‘Bonanza’ Star Lorne Greene’s Surprising Connection to Betty White

by Suzanne Halliburton

We ask you, how many times can you connect Bonanza, a classic TV western, with the amazing Betty White?

Folks of a certain age probably will remember this detail, especially when prompted. It’s also a terrific trivia topic. Lorne Greene, who portrayed Ben Cartwright on Bonanza, and White used to team up for a special event. And that was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Greene and White hosted the beloved parade for NBC audiences from 1963-72. Greene, with his velvet voice, could describe anything and make it sound significant. And White, who is readying for her 100th birthday next month, can make anything funny. They were the perfect combo telling audiences about floats, super balloons and high school bands and dance teams.

Plus, White also was an NBC fixture with the Tournament of Roses Parade. White hosted the program from 1956-76. During the 70s, White portrayed Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. NBC pulled her off parade duty because the network didn’t want to give a star for CBS too much air time.

“On New Year’s Day I just sat home feeling wretched,” White told People magazine. “Watching someone else do my parade.”

Meanwhile, Greene was the perfect father and rancher on Bonanza, an NBC franchise from 1959-73. So it made sense for NBC to pair its Bonanza star with White, who spent most of the 60s appearing on various game shows. She needed wit and charm for those roles, so why not call a parade?

Before Bonanza, Greene made his mark as a radio news reporter and announcer. So he didn’t need anyone to write his scripts. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company during World War II. Folks referred to him as the “Voice of Canada.” But war news isn’t happy news. So someone changed his nickname to the “Voice of Doom.” Obviously, he shook off that reputation for the Macy’s Parade. One can’t be gloomy when talking about Thanksgiving and the eventual arrival of Santa Claus.

During this Bonanza stretch, Greene also hosted the Miss International Beauty contest. Miss Australia, who won the title in 1963, even visited the set of Bonanza. There’s a photo of Greene showing her how to shoot a gun. Obviously, that private lesson came with the sash and crown.

Greene died in 1987. He was only 72. He developed pneumonia after ulcer surgery and passed away in a Los Angeles hospital. He’ll forever be known for his role on Bonanza.

Meanwhile, Betty White is going strong. She turns 100 years old, Jan. 17. No doubt, she’ll watch the Rose Parade. It’s as much as New Year’s Day tradition as the Macy’s parade is for Thanksgiving. She’ll probably think about the holidays she spent with Greene, the Bonanza icon.