Bonanza is the second longest-running Western television series, just behind Gunsmoke. It enjoyed long years of entertaining audiences, spanning almost two decades from 1959 to 1973.
The title of this NBC series is also the term used by miners to denote a large vein or deposit of ore, from the Spanish word “bonanza” which means “prosperity.” The Comstock Lode in particular was the site where the silver bonanza was discovered way back during the mid-19th century. It is interesting to note that the Comstock Lode was not too far away from Ponderosa Ranch, the fictional ranch in the series which was operated by the wealthy Cartwright family, led by the patriarch Ben Cartwright.
Here are some other interesting and fascinating facts about Bonanza that many people may not know:
1) The series was almost canceled.
When Bonanza was first starting, it was facing its stiffest competition: CBS’ Perry Mason, which ran from 1957 to 1966 and starred Raymond Burr. Perry Mason was so hugely popular at the time that NBC executives were considering axing it off the air prematurely. However, Bonanza was entirely shot in color, which this was something quite novel at the time. It was the series’ strongest point, as more people were buying color TV sets, and those were one of the factors that kept the show going.
2) Not a dimwitted dad.
Before Bonanza premiered, on-screen husbands and fathers were largely depicted as dimwitted and often being bossed around by their wives. But the show’s producer, David Dotort, wanted to change that. He wanted Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the fictional Cartwright family, to be depicted as a wise father figure who was greatly admired and respected by members of this family.
3) Costumes on a budget.
It’s hard to imagine that such a long-running and successful TV series would have issues with budget, but that is exactly the case with Bonanza. The cast members had only one set of clothes throughout the series’ first ten seasons. It’s not just for economic reasons. This tactic was also devised so that it would make the editors’ work easier when re-shooting the scenes. It would also enable them to include stock footages when necessary.
4) A multi-talented cast.
Not just the entire cast of Bonanza had the acting chops – they had musical talent as well! The four Cartwrights released a holiday album called Christmas at the Ponderosa. In fact, Canadian actor and singer Lorne Greene (who played the patriarch Ben Cartwright) released a #1 Billboard single titled “Ringo.” Released in 1964, the song referred to the real-life Old West outlaw Johnny Ringo, and not Ringo Starr of the Beatles as previously thought.
5) Pernell Roberts hated the show.
Roberts, who played as Adam Cartwright in Bonanza‘s early seasons, initially had high hopes for the show. But eventually, he had grown to despise the show mainly because of the limitations that were imposed on his character. He also felt the scripts were too low brow and glorified the wealthy in the midst of widespread poverty. Roberts’ politics were also progressive at the time, and his “radical” views certainly clashed with the producers; he even insisted them to have his character marry a woman of color.
For several times Roberts tried to cancel his Bonanza contract, but NBC pressured him to remain on the show. He left after six years there.
6) The show inspired a restaurant chain.
Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse are a chain of steakhouse and buffet restaurants which were obviously inspired by Bonanza‘s popularity. Actor Dan Blocker, who played Eric “Hoss” Cartwright, started the chain by opening the first Bonanza restaurant in Westport, Connecticut. The restaurants are now owned by Metromedia Restaurant Group.
7) The Cartwright’s family chef was a real chef!
The Cartwright’s family chef Hop Sing provided most of the series’ comic relief. The actor who played Hop Sing, Victor Sen Yung, was actually a talented and accomplished chef in real life. Sen Yung frequently appeared on cooking shows and even published a cookbook in 1974.
8) “The King” was one of the show’s biggest fans.
As Bonanza being a vastly popular TV show, it is not surprising that its fan base would include top Hollywood celebrities. In fact, one of Bonanza‘s biggest followers is none other than The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. After all, even the biggest stars are also fans themselves – Presley had his photo ops taken with the show’s stars Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker.