Bonanza was a hit western TV series that aired on NBC from 1959 to 1973. During that time frame the show became one of the biggest hits in NBC history while also racking up numerous critical and commercial accolades. Those are the known facts. Now let us dig in and tell you some of the lesser known facts. Listed below you’ll find some crazy facts about the hit TV show Bonanza!
There were no lead characters.
Behind the scenes the producers on Bonanza did everything in their power to keep the show on equal footing with each star. The lead characters, Ben, Adam, Joe, and Hoss all had equal screen time and their names were changed around in the opening credits at random. They got paid well too, as a trip to the cosmetic dentist wouldn’t cost them more than a penny of screen time.
Bonanza is one of the most expensive shows in TV history.
Period produced TV shows are wildly expensive and Bonanza was the most expensive among them. Each episode cost nearly $150,000 to produce, from start to finish. Fortunately the show was so successful that it was easily worth the investment. This was before each actor on stage was charging production for laser teeth whitening and dental implants. Crazy stuff, especially for the time period.
Mark Twain is from Virginia City, NV.
If Bonanza had tried to stay more true to life they could have put Mark Twain in the show. The famous writer was in Virginia City during the time period that Bonanza was set. Just think about it, whoa.
Bonanza was killed by the Rural Purge.
Networks in the ’70s wanted to step away from rural, southern mainstream TV shows. Bonanza was one of the final victims of the so called Rural Purge. Networks dumped those shows like a successful liposuction surgery.
Developer David Dort imagined King Arthur while writing the show.
When Dort first stumbled upon his idea for Bonanza he tried to hone in on the legend of King Arthur for the Cartwright family to be based around. Hmm!
Actors wore the same costumes in every episode.
With already sky high production costs, the wardrobe team opted to keep each actor in largely the same outfit. This cut costs down quite a bit while giving actors an iconic style. Wonder if that would work today? Nah!
Unknown actors were intentionally cast.
Producers on Bonanza knew that the arrival of color TV would create new stars overnight so they opted to hire cheaper unknowns to fill out the leading roles. Oh.
Lorne Greene used to be a radio announcer!
In fact, before starring in Bonanza Lorne Greene was working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during World War II. He was known as the ‘voice of doom’ during his time on air.
Dan Blocker has quite the record to his name.
Blocker set the record for heaviest baby born in Bowie County, Texas at 14 pounds. Big Hoss indeed!
Blocker ALSO founded the Bonanza buffet.
We’re sure this fact and the one preceding it have nothing in common, but it’s pretty funny. Danny Blocker is the founder of the string of Bonanza buffets that were first premiered in 1963. They are still going to this day.
You won’t believe where Michael Landon got his stage name.
Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz back in 1936. That wasn’t very Hollywood so he picked up a phone book and flipped pages until he saw a stage name that he liked – Michael Landon.
Hoss was the first major young male character to be killed off.
Dan Blocker died in real life after the 13th season of Bonanza. Therefore, the producers had to write Hoss out of the show. This was a shocking event as no other young male character had been killed off on network television before. It’s practically the norm nowadays, yeah, we’re talkin’ to you Game of Thrones!
Ben Cartwright’s shady past bears mentioning.
Ben Cartwright is based off of King Arthur, according to the writers. So he’s a good guy. Still, having three wives die after giving birth to one son each..is a little odd, no?
Michael Landon found character deaths hilarious.
Bonanza had the nasty habit of introducing female characters only for them to end up dead or leaving town within a few episodes. This apparently cracked up Michael Landon who joked that the Cartwright’s were cursed.
The cast was very musically oriented!
Music to our ears – the four Cartwright actors would end up singing on the 1964 album, ‘Christmas at the Ponderosa’. Lorne Greene turned out to be the most successful singer of the group.
Pernell Roberts hated the show.
Roberts played Adam Cartwright, the eldest Cartwright son. Apparently Roberts hated the show and called it demeaning to women, glorifying of wealth, and low brow in terms of humor. He even pushed for script changes but eventually left the show instead.
Dan Blocker got into theater because of his size.
Blocker was over 100lbs by the time he went to 1st grade. He was invited to play a part in Arsenic and Old Lace due only to his size. However, he joined to impress a girl and fell in love with the theater instead.
The ‘Hoss’ nickname has a logical starting point!
Hoss Cartwright’s famous first name is actually a nickname coined from the middle initial of his character. Eric H. Cartwright is actually Eric Haas Cartwright.
The show almost died out after a single season.
Facing stiff competition from Perry Mason, Bonanza would nearly get canned after a year. NBC held steady and shifted the starting up to get better ratings. It worked.
Almost everybody wore a wig.
The show went on for so long that almost every lead actor had to wear a wig or toupee. The reason? Their hair started to thin out and change colors. Now that just sounds horrible, actually, what’s worse than horrible? Yeah, that.
Every Cartwright character had lady troubles.
Bonanza was notoriously unkind to women and to relationships with their leading men. Every time a Cartwright brother got close to a woman they would be killed off or sent packing.
Bonanza subverted a common fatherly trope.
Before Bonanza hit the air most network TV shows had the father figure play some level of bumbling buffoon. Bonanza changed that up and we’re better for it.
Hop Sing was actually an accomplished chef!
Victor Sen Yung played the cook, Hop Sing. In reality, Yung was an accomplished chef who would make most of his money selling cook books and going on cooking shows.
There was even a theme park!
The producers of Bonanza developed a theme park in Incline Village, NV back in 1967. Tourists would come and see the completely recreated set and even pay to get married there!
