There haven't been many television shows as influential as the western classic Bonanza. There are people alive today who've never seen the show but can sing its classic theme song. Though it debuted in 1959 on NBC, this American TV western classic starring Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts will be beloved and influential forever. The series is the 14th longest running TV series ever. According to IMDb, "Bonanza" ran for 431 episodes.
Here are ten facts you didn't know about "Bonanza" and the Cartwright family's adventures on the Ponderosa Ranch.
1. The show inspired a restaurant chain.
Yeah. That one. Ponderosa. The restaurants, which were owned by "Bonanza" star Dan Blocker, who played Eric "Hoss" Cartwright, were initially called -- believe it or not -- Bonanza. After he sold the chain, the name changed to Ponderosa and, like a wagon train, the restaurant just kept on going forward. (Rumor has it the waitresses aren't amused when you hum the "Bonanza" theme when they bring you the bill, though.)
2. Michael Landon lived up to his character's name.
Landon, who played Joseph "Little Joe" Cartwright, had to wear four-inch lifts when filming because of how much shorter he was than other cast members.
3. 'Bonanza' wasn't a hit right away.
Ratings for the first season of the series were horrible and the show was nearly canceled. In 1961, after moving to Sunday night, the show about Virginia City, Nevada cowboys became a significant hit and claimed the number one spot in the ratings.
4. It was a colorful show.
"Bonanza" was a color television trailblazer. Though it wasn't the first show shot in color, it was the first show to be entirely in color.
5. The last season of the show suffered a tragic setback.
"Bonanza" star Dan Blocker died just before the final season was set to film. His character was written off as having died in an accident. Were it not for his death, Blocker was set to be featured in the final season.
6. One star had a problem with the way the show portrayed minorities.
Pernell Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright, objected to the way African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans were portrayed on the show. That included the way Asian character Hop Sing, played by Victor Sen Yung, was written.
7. The show's setting was an iconic cowboy locale.
Virginia City, Nevada was the site of the Comstock Silver Lode, one of the wealthiest precious metal mining operations in the history of the United States, so it only makes sense that a TV western would be set there during that point in history.
8. Lorne Greene was sensitive about his hair.
Greene, who played family patriarch Ben Cartwright, wore a hairpiece and didn't want anyone to see him without it. Once after jumping into a lake a for a stunt, his hairpiece came up before he did. Cast and crew say they saw Greene's hand shoot up out of the water, pull the hairpiece under, and then emerge again wearing the hairpiece.
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