‘Bonanza’: ‘Ben Cartwright’ Actor Lorne Greene Nearly Played a Different Character on the Hit Show

by Keeli Parkey

Many actors on long-running television shows become so associated with their characters that it is difficult to imagine any other person playing their roles. One example of this was Lorne Greene as Ben “Pa” Cartwright on “Bonanza.”

However, Greene almost played a different role on the famous Western television show. And while it is difficult to imagine Greene as any other character on “Bonanza,” that almost happened. Fortunately, a friend of the actor stepped in and offered some very important advice.

According to Cowboys & Indians, as the Western television show was in development Greene was told that he could pick what role he wanted to play. His choices were Ben “Pa” Cartwright, the head of the family at the center of the show, and Adam Cartwright, the oldest of the family’s son.

Fellow Actor Offered Important Advice to Lorne Greene

So, how did Lorne Greene choose the role he would play on “Bonanza”? According to the website, Greene, who was born in Canada, went to one of his fellow countrymen for help. That man was Leslie Nielsen, who was a famous comedic actor. And, Neilsen gave his friend some pretty great advice. It was advice that would change the history of the show.

“There’s no way for you to emerge without a tremendous position of significance in the show. … Probably all four of you will achieve equal prominence,” Nielsen reportedly told Greene. “But of the four of you, the only one who can achieve the most prominence is yourself because you’re the father and they’re all three tied to you. … I wouldn’t even give it a second thought.”

Of course, Greene decided to follow Nielsen’s advice. He chose to play Ben “Pa” Cartwright on “Bonanza.” Pernell Roberts was given the role of Adam Cartwright. Roberts was 13 years younger than Greene, according to CowboysIndians.com.

“Bonanza” was on the air from 1959 until 1973. Greene played Ben “Pa” Cartwright for 430 episodes of the beloved show.

Producer of ‘Bonanza’ Had Trouble Getting Lorne Greene to Use His Voice Correctly

One part of Lorne Greene’s persona was his deep and commanding voice. However, when he first started his work on “Bonanza,” his voice and how he used it caused a lot of stress for producer David Dortort.

“The problem was he would speak with a great deal of strength and, you know, there’s the microphone and it’s so sensitive it picks up anything, even a whisper,” Dortort reportedly said. “So I would tell him, I would go to dailies and I would hear his voice come pounding over. And, I would tell him, Lorne you don’t have to shout.”

In order to help Greene with this issue, Dortort took the actor to listen to audio recorded for “Bonanza.”

“So, we go back to the projection room and he hears it,” Dortort said. “The other actors are speaking, you know, normal voices – enough to communicate, not shouting. And he comes in with this big strident voice.”

Greene eventually understood what the producer wanted and changed his approach.