‘Bonanza’ Producer Described Lorne Greene as Having ‘Great Warmth’ Compared to ‘Timid, Stiff’ Actors

by Katie Maloney

Not all actors can have a genuine connection both on and off the screen. “Bonanza” stars Lorne Greene and Michael Landon certainly did.

Everyone talks about the cast of a movie or television show needing chemistry. There has to be chemistry between the actors. They need to be able to connect enough to portray authentic relationships for the project. Well, actors Lorne Greene and Michael Landon certainly had that chemistry on the set of “Bonanza.”

The two played father and son, Ben “Pa” and Little Joe Cartwright, on the show. Although the show told an exciting story of a ranching family in Nevada during the post Civil War wild west era, it was the chemistry between the actors that truly drew in audiences. During an interview in 2002, “Bonanza” producer, David Dortort, talked about the unique way Lorne Greene portrayed emotion onscreen.

“He had great warmth as an actor. And he was not timid about showing it. Many actors are. Many actors are because they’re wooden, stiff. They have an inhibition about showing emotion. They have to be able to show it without being overcome by it -which isn’t easy for some people, most people,” said Dortort. “But he had that ability to show great warmth, empathy.”

Lorne Greene Showed Empathy in One Unique Way While Filming ‘Bonanza’

Dortort then talked about a specific way Lorne would show affection for his onscreen son Little Joe in “Bonanza.”

“What he would do when he talked to Michael (Little Joe) is he would put his arm around him and hug him,” said Dortort. “That never happened before. Never.”

Dortort was so impressed by the action that he complemented Lorne. Yet, connection and empathy came so naturally to Lorne that he didn’t understand why Dortort was complimenting him for it.

“I complimented him. I said ‘Lorne that’s wonderful.’ [He said] ‘I like the kid.’ I said, ‘That’s good and you show it. You’re not afraid to show it. That’s wonderful.’ {He said] ‘Why should I be afraid to show it?’ And I said, ‘No reason. But not everyone can. You can and it’s wonderful what you do,'” said Dortort.

Lorne Greene Hilariously Roasted Michael Landon in 1975

When it’s true love, there’s gotta be some occasional roasting. This was certainly the case for “Bonanza” stars Lorne Greene and Michael Landon. Both actors attended the “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” in 1975. This specific roast was dedicated entirely to Michael Landon. So, of course, Landon’s onscreen “Pa” had to attend. During the roast, Greene really played into the two’s father-son dynamic from “Bonanza.”

“You all know that we played father and son on the show. And in many ways that relationship was very real, and it still exists. To this day, he treats me like a father. Never thinks of me. Never comes to see me. Didn’t call me on father’s day,” joked Greene. “I remember when I first met Mike. I was sitting and talking to Pernell Roberts who plays my eldest son – who calls every week.”

Greene then stopped his speech and turned to Landon to emphasize “every week.” Greene turned back to the audience and finished his speech.

“And they brought in this shy, awkward kid who didn’t know what he wanted to do,” said Greene. “And look at him now – actor, writer, producer, director…still doesn’t know what he wants to do!”