Happy Birthday Lorne Greene: Reliving the ‘Bonanza’ Star’s Best Moments

by Suzanne Halliburton

Happy Birthday Lorne Greene! Or as most of us know him, best wishes to Pa Cartwright.

If Greene still were alive today, he’d be 106. He passed away in 1987. But if you’ve ever seen a single episode of Bonanza, Greene, aka Ben Cartwright, still is with you.

So in honor of Lorne Greene and the patriarch of the Cartwright clan, let’s relive some of his best career moments.

First, did you know that Lorne Greene, who was so beloved here, actually was Canadian. He was born in Ottowa in 1915. His given name was Lyon Himan Green. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia.

Greene became a news reader for the CBC. And because he had such a terrific voice, he often narrated documentaries. During World War II, he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force. And after the war, he opted to move from Canada to the United States to give professional acting a try.

But Canada always remained proud of Greene.  He was granted the Order of Canada “for services to the Performing Arts and to the community.” The country honored him with a postage stamp. And he was added to the Canada Walk of Fame in 2016.

Lorne Greene And His New Home, the Ponderosa

Lorne Greene started as a stage actor. His first big TV role was Bonanza, which premiered in 1959. By the end of its run in 1973, it was the second-longest running western in TV history. Gunsmoke was the only western to beat it. And since the shows’ runs overlapped, viewers were entertained by the likes of Marshall Matt Dillon and Ben Cartwright with his sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe.

Here’s a fun fact. Greene was 44 when he was cast in Bonanza as the widowed father of three sons. The actors who played Adam (Pernell Roberts) and Hoss (Dan Blocker) weren’t that much younger than their TV dad. They were both 31.

And we’ve got another cool fact for you. In 1964, Lorne Greene had a No. 1 single called “Ringo.” It wasn’t a song so much as a spoken verse about Johnny Ringo, a real-life outlaw who once got into a fight with Doc Holliday in Tombstone, Arizona. Greene released 10 albums and a dozen singles. He called his second album “Bonanza, Ponderosa Party Time.”

Take a listen to Ringo. It’ll make your Friday.


After Bonanza, Greene Was Part of Roots Cast

And now, back to Greene’s acting career. Bonanza ended its run in 1973. The whole country knew him as Pa Cartwright, but his first significant part after Bonanza was playing a cop turned private investigator.

Then, he was cast in Roots, the biggest mini series in American TV history. Greene portrayed John Reynolds. He was a plantation owner from Virginia. After Kunta Kinte was captured in Africa and brought to the United States, Reynolds bought him at a slave auction. Reynolds changed Kunte Kinte’s name to Toby. And he told Fiddler, a slave played by Louis Gossett Jr., to teach Toby English and basically become a servant to the family. That was a significant turn in the multi-generational story.

Greene Jumps Genres, Going From Westerns to Sci-Fi

Lorne Greene’s next big part was in Battlestar Galactica. He played Commander Adama. That show stayed on air for two seasons, then morphed into Galactica.

And Greene also guest starred in some of the top shows of the 70s and 80s, from the Love Boat to Happy Days to Little House on the Prairie.

Greene was able to guest star alongside two of his TV sons. Michael Landon, who was Little Joe on the Ponderosa, starred in Little House on the Prairie and Highway To Heaven, two shows on Greene’s acting resume. And, Greene was in two episodes of Vega$, which starred Pernell Roberts, known back in the day as Adam Cartwright.

Before his death, Lorne Greene returned to the Canadian airwaves. He hosted Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness, a show that dealt with environmental issues, subjects near and dear to Greene’s heart.

So Happy Birthday, Lorne Greene. And for one final memory, here’s Lorne Greene singing the Bonanza theme song.