Do you remember "Bonanza?" Take this quiz to find out just how much you remember.
Today's television lineup consists of more channels that you can count. However, back in the day (by "the day," we're talking about the 1960s), the selection of television shows was pretty much limited to three channels, and that's if you were lucky. Weekend television was even more limited, especially morning offerings. Typically, on a Sunday morning, you could watch "Bonanza" or one of the religious shows. Did this extreme limitation make "Bonanza" into the popular show it was? Definitely not. After all, one could just have read a book. What made "Bonanza" great were the stellar writing and superb acting.
"Bonanza" aired for the first time on September 12, 1959, with a cast that included Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, and Pernell Roberts. Greene was already an established actor, but it was Michael Landon's first starring role. He played the youngest Cartwright brother, Little Joe. The series ran for 14 seasons and a total of 431 episodes, and it won numerous awards including numerous Prime Time Emmys and Golden Globes.
But, best of all, who can forget the opening scene of the burning Ponderosa map and that memorable theme song?
Find out if you can ace this "Bonanza" quiz.
The Bonanza TV show famously opens with a blazing Ponderosa map and the saddle-bound Cartwrights. The map showed that the family lived on a 600,000+ acre (937+ square-mile) ranch called the Ponderosa on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada.
Lorne Greene was chosen to play widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright who had been married three times with one son from each marriage. Lorne Greene was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, to Russian-Jewish parents.
Pernell Roberts played eldest son Adam, an architectural engineer with a university education. Adam built the impressive ranch house. He was best known for this role and as chief surgeon Dr. John McIntyre, the title character on Trapper John, M.D. He was also known for his lifelong activism, which included participation in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 and pressuring NBC to refrain from hiring whites to portray minority characters.
Eric "Hoss" Cartwright was portrayed by Dan Blocker. Dan was 6’-4” and 320-pounds when chosen to play the gentle middle son Eric, better known as Hoss. The nickname was used as a nod to the character's ample girth. In May 1972, Blocker died suddenly from a post-operative pulmonary embolism following surgery to remove his gall bladder. The producers felt nobody else could continue the role.
The role of "Little Joe" was given to Michael Landon. Not only a talented actor, Michael Landon began to develop his skills in writing and directing Bonanza episodes, starting with "The Gamble." Most of the episodes Landon wrote and directed were dramas, including the two-hour, "Forever" (1972), which was recognized by TV Guide as being one of television's best specials (November 1993).
Veteran character actor Ray Teal portrayed the role of Sheriff Roy Coffee on 98 episodes from 1960 to 1972. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Teal was a saxophone player, Teal working his way through University of California, as a bandleader before becoming an actor.
Hop Sing was portrayed by Victor Sen Yung and appeared in 102 episodes between 1959 and 1973. Sen Yung made his first significant acting debut in the 1938 film Charlie Chan in Honolulu, as the Chinese detective's "number two son," Jimmy Chan. Sen Yung authored The Great Wok Cookbook in 1974.
The time period for the television series is roughly between 1861 (Season 1) to 1867 (Season 13) during and shortly after the American Civil War. The series sought to illustrate the cruelty of bigotry against African-Americans in "Enter Thomas Bowers", "The Wish" and "Child", as well as against other ethnicities.
Through flashbacks and the explanations within the episodes, each wife was accorded a different ethnicity: English ("Elizabeth My Love"), Swedish ("Inger My Love") and French Creole ("Marie My Love") respectively.
Clem Foster was portrayed by Bing Russell. Besides playing the deputy in Bonanza he was known for playing Robert in The Magnificent Seven. He was also guest-starred in a multitude of TV shows AND he was a baseball club owner or the Portland Mavericks. He was the father of Golden Globe-nominated actor Kurt Russell and grandfather of ex-major league baseball player Matt Franco. In 1979 Russell played Vernon Presley to his son Kurt's Elvis Presley in the television movie, Elvis.
