“Bonanza” was a show that would deal with societal issues during its 14-season run on NBC. Lorne Greene was proud of two in particular.
Greene, in a 1986 interview with Ray Martin, says he was proud of how “Bonanza” dealt with diversity and discrimination.
“It’s a show that dealt with people as people might be dealt with,” Greene said. “We did one show about a great opera singer, I [in his Ben Cartwright character] was the head of a committee which was supposed to get all the talent for this certain show once a year at the opera house.
“And I wrote to New York and they said, ‘We have a marvelous singer that would be perfect for what your needs are,'” Greene says.
‘Bonanza’ Episode Dealt With Racism Head-On During 1960s
“Well he arrived and the sheriff rode out to the Ponderosa and said we have a problem,” Greene said. “I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘They wouldn’t let him into the hotel.’
“I said, ‘Why?'” Greene says as Cartwright. “He said, ‘He’s a black man.’ I said, ‘What difference does that make?’ He said, ‘They won’t let him in.'”
Greene adds Cartwright hitched up his wagon, went out, and brought him to the Ponderosa. His character tells the opera singer, “You’re going to stay with us.”
He adds that in the episode when people heard him sing, “then they realized he was a human being, not just a black man.”
Greene says the episode he’s talking about was done in 1963 and people would come up to him and ask why they’d do that type of show.
Greene Defended Show Doing Episodes That Brought Up Societal Issues
“Because I think it’s the kind of show that should be done,” Greene tells these people. “And we dealt with issues that were foremost in people’s minds in the ’60s.”
“Bonanza” did episodes that also dealt with issues facing Native Americans, too. It was not always popular with the viewing audience for the NBC western to do these types of episodes. Yet the hit NBC western wasn’t scared of bringing them up, especially during a time when civil rights issues were in the headlines.
Greene was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and born in Canada. His birth name was Lyon Himan Green. He might have faced some racism in his own life, too. That, though, didn’t faze him from moving forward as an actor in Canada and eventually in the United States.
Lorne Greene died on Sept. 11, 1987, at 72 years old.