Bonanza star David Canary once revealed a rather large detail about the costumes everyone wore on the longest-running western in NBC history.
Make that a tall costume detail. About the boots. It seems that everyone on Bonanza, which ran from 1959 to 1973, appeared much taller than they really were. And what was so odd about the situation — all of the actors were above average height.
Canary played Candy Canaday. And he certainly wasn’t a small person. He turned down a chance to play end for the Denver Broncos. He joined the show’s cast in 1967. His Bonanza character was a former soldier turned cowboy. Ben Cartwright hired Canady to be the ranch foreman on the Ponderosa.
Canary did a wide-ranging interview with EmmyTVLegends.org. And he brought up the height of the boots. He didn’t mind the costumes, which by design never changed, but the boots were a bit much.
“What bothered me (was) had I was told had to wear lifts in my boots,” Canary recalled. “I said why? Mike Landon is 5-11. Lorne Greene was 5-11. Dan (Blocker) was 6-1. (But) to stay in frame, I had lifts that were about five inches.
“So we were all walking around with nose bleeds trying to stay in frame, as it were.”
Plus, Bonanza was filmed in the California desert.
Canary said: “Out on a hot day in the desert wearing those boots, that’s not fun. … (But) they decided we needed to be a little taller.”
Bonanza Characters Rarely Changed Costumes
The Bonanza costume department was notorious for lack of variety. Everyone wore the same outfits from shoot to shoot. Candy Canaday sported a red shirt with black pants and a leather vest with a black hat. Ben Cartwright wore shades of beige, gray and brown. Little Joe dressed in beige gray and green. Hoss wore white and brown. While Adam preferred mostly black.
Maybe the costume designers were true to the 1860s, the time setting for Bonanza. Surely, there was a lack of variety at the clothing department in the general store. But Canary said it was for the show to save time and money. That way, it was easier to shoot stock footage with the stunt doubles.
After Bonanza, Canary found fame on the ABC soap opera, All My Children. He played Adam Chandler, the super elegant and devious Pine Valley millionaire. He was a twin, too, playing the big-hearted Stuart Chandler, who preferred button-downs and pullover sweaters.
Canary earned 17 daytime Emmy nominations and won five times. He died in 2015 at age 77.
Here’s his complete interview: