series as Jamie Hunter, the orphaned son of a rainmaker. Ben adopted Jamie in a 1971 episode.


generated with [[:de:Wikipedia:Helferlein/VBA-Macro for EXCEL tableconversion]] V1.7<\hiddentext>>
Year Ranking Year Ranking Year Ranking
1960-1961 17 1964-1965 1 1968-1969 3
1961-1962 2 1965-1966 1 1969-1970 3
1962-1963 4 1966-1967 1 1970-1971 8
1963-1964 2 1967-1968 4 1971-1972 20

Initially, the series aired on Saturday evenings opposite Perry Mason. The Saturday night ratings were dismal and Bonanza was soon targeted for cancellation. It was kept on the air, however, because it was one of the first series to be filmed and broadcast in color, and NBC corporate parent RCA wanted to use the show as a vehicle to spur sales of RCA-manufactured color television sets (RCA was also the primary sponsor of the series during its first two seasons). Given one last chance, it was moved to Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, for new sponsor Chevrolet (replacing The Dinah Shore Chevy Show). The new time slot caused the series to soar, and it eventually reached number one by the mid-'60s. By 1970, it had become the first series to ever wind up in the Top Five for nine consecutive seasons (a record which would stand for decades) and thus established itself as the single biggest hit TV series of the 1960s. It remained high on the Nielsen ratings until 1971, when it finally fell out of the top ten.



From the third season on, the Cartwrights and nearly every other recurring character on the show wore the same clothing in almost every episode. This was done to cut the cost of refilming action shots (such as riding clips in-between scenes), as previously shot stock footage could be reused.

  • Ben Cartwright: Sandy shirt, tawny leather vest, gray pants, cream-colored hat, occasional green scarf.
  • Adam Cartwright: Black Shirt, black or midnight blue pants, black hat. Elegant city wear. Cream-colored trail coat.
  • Hoss Cartwright: White shirt, brown suede vest, brown pants, distinctive 10-gallon hat.
  • Little Joe Cartwright: cream, gray or white shirt, green corduroy jacket, tan pants, tan hat. Black leather gloves from 10th season on.
  • Candy Canaday: Crimson shirt, black pants, black leather vest and hat, green/grey scarf.

Hair styles

In 1968, Blocker began wearing a toupee on the series as he was approaching forty and losing hair. He joined the ranks of his fellow co-stars Pernell Roberts and Lorne Greene, both of whom began the series with hairpieces (Greene wore his modest frontal piece in private life too, whereas Roberts preferred not wearing his, even to rehearsals/blocking). Michael Landon was the only original cast member who was wig-free throughout the series, as even Victor Sen Yung's Hop Sing wore an attached queue (pony tail).


In the fall of 1972, Bonanza was moved to Tuesday nights against a new CBS sitcom, Maude. The scheduling change, as well as Dan Blocker's death several months earlier, resulted in plunging ratings for the show. David Canary returned to his former role of Candy (to make up for Blocker's absence), and a new character named Griff King (played by Tim Matheson) was added to lure younger viewers. Griff, in prison for nearly killing his abusive stepfather, was paroled into Ben's custody and got a job as a ranch hand. Several episodes were built around his character, one that Matheson never had a chance to fully develop before the show's sudden cancellation in January 1973. Many fans felt that the Hoss character was essential, as he was a nurturing, empathetic soul who rounded-out the all-male cast.

For 14 years, the Cartwrights were the premier western family on Americanmarker television and have been immensely popular on cable networks such as TV Land, ION (formerly PAX), Family Channel (before Fox Family & ABC Family Era), and the Hallmark Channel.

TV movies

Bonanza was brought back for three made-for-TV movies featuring the Cartwrights' offspring: Bonanza: The Next Generation (1988), Bonanza: The Return (1993) and Bonanza: Under Attack (1995). Michael Landon, Jr., played Little Joe's son Benji while Gillian Greene, Lorne's daughter, played a love interest. In the second movie, airing on NBC, a one hour retrospective was done to introduce the drama. It was hosted by both Michael Landon, Jr., and Dirk Blocker. According to TV Guide, NBC told Blocker he was too old to play the Hoss scion, but was given the role of an unrelated newspaper reporter. Clips of his appearance were heavily used in advertisements promoting the "second generation" theme. Hoss' son Josh was born out-of-wedlock, as it is explained that Hoss drowned without knowing his fiancee was pregnant. Such a storyline could have been problematic in the original series. (The Big Valley, however, had a major character in Heath, who was presented as illegitimate. The Gunsmoke movies of the early 1990s employed a similar theme when Matt Dillon learned he sired Michael Learned's daughter via a short-lived romance. The initial story was first introduced in 1973, when depiction of fornication courted protests, so CBS insisted their hero Matt have the encounter when he had amnesia).


In 2001, there was an attempt to revive the series' concept with a prequel, Ponderosa, with a pilot directed by Kevin James Dobson and filmed in Australia. Covering the time when the Cartwrights first arrived at the Ponderosa, it lasted 20 episodes. The prequel had less gunfire and brawling than the original. Bonanza creator David Dortort approved PAX TV's decision to hire Beth Sullivan, a producer from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, which some believe gave the series more depth as well as a softer edge.

Theme song

Bonanza also featured a memorable theme song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans that is often parodied. Lorne Greene and the cast recorded versions of the song with lyrics.

