‘Bonanza’: 3 Main Characters Actually Wore Hair Pieces Throughout Most of the Series

by Suzanne Halliburton

Bonanza fans, you remember Little Joe and all his glorious hair, right? Michael Landon played the youngest Cartwright and was the heartthrob on the beloved western.

He also was the only one of the Bonanza family sporting all his own hair. You could say, Vanity, thy name is Cartwright. That’s right, Ben Cartwright, the dad, along with oldest sons Adam and Hoss wore hairpieces.

Pernell Roberts, who played Adam, the oldest, didn’t want to wear his fake hair on the show. During the first week of filming for Bonanza, Roberts showed up at the office of show creator David Dortort and took off his hair piece. Dortort said he had no idea that Roberts’ hair wasn’t his own.

But Dortort still wanted Roberts to wear the fake hair. The reason? Dortort thought being bald, Robert’s authentic look, made him look old. Roberts was only 31. But here’s why looking older mattered. Lorne Greene, who played the father, was only 44 when the show started. It already was a stretch that Greene would be the father to such older sons. But it was TV. The genre often lies about the ages of its stars.

And, there nearly was a Bonanza toupee mishap on set. During season six, Adam Cartwright was in a world of hurt. He was trying to free a calf and fell into the river. It appeared the water was sweeping him away. Oh, no! The water also lifted off his flap of hair. Double oops. If you freeze frame the scene, you can briefly spot Adam’s bald spot.

However, Pernell Roberts didn’t mind being bald on the show “Trapper John, MD.” He played Dr. John McIntyre in the medical series, which was a spinoff of the movie M*A*S*H. Wayne Rogers played the younger version of Trapper John in the TV hit based on the movie.

Wait, There Were More Bonanza Hair Mishaps

Roberts’ experience in the river wasn’t the only toupee mishap on the Ponderosa. Lorne Greene, as Ben Cartwright, jumped from a ledge into a pond. Yes, he did his own Bonanza stunts. As he was underwater, Greene’s hair floated to the top before he got to the surface. Greene grabbed his hair and put it on as he resurfaced. He got out of the pond and walked straight to his dressing room.

Dan Blocker also sported a piece. He began wearing a toupee in 1968. Sadly, Blocker died of complications following gall bladder surgery in 1972. That was during the show’s 13th season. Bonanza writers were forced to write him off the show. In a reunion movie, it was explained that Hoss died a hero as he tried to save a drowning woman.

But there were other Bonanza men besides members of the Cartwright family who wore hair pieces. Family cook Hop Sing, played by Victor Sen Yung, sported a fake ponytail.

So give a round of applause for Michael Landon and his Bonanza of real hair.