‘Bonanza’: Lorne Greene Explained Complicated Difficulty of Being Overly Associated with Pa Cartwright

by John Jamison

Television actors lead tough lives in terms of their careers. We all know how difficult it is for a popular TV show actor to make the leap into movies. And sometimes, an actor like ‘Bonanza’ star Lorne Greene plays a role so well and gains so much recognition that it’s impossible for an audience to see them as anyone else.

Some actors are so afraid of being typecast this way that they abandon their roles before they reach the point of no return. Or what they see as the point of no return, at least. Lorne Greene knew a little bit about this phenomenon. The actor’s portrayal of Ben Cartwright on “Bonanza” made him an icon. And that notoriety came with complications.

In a 1986 interview with Ray Martin on “The Midday Show,” Greene discussed some of the pros and cons of leading a career such as his.

“After you’re on a show for 14 years without stopping, yes it’s more difficult to do other things,” Greene said. “Although I was very fortunate because there were a lot of motion pictures for television which I made during that time for NBC.”

So at least NBC had Lorne Greene’s back. The “Bonanza” producing network provided him with acting opportunities which allowed him to demonstrate his range. And back in those days, movies made for network TV were a bigger deal than they are now.

Lorne Greene Didn’t Want to be Ben Cartwright Forever

In a 1967 interview, during the middle of his run on “Bonanza,” Lorne Greene expressed his desire to get away from the popular show sooner rather than later.

“I must be very frank. I think that when you have a long run on any kind of show you get to the point where there are other things that you feel that you must do before it’s too late to do any of the things that you have in mind,” he said.

Many ‘M*A*S*H’ Actors Faced Same Difficulties as ‘Bonanza’ Star

And Lorne Greene wasn’t the only TV icon who faced difficulties like this. Popular as “Bonanza” was, actors on any show that reached a certain level of popularity went through the same thing.

In the 1986 interview, Ray Martin referenced the hugely popular show “M*A*S*H.” He talked about how Gary Burghoff left the program because he felt that he was getting pigeonholed into his role. Burghoff played Radar O’Reilly for seven seasons on the show.

Lorne Greene acknowledged the reality of these situations. But he told Martin that he thought Burghoff left “M*A*S*H” too early.