The Bonanza theme is one of the best known pieces of made-for-television music, and variations of it were used for twelve seasons of the series. Only in the pilot episode was the vocal version used. Immediately after the pilot, they dropped the lyrics and vocal and used only an instrumental theme. In 1968, a new percussion-heavy arrangement of the original theme was introduced; the new version was used until 1970. A new theme song, called "The Big Bonanza" was written in 1970 by episode scorer David Rose, and was used from 1970-1972. A faster rendition of the original theme returned for the 14th and final season.

The theme song has been recorded by numerous artists in a diverse variety of styles. The biggest hit version is an instrumental by Al Caiola, which reached number 19 on Billboard in 1961. Country singer Johnny Cash recorded a vocal version of the theme song, released on his sixteenth album: Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. Singer Ralf Paulsen recorded a German-language version of the song in 1963. Bad Manners did a ska version of the song. Michael Richards, as Stanley Spadowski, sang a bit of the theme song while being held hostage by Channel 8's news goons in UHF (he didn't know the words to the song he was originally supposed to sing, Helter Skelter). Michael Feinstein was the last to record the song in 2002 on his, "Songs of Evans and Livingston" tribute CD. The Little House on the Prairie theme (also by Rose), was heard first in a 1971 episode of Bonanza. The overture for The High Chaparral composed by Harry Sukman can be heard briefly at the start of the 1966 episode "Four Sisters from Boston."


The first Virginia City set was used on the show until 1970 and was located on a backlot at Paramount and turned up in episodes of Have Gun - Will Travel, Mannix and The Brady Bunch. On a 1970 Bonanza episode entitled "The Night Virginia City Died," Deputy Clem Foster's pyromaniac fiancee leveled the town in a series of fires. This allowed for a switch to the less expensive Warner studios from September 1970 through January 1973.

The program's Nevada set, the Ponderosa Ranch house, was recreated in Incline Village, Nevadamarker, in 1967, and remained a tourist attraction worldwide until its sale in September 2004.


Bonanza has had a highly profitable merchandising history. Currently, Bonanza Ventures, Inc. grants merchandising and licensing rights worldwide. The original series spawned successful novelty folk albums from 1962-65, two Dell Comic books in 1961 and 1964, a series of "Big-Little" books from 1966-1969, a chain of Bonanza and Ponderosa steakhouses from 1963-present, the Lake Tahoemarker-based "Ponderosa" theme park from 1967-2004; a line of action figures, lunch buckets and View Master sets from 1965-1973. A series of Hamilton collector plates 1989-1990; Six Bonanza novels have been published: "Bonanza: One Man With Courage" by Thomas Thompson (1966); "The Ponderosa Spirit" by Stephen Calder (1988); "The Ponderosa Empire" by Stephen Calder (1991); "Bonanza: High Steel Hazard" by Stephen Calder (1993); "Bonanza: Felling of the Sons" by Monette B. Reinhold (2005) & "Bonanza: Mystic Fire" by Monette B. Reinhard (2009). '"Bonanza Gold,"' a current magazine, features detailed information about the show, including interviews with guest actors and other production personnel, articles about historical events and people depicted in the series, fan club information and fan fiction.

Home video

A handful of episodes of the series are in the public domain , and some TV showings of these episodes on low-budget stations and networks (and also on low-budget public domain DVDs and VHS tapes) substitute generic music for the familiar theme music.

In 1973, NBC sold the rights to the series to National Telefilm Associates, which changed its name to Republic Pictures in the 1980s. Republic would become part of the Spelling Entertainment organization in 1994. Select episodes ("The Best of Bonanza") were officially released in North America in 2003 on DVD via then-Republic video licensee Artisan Entertainment (which was later purchased by Lionsgate Home Entertainment). Republic (through CBS Television Distribution, which holds the television side of Republic's holdings) still retains the syndication distribution rights to the series. Incidentally, the TV Land repeats still end with the 1995 logos of both Republic and Paramount Domestic Television. CBS DVD is now the home video rights holder, while the series copyright remains with NBC Universal. Bonanza Ventures, however, remains a co-licensee of the Bonanza material with both NBC and CBS.

CBS/Paramount announced on June 1, 2009 that the first season of Bonanza would be released to DVD on September 15 of the same year. The first season (which was released on schedule) was issued in two, half-season volumes available separately or bundled together. This release is one of the few CBS DVD box sets to be issued uncut, in their original broadcast versions with all the original music as telecast. This is the first pre-1973 NBC show (part of the NTA package) to be distributed on DVD by CBS and Paramount, as the first such show to get any sort of release, Get Smart, has ancillary rights owned by HBO, and thus DVD rights are held by HBO Home Entertainment, with distribution through Warner Home Video.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Official 1st Season, Vol. 1 16 September 15, 2009
The Official 1st Season, Vol. 2 16 September 15, 2009

See also


  1. mentioned in first scene of first episode
  2. TV Ratings: 1960
  3. TV Ratings: 1964
  4. TV Ratings: 1968
  5. TV Ratings: 1961
  6. TV Ratings: 1965
  7. TV Ratings: 1969
  8. TV Ratings: 1962
  9. TV Ratings: 1966
  10. TV Ratings: 1970
  11. TV Ratings: 1963
  12. TV Ratings: 1967
  13. TV Ratings: 1971
  14. [1]

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