‘Bonanza’ Creator Explained the Loud ‘Problem’ Lorne Greene Had in Early Days of Show

by Joe Rutland
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Lorne Greene entered the world of “Bonanza” with a voice made for the radio. Yet it was so loud that Greene had to learn to tone it down.

“Bonanza” creator-producer David Dortort, in an interview with the Archive of American Television, recalls having a problem with Greene. It was all about his voice. You see, Greene had been a newscaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Network during World War II.

“He was known, he would report on the progress of the war,” Dortort said. “And he would talk in a big, deep voice. He had a powerful voice. He was called ‘The Voice of Doom’ actually.”

Once World War II ended, Greene left his home country for New York and Broadway’s bright lights. He would turn his attention, though, toward Hollywood.

‘Bonanza’ Creator Sees His Main Star Appearing On ‘Wagon Train

One of his earliest roles, Dortort said, was playing opposite star Ward Bond in “Wagon Train.”

Dortort caught that episode.

“So I felt this guy had quality and later, that same evening at a party, he came in as a guest,” Dortort said. He talked with Greene, felt like he’d fit the role of Ben Cartwright, and offered it to him. Greene accepted and would be on “Bonanza” for 14 seasons.

Still, there was a problem: Greene’s voice.

Dortort said “he (Greene) would speak with a great deal of strength.” He mentioned the set microphone which was right above the actors’ heads. “It’s so sensitive it picks up anything, even a whisper,” Dortort said. “So I would tell him, I would go to dailies and I would hear this voice go pounding over you. And I would say, ‘Lorne, you don’t have to shout.'”

Greene responded, “Who’s shouting?”

Greene Would Hear Own Voice, Soften It, Then Follow Dortort Advice

Dortort raised his voice to exemplify Greene’s voice.

“‘I’m not shouting.’ ‘Yes, you are,'” Greene and Dortort said to one another on the “Bonanza” set.

The final straw broke and Dortort asked Greene to come with him to the production room. He wanted Greene to hear how he sounds.

“So we go back to the production room and he hears it,” Dortort said. “The other actors are speaking in normal voices, enough to communicate, not shouting. And he comes in with this big voice. And he says, ‘Oh my God.'”

Dortort reminded Greene that the microphone picks up everything. “Undercut it, underplay it a little bit,” he told Greene. “So he went the other way. He went so soft. I went, ‘Wait a minute. You don’t have to go that far. Be yourself. Speak in a normal voice.'”

Greene started doing that very thing and, eventually, became a wonderful actor.

Lorne Greene died on Sept. 11, 1987. David Dortort died on Sept. 5, 2010.

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