Bonanza was titled that way for a reason!
The Cartwright’s ranch was located next to the Comstock Lode. Bonanza also means jackpot. Get our drift, here?
Michael Landon turned into a headache on set.
As the series drifted toward an end, star Michael Landon became increasingly difficult to work with. Landon wanted to sway the show’s trajectory based off of his own vision, thus causing delays and in-fighting.
The actors wore the same costumes for a decade.
From season 4 all the way to season 14 the primary cast members wore the exact same outfit every episode. This made for quicker shooting and easier editing outside of being an economical choice.
Bonanza was one of the first shows to be shot in color.
In fact, Bonanza stayed on air in order to help RCA sell more of their new color televisions. NBC and RCA were affiliated at the time and had a symbiotic relationship.
Michael Landon appeared in over 400 episodes.
Landon was so committed to Bonanza that he almost refused to leave the set. Landon would appear in 416 episodes, directing and writing more than a few of them along the way.
Set new standards for Western TV shows.
Bonanza is one of the first dramatic Westerns on television that focused on ‘issues’. These issues range from racism to social justice. This wasn’t just a good guy vs bad guy kind of show.
Bonanza and Star Trek are deeply intertwined.
The original ’66 Star Trek had almost every primary actor appear on Bonanza at some point: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, George Takei, James Doohan and more.
Michael Landon blocked new characters from being added to the show.
During the final couple seasons of Bonanza, star Michael Landon refused to allow any new characters onto the show. This caused major blow ups between Landon and the production team. Diva, much?
Bonanza aired under a second name!
The show ran so long that it had re-runs in syndication while new episodes still aired. To prevent confusion the re-runs of the show were aired under the name Ponderosa.
David Canary left and returned thanks to a certain star.
Canary left Bonanza after fighting over contracts with the production team but he would later return at the behest of star Michael Landon. After Bonanza Canary would go on to star in All My Children for nearly 17 years.
Lorne Green: America’s favorite dad?
Well, close enough anyway! Lorne Green’s Mr. Cartwright would end up ranked nationally as the #2 TV dad of all time. In fact, he would get fan mail from children around the world asking him to be their dad.
Big Name Stars Were Avoided
Producers were convinced that the introduction of color television would launch some new stars so instead of casting well known actors, they went with some unknowns. Which was actually a brilliant decision considering a handful of the show’s stars went on to become international stars.
Michael Landon Wore Heels While Filming
Welp, Michael Landon was 5’ 9” but he still wore heels on the set. Numerous sources even went on to claim that his shoes added a few inches to his overall stature.
The Cartwright’s Were Not Hostile To Visitors
The Cartwright’s used to be hostile toward any visitor but it was when Lorne Green realized that their business was crucial to the community that they changed their tune.
Stock Footage Trick
Character outfits in just about every episode look similar and that’s because the show’s producers knew they could easily imbed stock footage if the same clothes were worn. Simple and saves the show money!
Restaurant Chain Inspiration
Inspired by the show, the Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouses was created. Dan Blocker is the founder of the first American Bonanza Steakhouse located in Kokomo, Indiana in 1965. Moreover, the chain expanded to Canada back in 1971.
Second Longest Running TV Western of All Time
Gunsmoke is the only other western television series to run longer than Bonanza. Bonanza was on air for 14 seasons while Gunsmoke last 15 seasons.
The Show Skyrocketed Michael Landon’s Success
Thanks to the show, Michael Landon’s career skyrocketed, furthermore he’s the only actor to have three different television shows to run consecutively for at least five years. He was in “Bonanza”, then “Little House on the Prairie”, and lastly “Highway to Heaven.”
Saturday Night Nearly Killed the Show
After Bonanza started airing on Saturday nights, everyone believed it was going to fail. As the show was keyed in for cancellation, it was given just one last chance when it was moved to air on Sunday nights at 9:00pm. Then by the mid 60’s, the show’s ratings shot up and it was #1 nationwide!
First Time a Show Acknowledged a Character’s Death
Blocker’s unexpected death forced the show to make a tough decision, they announced that the character of Hoss would be killed in an accident during one of the episodes. As such, this was the first time in television history that a show dealt with and also mentioned a character death. “Just as we personally suffered a loss,” said Bonanza producer Richard Collins, “so the audience suffered one, too.”
The Show Was Full Of Musicians Who Released Albums
All four of the Cartwrights featured and sang on the 1964 Christmas album at the Ponderosa. Furthermore Greene went on to release a single called “Ringo” that was a huge hit in the US and Canada and he sang the theme song on the show.
First Globally Accepted TV Series
Not only was Bonanza a huge success in the United States but it happens to be the only show ever that aired globally in every nation.
In Mexico, the show even had a theatrical release, “Ride the Wind: Part 1” and “Ride The Wind: Part 2” were two episodes that had a full release in theaters. As such both episodes were combined and then renamed to “Jinetes del Viento.” Moreover, there were absolutely no other theatrical releases of the western television show.
David Dortort, the series creator and producer, wrote an episode of Fireside Theatre back in 1953. This is where the idea of Bonanza came to him while writing the episode calleded Man of the Comstock.
Johnny Cash and the Bonanza Theme Song
Instrumental version of the show’s theme song had lyrics and even featured the lead actors singing the lyrics, although that never aired. Johnny Cash went on to record his own version of the theme song.
Much of the show’s budget came from their long partnership with Chevrolet and many of the stars even appeared in commercials for the car company.