‘Bonanza’: Linda Sue Risk Landed on the Show After Role in ‘The Red Skelton Hour’

by Joe Rutland

Playing a “little girl lost” role opposite one of America’s greatest comedians would lead child star Linda Sue Risk to a part on “Bonanza.”

Risk, according to a MeTV article, found herself as a young child actress playing opposite Lorne Greene in an episode of the NBC western titled “Little Girl Lost.”

She plays a young girl named Samantha who causes all kinds of trouble in the 1968 episode.

Well, that’s until Ben Cartwright and his brood start showing her how to act properly. The “Bonanza” episode is just one of a few other shows Risk played on as an actress, including “Mission: Impossible” starring Peter Graves.

‘Bonanza’ Role For Risk Happened Because Of Her Work With Skelton

But her work with comedian Red Skelton led to “Bonanza.”

Skelton may not be a name a lot of people know, but baby boomers may remember that he had his own CBS variety show. It was on “The Red Skelton Hour” that Risk would usually play that type of character opposite Skelton.

Now Risk started working with Skelton at the young age of 7 years old. She remained a part of “The Red Skelton Hour” until the show’s cancellation by CBS. Risk left show business in 1970 at 12 years old. Not much else is known about the “little girl lost” that left a big impression.

Western Show’s Stars Made Appearances On Comedian’s Show

It’s worth noting that after Risk did “Bonanza,” Michael Landon showed up as a guest star on Skelton’s show. Heck, even ol’ “Hoss” himself, Dan Blocker, popped up with Skelton on his show, too.

“The Red Skelton Hour” allowed the veteran comic a chance to play all of his famed characters, including talking birds Gertrude and Heathcliffe. He also was one of the entertainers who would go out on USO tours and entertain the troops during World War II. Skelton was a star in radio, film, and television.

“Bonanza” lasted on television a little bit longer than Skelton’s show, but not by much. The hit NBC western would get canceled in 1973 after a 14-year run. It’s one of television’s most popular shows of any genre. People remain fans of the show today, introducing new generations to the Ponderosa.

Greene and Landon, who played “Little Joe” Cartwright, were on the show for all 14 of its seasons. Once that show ended, Landon would go do “Little House on the Prairie.” Their paths crossed again as Landon invited Greene to appear on Landon’s third series, “Highway to Heaven.”

“Bonanza” may not have been on TV as long as “Gunsmoke,” which holds the record for longest-running Western on TV. Yet as we mentioned earlier, people are still finding out about Ben, Adam [Pernell Roberts], “Hoss,” and “Little Joe” all the time.