Lorne Greene was a Canadian actor, broadcaster and recording artist principally known for his role as Benjamin “Pa” Cartwright on the hit American western TV series Bonanza. He also appeared on several Canadian television productions as well. Greene’s brief recording career was highlighted by his surprise #1 Billboard hit “Ringo” during the 60s music era. This is his only major hit as a recording artist, so in effect he became a one hit wonder. More on Lorne Greene here in this gallery.
Early life and broadcasting career
Lorne Greene was born Lyon Himan Green (without the “e”) in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on February 12, 1915, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He studied chemical engineering in college as well as participated in his university’s drama guild’s radio workshop, where he discovered his broadcasting savvy.
He wound up working for the radio instead, and after graduation he began working as a broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Eventually, Greene rose to become one of the best-known newscasters in Canada which led him to be labeled as “The Voice of Canada.” In 1939 Greene delivered the somber news about Canada’s involvement in World War II in a deep, resonant voice which caused a lot of his listeners to tag him as the “Voice of Doom.”
Hollywood career, rise to fame, and brief recording career
Greene left Canada for the United States in 1950, first settling in New York where he was eventually cast in several Broadway plays such as “The Prescott Proposals” and “The Dark Is Light Enough.”
In 1959 Greene was chosen to play the role as Ben “Pa” Cartwright, the patriarch of the Ponderosa Ranch in the western TV series Bonanza. The show went on to run for 14 seasons, making it one of the longest-running Western TV series in the US.
When Bonanza was beginning to experience widespread popularity, its station NBC decided to capitalize on it by turning several of the TV show’s stars into recording artists.
Greene’s own recording career began in 1963 when he released his debut album. The following year he released a spoken-word ballad entitled “Ringo” on RCA Victor The name refers to the outlaw Johnny Ringo, not Ringo Starr of the Beatles (who at the same time reached fame in America and started the “British Invasion” phenomenon there). “Ringo” became a surprise chart smash, reaching #1 on both the Billboad pop and easy listening charts.
“Ringo”‘s B-side is the Bonanza theme; but unlike in the TV series, this version contains lyrics.
Greene managed to score a handful of more chart places with “The Man” (#72 pop, #16 adult contemporary), “Waco” (#35 adult contemporary, #50 country) and “Five Card Stud” (#112 pop, #36 adult contemporary).
Later life and career
In 1973 Bonanza finally bid goodbye after its monumental 14-year run. Following Bonanza‘s cancellation Greene appeared in several other American TV shows including the crime drama Griff (1973), the historic miniseries Roots (1977) and science fiction series Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Galactica 1980 (1980). He continued to take narrator roles which took him back to his early broadcasting years, giving voice-overs in several documentaries like his own series Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness.
Greene died from complications from surgery on September 11, 1987 in Santa Monica, California, aged 72. He is now interred in Culver City, California.