In a candid interview recorded during the early 1980s, “Bonanza” star Lorne Greene talks about his years on the classic television show. He also discusses how the show became a show about love.
Lorne Greene starred as Ben “Pa” Cartwright on “Bonanza” from 1959 until 1973. At the start of the interview, the actor talks about some of the frustration he felt while working on “Bonanza.”
“I remember one time after about 17 or 18 shows, I really wanted to get out of the show,” he says. “I thought the show was not doing what I had told the show was going to be about.”
Greene says he didn’t like that episodes of “Bonanza” opened with one of the characters pointing a gun at someone and asking them why they had arrived at the Ponderosa. Greene brought up his concerns with a producer and asked why the characters had to do that.
“I said, ‘Look, I said if a stranger comes on the Ponderosa, why do we have to point a gun at him? And say, ‘What are you doing in the Ponderosa? He doesn’t know where he is – it’s a thousand square miles,” Greene recalls. “Why don’t we say, listen where are you from, St. Louis? Great. How about staying with us for a week? Just be our guest. We’ll talk. We’ll find out what’s happening in the rest of the world. At least, let’s be human beings. Let’s not be antagonists.”
This conversation led to a change on “Bonanza,” according to Greene. Instead of being antagonists, the show’s characters became welcoming.
“Eventually, that became our characters. Instead of being a Western-shoot-em-up, it became a series about a four-letter word – love,” Greene says.
“Bonanza” was about the love of land, trees, the environment, people, and country, Greene also says.
Greene also says during the interview that “television has a tremendous responsibility.” This includes responsibility to “be accurate” to “be truthful.”
“The responsibility is not to mislead the viewing public,” he adds.
Lorne Greene Compares ‘Bonanza’ to Wildlife Show
Also during the interview, Greene talks about the character he played on the television show “Code Red.” He appeared on this show from 1981 to 1982. It was not a good experience for him. He says that he “hated getting up to go to work” and that he “didn’t believe any of the scripts.”
“I compromised. It was the unhappiest time I’ve ever had in the business. It was just horrible,” Greene says. “I didn’t believe that any of these things could happen. Every show had at least one fire and maybe two. I said this is not about fires, it’s about firemen.”
This taught him a lesson, he says. “You’ve got to be careful about a series because you’re not in control.” Greene also says he decided he wanted to do a show where he was in control. So, he went on to do “New Wilderness,” which started airing in 1982.
“We called it ‘New Wilderness’ because the old wilderness is gone,” Greene says. The show also reminded him of his days on “Bonanza.”
“When I’m doing the wildlife show, there’s a certain resemblance somehow to what we did in ‘Bonanza’,” Greene explains. “‘Bonanza’ dealt with responsibility. Somebody called ‘Bonanza’ a ‘morality play on horseback,’ which I’ve never forgotten. The wildlife show deals with man’s responsibility to the creatures of this earth.”
Check out Lorne Greene talk about “Bonanza” during the 1983 interview below.