‘Bonanza’: Why Lorne Greene Agreed with Idea That the Era of the ‘Great Actor’ Was Over

by John Jamison

By most accounts, Lorne Greene, who famously portrayed Ben Cartwright on “Bonanza” for 14 years, would be considered a great actor. So why did he agree with legendary performer Richard Harris that the era of great actors was over?

Lorne Greene had the deep, booming voice of someone with authority. His characteristics were unique, and he had a familiarity about him that made him quickly recognizable to fans or casual viewers of “Bonanza” alike. These attributes all contributed to a highly successful acting career.

In an early 1980s interview with Steve Liebmann and Sue Kellaway on “Today,” Lorne Greene explained why he felt that the “days of the great actors and the great roles” are over. Now, Greene himself wasn’t asserting that he should or would be considered among those greats like Laurence Olivier. But as we’ve discussed, Greene had all of the pieces working for him that could put him in those conversations. So what changed?

Shows Like ‘Bonanza’ Represented New Ideas

Well, for one, the landscape changed entirely. When actors like Laurence Olivier were coming up, there was no such thing as a regularly scheduled program on TV like “Bonanza.” Broadcast television represented a new idea. It provided an entirely new medium for countless fresh faces and personalities, few of them familiar. Greene cites this as his reasoning for the end of an era.

“Well, uh, new ideas. New forms of entertainment. People want to see new people coming along,” Greene said in his 1980s interview on “Today.” “I remember in the old days, I used to go to the movies. I’d go to the movie because a certain actor was in it. And I began to empathize with the actors or actresses that I came to know through the motion pictures. Today, a lot of new people come along. I don’t know who they are.”

To some degree, it feels like the “Bonanza” star’s view is in holding with a classic case of the generational divide. There’s hardly an area of society out there that can live up to the “old days” in the mind of someone who’s lived through it all.

Though, Greene doesn’t claim the ending of the great actor era was a bad thing necessarily. And if we apply his view to the state of entertainment today, there has never been more opportunity for “new people” to step into the spotlight and make their mark. Who knows? A few certainly have the potential to become generational stars and birth a new era of great acting.