‘Bonanza’ Was the First TV Show to Do This & More Trivia on Anniversary of Premiere

BONANZA, Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, 1959-1973
Everett Collection

The Cartwrights first rode through Virginia City, Nev., in the Western TV drama series Bonanza on Saturday, Sept. 12, 1959, on NBC, and it was the first Western to be televised entirely in color. Bonanza lasted 14 seasons, making it the second-longest-running TV Western behind Gunsmoke. In honor of the occasion, we ponder some bullet points from the Ponderosa Ranch:


Bonanza’s unmistakable theme song was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and dozens of renditions have been recorded over the years. The song originally had lyrics (“I’ve got a flair for women everywhere, bonanza!”), but they were never sung on the show. In 1962, Johnny Cash recorded a version with his own words (“The claim we hold is as good as gold, bonanza!”).


BONANZA, Bonnie Bedelia, Michael Landon, Season 14, 1972. 1959-73

Everett Collection

The Cartwrights weren’t lucky with the ladies. Ben (Lorne Greene) was a three times a widower, and his sons didn’t fare much better — their wives or fiancées tragically died or ran off. Joe (Michael Landon) proposed to 11 women, four of whom died.


An intrepid viewer watched the entire series and kept track of the Cartwrights’ body count, estimating that Ben and his three sons killed 170 people over the show’s run. Joe led the pack with roughly 67 solo kills (and he had help with four more).


BONANZA -- Pictured: (l-r) Lorne Greene, Michael Landon and the crew on the set of Bonanza

Fred Sabine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Landon was cast as Little Joe Cartwright at the age of 22. The show took off, and by its sixth season, Bonanza was No. 1 in the ratings and stayed there for three years. It was then Landon also began working behind the camera, writing and directing episodes.


BONANZA, Dan Blocker, on set, (Season 1, 1959), 1959-73.

Zinn Arthur/TV Guide/courtesy Everett Collection

When actor Pernell Roberts left the series after Season 6, it was explained that his Adam character simply moved away. Dan Blocker, who played Hoss, died unexpectedly in 1972 before the final season’s filming began. The show subtly revealed that Hoss died, but the cause of death — drowning in an act of heroism — wasn’t revealed until the 1988 TV movie Bonanza: The Next Generation.


Bonanza airs on most MeTV and Great American Living stations.

TV Westerns of the 50's & 60's
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September 2021

’50s and ’60s TV Westerns roundup, celebrating the shows and stars of their golden age.

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