‘Bonanza’: Producer David Dortort Discussed How He Fixed the One Problem He Had with Lorne Greene

by Keeli Parkey

One characteristic “Bonanza” actor Lorne Greene is most widely known for is his voice. It’s a deep and distinct voice that he used to his benefit during his career. However, Greene’s voice caused a lot of grief for “Bonanza” producer David Dortort during the early days of the show.

Dortort talked about this problem during an interview with the Archive of American Television. As he points out during said interview, to understand the problem he had with Lorne Greene while they were working on “Bonanza,” we have to go back to the years of World War II – long before the actor played Ben Cartwright.

Greene was born in Canada. During World War II, he worked for the CBC – Canadian Broadcasting Company. His job was to read news reports about the ongoing war. And, of course, he often had to share some very bad news with listeners.

“And, he would report on the progress of the war, you know – many Ally defeats … He would talk about other defeats suffered by the Allies in this big, deep radio broadcasting voice. And, he had a powerful voice,” Dortort said during the interview.

Because of this, the “Bonanza” star came to be known as “The Voice of Doom.” He was also known as “The Voice of Canada,” which is a much less gruesome nickname.

Flash forward to the late 1950s. Greene gets casts as Ben Cartwright on the Western show “Bonanza.” There, he began working with producer David Dortort.

‘Bonanza’ Star’s Voice Became an Issue for Show’s Producer

It was once Lorne Greene agreed to join the cast of “Bonanza” that the issue arose.

“The problem was he would speak with a great deal of strength and, you know, there’s the microphone and it’s so sensitive it picks up anything, even a whisper,” Dortort recalled. “So I would tell him, I would go to dailies and I would hear his voice come pounding over. And, I would tell him, Lorne you don’t have to shout.”

According to Dortort, Greene responded by saying, “Who’s shouting? I’m not shouting.” “I said, yes you are,” the producer said in response to Greene.

Needing to find a solution to the sound issue, Dortort said he decided to take Greene to where he could listen to the audio that was recorded for the show.

“I said I want you to come to the projection room,” the producer recalled. “I want you to hear what you sound like. So, we go back to the projection room and he hears it. The other actors are speaking, you know, normal voices – enough to communicate, not shouting. And he comes in with this big strident voice.”

It was then that Greene understood what Dortort had been saying all along.

“I said, that microphone – you don’t have to yell for it to hear you,” Dortort added. “Undercut it, underplay it a little bit.”

And, what did the “Bonanza” star do? Greene overcompensated, according to the producer.

“He went the other way. He spoke so soft,” Dortort said. “I said, no, wait a minute. … Just speak in a normal voice – be yourself, relax, and enjoy the part. And, to his credit that’s just what he did. And, he became a superb actor for that role.”

You can watch “Bonanza” producer David Dortort talk about Lorne Greene below.