‘Bonanza’ Star Lorne Greene Was Known as the ‘Voice of Doom’ Before Role as Ben Cartwright

by Keeli Parkey
(Photo by National Broadcasting Company/Getty Images

Years before he began his starring role on “Bonanza,” Canadian actor Lorne Greene had two pretty interesting titles. These stemmed from his work in radio for the CBC (or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

According to the website for the History of Canadian Broadcasting, Greene, with his distinct baritone voice, worked for the CBC during World War II. It was during the years 1939 to 1942 that he was the man behind the voice that shared the war’s events with so many people in Canada.

Because he often had to report very sad news on the radio, Lorne Greene became known as “The Voice of Doom.” He was also referred to as “The Voice of Canada.”

His Parents Wanted Greene to Become a Violinist

According to the History of Canadian Broadcasting, Greene took a roundabout path to his career in Canadian radio. He was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1915. Interestingly, his mother and father aspired for him to become a violinist. This, however, was not on his radar.

At Queen’s University he began studying chemical engineering. But later switched to studying languages. He reportedly did so in order to devote more of his hours to the school’s drama program. Lorne Greene attended the university from 1932 to 1937. Following his time at the university, he moved to New York to participate in a fellowship at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.

Within two years, Greene had returned to Canada. However, due to the start of World War II there were not many acting jobs available. So, he took a job on radio with the CBC. He was tasked with reading the news from 1939 until 1942 and earned his two nicknames.

Lorne Greene Created Invention While Working for CBC Radio

Interestingly, according to the website, Lorne Greene did more than just broadcast on the CBC radio. He also created a reverse chronometer. This device was used to help broadcasters keep track of the timing of programs.

Greene also joined the Canadian Armed Forces during the later years of World War II. After the war, he went back to working in radio. He appeared on such shows as “Curtain Time,” “Peerless Parade,” and “Canadian Cavalcade.” The website reports that he also started the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts. He assisted with the creation of the Jupiter Theatre.

The CBC program, Newsmagazine, was next for Lorne Greene according to the website. He served as its host for three years beginning in 1950. Greene then went to New York and performed on stage.

He began his tenure as the character Ben “Pa” Cartwright on “Bonanza” in 1959. The show was very popular during its run and remained on the air until 1973.

In an interview recorded during 1983, Lorne Greene said he felt that “Bonanza” became a show about love. “… Instead of being a Western-shoot-em-up, it became a series about a four-letter word – love,” Greene said during the interview.