There haven't been many television shows as influential as the western series created by David Dortort, Bonanza. It's even the second-longest-running western show ever behind Gunsmoke. There are people alive today who've never seen the television series or know anything about the storyline but can still sing its classic theme song from the opening credits.
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, there were a total of 431 Bonanza episodes.
Here are ten facts you didn't know about "Bonanza" and the Cartwright family's adventures on the Ponderosa Ranch.
1. The TV 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. ...And a Theme Park
In 1965, Bill and Joyce Anderson, who owned a horse ranch near the area where the fictional Ponderosa was indicated on the map that appeared in the show's credits. The couple were frequently visited by Bonanza fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the Cartwright homestead and teamed up with NBC and Bonanza co-creator David Dortort to create a theme park.
In 1968, the Ponderosa Ranch theme park opened to the public. There was even a full scale replica of the Cartwright ranch house. The park, which served "Hoss" burgers and delivered the Ponderosa experience with staged robberies, closed in 2004.
3. 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.
4. '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.
5. 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.
6. 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 passed away in an accident. Were it not for his death, Blocker was set to be featured in the final season.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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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