Adam Cartwright had an interesting way of saying you’ll eat your words. His university education came in handy to make the phrase a bit fancier. According to the 1973 book "Marilyn Beck's Hollywood", when Pernell Roberts who portrays Adam Cartwright, told Lorne Greene he was leaving the series because he wanted to challenge himself as an actor, Greene told him to stick to it (the series) as he would be so rich by the end of the run he could hire Tennessee Williams himself to write a play for him. Roberts did not pay heed his Greene’s advice. Roberts' career went into a tailspin that lasted over a decade after he left the show.
"Candy" Canaday, a plucky Army brat turned cowboy, became the Cartwrights' confidant, ranch foreman, and timber vessel captain. Candy was portrayed by actor David Canary. A contract dispute interrupted his tenure on the show. He returned two seasons later after co-star Dan Blocker's death, reportedly having been approached by Landon. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, David Canary was offered a left-end position with the Denver Broncos, but pursued acting and singing.
Adam Cartwright said this to Ben Cartwright explaining the importance of education. What’s interesting is how different Pernell Roberts, who portrays Adam, is from his character. Roberts attended both Georgia Tech and the University of Maryland but flunked out of both colleges. Acting, not education, was Roberts strong suit.
Fourteen-year-old Mitch Vogel was introduced as Jamie Hunter in Season 12 in the episode, "A Matter of Faith". Vogel played the red-haired orphan of a roving rainmaker, whom Ben takes in and adopts later in a 1971 episode, called "A Home For Jamie." After Canary's departure in mid-1970, and aware of the show's aging demographic, the writers sought a fresh outlet for Ben's fatherly advice and introduced the character, Jamie Hunter.
During the final season, in 1972–1973, Tim Matheson portrayed Griff King, a parolee who tries to reform his life as a worker at the Ponderosa Ranch under Ben Cartwright's tutelage. Tim Matheson is perhaps best known for his portrayals of the smooth-talking Eric "Otter" Stratton in the comedy film National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and of Vice President John Hoynes in the NBC drama The West Wing.
"Little Joe" was talking about another way to approach the problems of wolves and wild dogs. Michael Landon, who portrayed “Little Joe” gained fame on Bonanza and even greater fame as Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. His star kept shining as Jonathan Smith in Highway to Heaven. Landon appeared on the cover of TV Guide 22 times, second only to Lucille Ball.
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 re-filming action shots (such as riding clips in-between scenes), as previously-shot stock footage could be reused.
Dan Blocker who portrayed “Hoss” came into the world super-sized on December 10, 1928 in De Kalb, Texas, weighing in at 14 lbs. He reportedly was the biggest baby ever born in Bowie County. By the age of 12, he already was 6' tall and weighed 200 lbs. According to Blocker, "My daddy used to say that I was too big to ride and too little to hitch a wagon to," Blocker said, "no good for a damn thing."
Those were the last lines that Ben Cartwright said in episode, "The Greedy Ones". The writers at that time had no idea that the soap bubble metaphor would become part of today’s lexicon with the “internet bubble” and the “real estate bubble”. Interesting lines to have been written in an episode called “The Greedy Ones”.
Ben and “Hoss” are talking about Lassiter, a drifter who is searching for the men who committed a lynching in Kansas years ago. As for the parental tone, that is a trademark of Lorne Greene who portrays Ben Cartwright. He began acting while attending Canada's Queen's University, and after graduation got a job in radio broadcasting. His rich, deep, authoritarian voice quickly propelled him to prominence as Canada's top newscaster.
The first Virginia City set was used on the show until 1970 and was located on a backlot at Paramount and featured in episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel, Mannix, and The Brady Bunch. In the episode "The Night Virginia City Died", Deputy Clem Foster's pyromaniac fiancée levels the town in a series of fires (reflecting a real 1875 fire that destroyed three-quarters of Virginia City). This allowed for a switch to the less expensive Warner studios from September 1970 through January 1973.
Dan Blocker who portrayed “Hoss” owned a chain of restaurants called "Bonanza". They were steakhouses similar to the "Golden Corral" chain. When the ownership later changed, all of the restaurants were renamed "Ponderosa".
During the summer of 1972, NBC aired reruns of episodes from the 1967–1970 period in prime time on Tuesday evening under the title Ponderosa. It’s interesting that the name Bonanza is closely linked with Ponderosa. “Bonanza” commonly refers to the 1859 revelation of the Comstock Lode discovery, not far from the fictional Ponderosa Ranch that the Cartwright family operated.
