“Bonanza” is a show with quite a fan base. Those fans received a surprise when “Little Joe” Cartwright ends up getting married.
Here’s how it all goes down. According to a 2015 article from the Visalia Times Delta, writer Rich Heldenfels says “Little Joe,” played by Michael Landon, married Alice Harper, played by guest star Bonnie Bedalia. This was at the beginning of the 14th season of “Bonanza.”
“At the end of the first of two episodes, she told Joe she was pregnant,” Heldenfels writes. “But in the second episode, she was murdered.”
‘Bonanza’ Marriage Storyline Originally Was Set For Dan Blocker
The marriage storyline, according to Heldenfels, was originally lined up for Dan Blocker, who played “Hoss” Cartwright on the popular NBC western. Sadly, Blocker died from blood clots after complications of gall-bladder surgery in May 1972. That was just before the 14th season for “Bonanza” entered production.
Heldenfels writes that the episode “was rewritten to mention Hoss’ death and to have Joe as the marrying man.”
“The reaction to Alice’s death is seen as a way for the cast to come to grips with Blocker’s passing, and there are some intensely emotional moments,” he writes. “Bonanza” itself would never find its rating success again and NBC canceled the show in 1973.
Classic TV Show Ranks No. 2 For Longest-Running Western Series on TV
Besides Landon and Blocker, Lorne Greene starred as Ben Cartwright, patriarch of the Cartwright family. Cast members over the series’ 14-season run also would include Pernell Roberts as Adam Cartwright, David Canary, Tim Matheson, and Mitch Vogel.
“Bonanza” would make its debut in 1959 on NBC and become the second-longest-running western series in TV history. The only western TV series to run longer is “Gunsmoke” on CBS, which ruled the airwaves for 20 seasons.
Speaking of Roberts, he stayed on the Ponderosa until 1965. His last episode on “Bonanza” that Roberts appeared in “Dead and Gone” on April 4, 1965.
But Roberts wasn’t pleased with “Bonanza” and its show’s writers. Roberts believed they were making Adam talk up to his father Ben and felt that wasn’t effective.
Another issue that ticked him off was not using people of color to play roles on the show. For instance, Roberts wanted Native American actors to play those roles instead of having white actors put on makeup to look like them. That was a practice that was used on many TV westerns at that time.
Roberts would go on from “Bonanza” and appear in other TV shows as well as stage plays. Years later, he did return to play “Trapper John, M.D.” on CBS for a number of seasons. It was the last full-time TV series role Roberts would take in his career.