‘Bonanza’ Actor Did Not Know He Had a ‘Series Regular’ Role Until After First Appearance as Character

by Joe Rutland

It took one “Bonanza” actor actually playing his role in one show before learning that he would be on as a series regular.

Mitch Vogel, who played Jamie Hunter on the classic NBC western, talked about show creator-executive producer David Dortort not immediately giving him a full-time cast role.

“David actually didn’t tell me that I was going to be a series regular,” Vogel said in a 2017 interview with Jeremy Roberts. “He kinda said, ‘You can come and stay with us.’ But it wasn’t a commitment at that point for a series.

‘Bonanza’ Star Ended Up Playing Role For Three Seasons on NBC Western

“I guess David wanted to see how the character would resonate with people,” Vogel said. “Apparently it resonated well. He officially asked me to join the cast not long after. It was quite exciting to be asked to do something like that without having to audition or anything [laughs].”

Vogel played Jamie from 1970-73 until “Bonanza” was canceled and aired its last original episode on Jan. 16, 1973. His character ends up being adopted by Ben Cartwright, played by Lorne Greene. It proved a good thing that Dortort added him to the cast as “Bonanza” would undergo some cast changes in the coming years.

Sadly, one of the major ones involved Dan Blocker, who played “Hoss” Cartwright. Blocker, a native of DeKalb, Texas, was a fan favorite and people loved him. He died from complications of gall-bladder surgery on May 13, 1972, at 43 years old. The show did address losing one of its main characters, yet “Bonanza” never found its popularity again.

Vogel, Matheson Appeared in Movie Together Ahead Of Series

A once-dominant force in the NBC lineup, “Bonanza” slumped in the ratings and, ultimately, found itself on the cutting board. Vogel teamed up with Tim Matheson on the NBC western. Their paths crossed earlier when playing roles in the movie “Yours, Mine and Ours” with big-time stars Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda.

Besides Greene, Vogel, Matheson, and Blocker, other cast members at different times included Michael Landon, David Canary, and Guy Williams. Williams, who had earlier TV success portraying “Zorro,” was brought in after Pernell Roberts left the show.

But Will Cartwright, Williams’ character and nephew of Ben Cartwright, was written out after five episodes. Fans didn’t want the original cast broken up, so Williams got bounced yet ended up playing the fatherly role on CBS’s out-of-this-world show “Lost in Space.”

Another quick note on Vogel and his acting career. He appeared in 1969’s “The Reivers” with movie superstar Steve McQueen. That role caught Dortort’s attention, leading him to put Vogel in a guest-starring spot. It would help Vogel find a regular position on “Bonanza” as well.