From restaurants, to novels, to Dell and Gold Key comic book and even the Lake Tahoe-based “Ponderosa” theme park (1967-2004), the show’s success spanned so many merchandising opportunities. There were even a series of Hamilton Collector plates, Ponderosa tin cups, a line of American Character action figures, and much, much more.
Bonanza features a memorable theme song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans that was orchestrated by David Rose and arranged by Billy May for the television series. Country singer Johnny Cash was first to record a full length vocal version of the theme song. He and Johnny Western discarded the original Livingston and Evans lyrics, and wrote new ones, though the revised lyrics still make direct reference to the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa. However, members of the Western Writers of America chose the original theme song as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
Initially, Bonanza aired on Saturday evenings opposite Perry Mason. Bonanza's ratings were dismal and the show was soon targeted for cancellation. NBC kept it because Bonanza was one of the first series to be filmed and broadcast in color, including scenes of picturesque Lake Tahoe, Nevada. NBC's corporate parent, Radio Corporation of America (RCA), used the show to spur sales of RCA-manufactured color television sets (RCA was also the primary sponsor of the series during its first two seasons). Once NBC moved Bonanza to Sundays at 9:00 pm Eastern, the ratings began to soar.
The program aired between September 12, 1959 and January 16, 1973. Lasting 14 seasons and 431 episodes, Bonanza is NBC's longest-running western, and ranks overall as the second-longest-running western series on U.S. network television (behind CBS's Gunsmoke), and within the top 10 longest-running, live-action American series.
Bonanza was a period drama that attempted to confront contemporary social issues. Besides the issues above, they also dealt with Native Americans ("The Underdog", "Terror at 2:00"), Mormons ("The Pursued") and the disabled ("Tommy”).
In the fall of 1972, NBC moved Bonanza to Tuesday nights – where reruns from the 1967–1970 period had aired the previous summer under the title Ponderosa – opposite" Maude", a virtual death sentence for the show. The scheduling change, as well as Dan Blocker's death several months earlier, resulted in plunging ratings for the show. Many fans also felt that the "Hoss" character was essential, as he was a nurturing, empathetic soul who rounded out the all-male cast.
In 2002, Bonanza was ranked No. 43 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, and in 2013 TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time. The title "Bonanza" is a term used by miners in regard to a large vein or deposit of ore -- the show was pure gold to many of us.
The fans viewed him as loving and compassionate. In fact, the character "Ben Cartwright" was ranked #2 in TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" (20 June 2004 issue).
Bonanza won the Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Dramatic Series in 1966. In the same year it won Prime Time Emmy Awards for Individual Achievements in Film Editing, and Individual Achievements in Music. From 1962 to 1971, Bonanza won at least one Prime Time Emmy Award each year.
Bonanza eventually reached number one by 1964, an honor it would keep until 1967 when it was seriously challenged by the socially daring variety show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS. By 1970, Bonanza was the first series to appear in the Top Five list for nine consecutive seasons (a record that would stand for many years) and thus established itself as the most consistent strong-performing hit television series of the 1960s. Bonanza remained high on the Nielsen ratings until 1971, when it finally fell out of the Top Ten.
The opening scene for the first season was shot at Lake Hemet, a reservoir in the San Jacinto Mountains, Riverside County, California, and later moved to Lake Tahoe. The program's Nevada set, the Ponderosa Ranch house, was recreated in Incline Village, Nevada, in 1967, and remained a tourist attraction until its sale thirty-seven years later in September 2004.
In 1968, Blocker (Hoss) began wearing a toupee on the series, as he was approaching age 40 and losing hair. He joined the ranks of his fellow co-stars Roberts (Adam) and Greene (Ben), both of whom had begun the series with hairpieces. As Michael Landon mentioned on the "The Tonight Show", (NBC-TV, March 10, 1983), Greene wore his modest frontal piece in private life too, whereas Roberts preferred not wearing his, even to rehearsals/blocking. Landon was the only original cast member who was wig-free throughout the series, as even Sen Yung wore an attached queue or pony tail.