‘Bonanza’: Lorne Greene Said He Got Role Due to ‘Sheer Circumstance,’ Said ‘First Scripts Were Bad’

by Joe Rutland

“Bonanza” star Lorne Greene simply said it was “sheer circumstance” that landed him in the role of Ben Cartwright on the NBC western hit.

Greene, who oversaw the Ponderosa and his three sons for 14 seasons, appeared to be grateful for the opportunity on the show.

“When ‘Bonanza’ came along I got into it by the sheer circumstance of being there at the right time,” Greene once said according to an Associated Press obituary. “I thought, well, you don’t know how long it is going to run. We didn’t think it would last long. The first scripts were bad.”

Lorne Greene Initially Gave ‘Bonanza’ 10-Year Chance

Initially, Greene, who died on Sept. 11, 1987, gave himself a 10-year window on staying with “Bonanza.”

When he passed his 10-year limit, Greene remained with the show. “But it didn’t make me unhappy,” he said. “I was at peace with myself.”

Greene, a native of Canada, had the role of patriarch on “Bonanza.” He watched over his sons, Adam, Joe, and “Hoss,” while maintaining peace, law, and orderliness among them all.

Pernell Roberts played Adam Cartwright before leaving the show in 1965. Michael Landon played “Little Joe” Cartwright for the entire 14-season run. Dan Blocker played “Hoss,” but his time on “Bonanza” was shortened when he died on May 13, 1972.

Roberts died on Jan. 24, 2010, and Landon died on July 1, 1991.

Greene Used Father As Inspiration For Ben Cartwright

Lorne Greene wanted to play Ben Cartwright as good as possible. Yet he knew that, for himself, the only way to truly do that would be to simply be himself.

Still, the Canadian-born actor needed a touch of inspiration. That’s where he looked toward his own father.

He based a piece of the character on him. Greene attempted to put some of his father’s qualities into Cartwright.

“I don’t know whether I could ever match my father as a person,” Greene once said. “But as an actor, I try to be like him.”

Reportedly, Greene’s father was a loving-but-stern figure in his early life. He would urge Lorne Greene to always do the right thing. It’s a part of life that stayed with him on “Bonanza” and beyond.