Lorne Greene’s Appearance on ‘Wagon Train’ Was His Audition for ‘Bonanza’

by Lauren Boisvert

Before he was everyone’s favorite ranch dad on “Bonanza”, Lorne Greene made an appearance on “Wagon Train” that caught the attention of “Bonanza” producers. In a March 1959 episode of “Wagon Train” titled “The Vivian Carter Story,” Lorne Greene played a tough, authoritarian character named Christopher Webb. He was so intimidating, he even cowed the no-nonsense wagon master Major Seth Adams, played by Ward Bond. In the episode, Vivian Carter decides to leave the wagon train so she can get married. Lorne Greene’s character is in love with her and wants to marry her, but eventually sees that she has too much to learn; they wouldn’t be a good match.

In his biography, Lorne Greene’s daughter recalled what he told her of his experience on “Wagon Train.” Greene said of facing off with Ward Bond, “When the moment came, I rose two inches above my normal height, turned up all the decibels and let the dialogue come falling out […] Mr. Bond had also been to acting school and […] was great [at reacting]. And that was all I had to do, except watch him crumple, convincingly dominated.”

This performance caught the eye of “Bonanza” producers, and Greene would star in the show the following September. He would appear in all but 14 episodes of “Bonanza” as Ben Cartwright, patriarch of the Ponderosa. He’s most remembered for that role, and in 2007 TV Guide named Ben “television’s #2 favorite dad.”

What Was ‘Bonanza’ Star Lorne Greene’s Final Role?

Lorne Greene passed in September 1987, but fans still fondly remember him for his monumental contribution to film and television. Most know him immediately as Ben Cartwright on “Bonanza,” but what about his last acting role before his death?

That would be “The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory” from January 1987. Greene played Sam Houston in a cameo in the film. “Thirteen Days to Glory” was a film adapted from a miniseries about the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. It also starred James Arness as James Bowie; Brian Keith as Davy Crockett; Alec Baldwin as William Barrett Travis; and Raul Julia as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The film was unique in that, unlike most films and shows about the Alamo at the time, it followed James Bowie instead of Davy Crockett.

in 1978, Greene took a big step away from the ranch life and went to space as Commander Adama on “Battlestar Galactica” and “Galactica 1980.” He’s also well known for that role. Greene started out as a well known newscaster during WWII, nicknamed “the Voice of Doom” because of all the grim news he delivered. He then found great fame in television and film, and had a long and storied career as an actor. The name Lorne Greene is synonymous with success, and he kept acting until the year he died.