Giddyup! With 14 seasons and 431 episodes under its belt, Bonanza is the second longest-running western series in the history of U.S. television. From 1959 to 1973, viewers fell in love with the lives and adventures of the Cartwrights.
Single father Ben Cartwright lived with his three sons on Ponderosa Ranch, a 600,000-acre plot of land on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Ben was thrice-widowed—each of his sons was born by a different mother.
Read on to learn behind the scenes trivia and interesting facts about the show and its characters!
15. Ben “Pa” Cartwright
Greene died in 1987 after facing complications from pneumonia. He was 72 years old and had just signed to appear in a Bonanza revival with a new storyline.
14. There’s A Replica House
The show’s set was so well-loved that Greene himself built a replica. The Ponderosa II home is located at 602 S. Edgewater Drive in Mesa, Arizona, and it’s listed in the Mesa Historic Property Register.
Greene built the home in 1963 as a weekend getaway from Los Angeles. It sits on a half-acre of land and was valued at $849,000 when it was listed on the market in 2016.
13. Bucking Script Trends
Bonanza producer David Dortort sought a different setup and wrote Ben as an admired and intelligent father figure. In order to better explore the show’s characters, Dortort ditched the typical 30-minute program and produced a one-hour show instead.
12. Behind The Scenes
Still, the show was one of the most expensive of its day. NBC spent between $100,000 and $150,000 per episode.
One more fun fact: Many of the show’s actors wore toupeés, including Blocker, Robers, and Greene.
11. Michael Landon
Landon even wrote and directed some of the show’s episodes, and he appeared in all but 14 episodes. Bonanza served as the foundation for Landon’s writing and directing career.
10. A Multitalented Cast
Lorne Greene himself released a single called “Ringo” that topped charts in both the United States and Canada.
9. Adam Cartwright
Pernell Roberts Jr. played the oldest son, Adam Cartwright. He only worked on Bonanza for six years before leaving the show. Insider knowledge revealed that Roberts’ politics and feelings about the script led to him disliking the show from its beginnings.
Roberts died in 2010 at 81 years old after a battle with cancer.
8. The Show Inspired A Restaurant Chain
In October 2009, the company emerged from bankruptcy as Homestyle Dining, LLC. As of October 2016, there are 12 remaining Bonanza locations operating in the United States.
7. Eric Cartwright
Eric “Hoss” Cartwright was played by Dan Blocker. Hoss was gullible, sweet, and perhaps a little slow—the complete opposite of Blocker in his daily life. Blocker had earned a master’s degree and worked in teaching before becoming an actor.
He was the largest baby ever born in his Texas hometown. He weighed 14 pounds at birth and weighed in at 105 pounds by first grade!
Blocker died in 1972 at 43 years old. Producers announced that Hoss would be killed in an accident on Bonanza—the first time in television history that a show dealt with the death of one of its actors.
6. A Slow Start
Bonanza wasn’t a hit program when it first aired. It saw very low ratings during its first season when it aired on Saturday nights. The show was nearly canceled, but because it was the first show filmed and aired in color, NBC was set on keeping the program alive.
Runtimes were changed to Sunday evenings and the show’s ratings soared. Bonanza became television’s number one program in 1964.
5. Fictional Location
Bonanza fans loved the show and many traveled to Incline Villiage, Nevada, where the fictional Ponderosa Ranch was located. Fans quickly learned that there wasn’t a Ponderosa Ranch, let alone anything, really.
By 1965, nearby ranch owners Bill and Joyce Anderson had been approached regularly by tourists asking for directions to Ponderosa. The Andersons contacted NBC and Bonanza creator David Dortort.
4. A Theme Park
Business remained strong into the 1990s. The land was purchased in 2004 by billionaire software entrepreneur David Duffield. He closed the theme park within the same year.
3. The Cartwright Curse
The series even gave way to a trope that became known as the Cartwright Curse. Any woman who got together with Pa or a Cartwright son quickly disappeared. Some women ran off with other people, while others died by the end of an episode. All of the Cartwrights seemed to be sentenced to the single life.
2. Equal Screen Time
The four Cartwright men all shared the same amount of screen time. Production staff wanted to ensure that no star overshadowed the other three, so each script was carefully engineered to devote equal time to each of the four stars.
This paid off for Bonanza, leading to a well-balanced show that explored all of its characters in equal depth.
1. Chevrolet Sponsorship
Much of Bonanza’s income came from its long partnership with auto manufacturer Chevrolet. The car company was the show’s sponsor for nearly every episode, helping to keep the series in production. The show’s main characters also appeared in plenty of Chevy commercials and advertisements over the years.
Bonanza was the first western program on television that chose not to focus on hunting and killing bad guys. Instead, the show’s script focused on character development, as well as issues including racism, prejudice, and social justice.
The show’s success in the United States is indisputable, but that’s not the only place where it garnered an audience. Bonanza aired on television stations in every nation that had a television station, making it the world’s first television production with a global audience.
The show’s cast have all died in the past few decades, but Bonanza still lives on in the hearts of its fans, and reruns air regularly on TV Land.