Bonanza: A 1960's Western TV Show
Stars of 1960s Western TV Show Bonanza
Bonanza's Cartwright Family
Bonanza was a weekly TV Western series during the 1960s, which followed the trials and tribulations of the Cartwright clan. The patriach of the family was Ben Cartwright, portrayed by Lorne Greene. He was a three time widowed rancher with three sons, all by different wives: Adam (Pernell Roberts), Eric "Hoss" (Dan Blocker) and "Little Joe" (Michael Landon). The main story line for the weekly episode centered around either Ben or one of the sons, thus giving each actor more exposure and a chance for each character to grow. The stars had equal billing and Bonanza's opening credits changed each week alternating the order of the stars.
For 14 years and 431 episodes, millions of viewers tuned in to watch the popular western TV show and to see the beautiful scenery of the ranch called The Ponderosa as the TV series was one of the first to be broadcast in color. It is the second longest running western show in television history behind the series Gunsmoke.
The Next Generation of Cartwrights on Bonanza
Sadly, Dan Blocker passed away suddenly during the 13th season. His fans were shocked and devastated. Bonanza never recuperated from both the loss of the lovable character Hoss and a time slot change from Sunday nights (where it had always aired) to Tuesday nights. It had become a Sunday night ritual for families to watch the show together and it lost many viewers due to the unpopular schedule change. Regrettably, the TV western stopped being produced in the middle of the 14th season.
However, that wasn't the end of Bonanza. By popular demand, three TV movies would follow. Unfortunately, they were not received well by the fans, who claimed poor acting and bad story lines as the cause.
The final outcome for the Cartwright family was the characters of Ben, Hoss and Little Joe were all dead. The ranch was being run by Ben Cartwright's brother, Aaron. Adam was the only surviving son but actor Pernell Roberts refused to participate in the TV movies so the script called for him to be living in Australia to explain his absence. Hoss had drowned while saving someone's life and Little Joe was a war hero that was killed in action while riding with Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.
In the TV movies, Little Joe was already deceased but had a son, Benjamin (called Benj) and a daughter. The actor playing Little Joe's son was Michael Landon, Jr. The actress that portrayed his daughter looked very much like Little Joe but in real life she is not related to Landon. Dan Blocker's son had a part in the movie as a news reporter because the producers thought he appeared too old to play Hoss' son. Lorne Greene's daughter played the part of Benj's girlfriend.
Adam also had a son in the movies, Adam Cartwright, Jr. who was called "A.C." and spoke with an Australian accent. The accent was certainly out of place on the ranch and Benj showing up in Virginia City driving a car seemed really strange . But the part of the movie that was so unbelievable to fans (including myself) is that Hoss Cartwright had an illegitimate son! That's right! According to the story line, when Hoss accidentally drowned, he was engaged to be married and his fiancee was pregnant! The writers of the original TV series would have never gotten away with such a plot as it was so contrary to the tradition of Bonanza and so out of character for Hoss. With his mild manners and shyness around women, it is hard to believe this of the "gentle giant". His son comes to the Ponderosa searching for his father who he believes deserted his mother, not knowing that Hoss was dead.
I have included some clips from the TV movies and I think you will agree that the acting and writing was pretty lame and the stories were not the caliber that fans had come to know and love. Although the original series developed a cult following and is still seen as reruns, you aren't likely to see the Bonanza movies on TV again!
Little Known Bonanza Trivia
Did you ever notice that almost every woman that fell in love with a Cartwright died or left town? It jokingly became known among the actors and fans as the "Cartwright Curse". This might be called a "girl thing" but we kept watching each week hoping that one of the Cartwright romances would end in marriage. If for no other reason than to give Hop Sing some help in the kitchen.
I always assumed Little Joe was given that nickname because he was the youngest son and not very old when the series began. His mother had been previously married to a man named "Big Joe" who died saving Ben Cartwright's life. Ben and Marie were married and had a son that they named after Marie's deceased husband.
Another trivia tidbit that isn't very well known deals with the hair belonging to the actors of the show. Michael Landon was the only one of the main Bonanza actors with a full head of his own hair. Blocker, Roberts and Greene all wore toupees! Maybe that is the reason almost all of the photos of the cast show them with their hats on as pictured here.
Clip of Little Joe's Wife and Son and Ben's Brother
Adam Cartwright, Jr. Comes to Town
Hoss' Illegitimate Son Story Comes Out of the Closet
Hoss' Son and Joe's Daughter at Hoss' Gravesite
Four Grandchildren Look at Photos of Original Cartwrights
© 2011 Thelma Raker Coffone