Remembering Lorne Greene, patriarch of the Ponderosa

The casting of Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright by "Bonanza"creator and producer David Dortort 44 years ago was so perfect that even today one has a hard time separating Greene's character from the man.

He died 16 years ago today.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Feb. 12, 1915, Greene was blessed with a deep booming baritone voice. At age 24, he was hired by the Canadian Broadcasting Co. as "The Voice of Canada" during World War ll.

Also known as the"Voice of Doom" during the war, Greene founded the Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto in 1946, whose graduates included actors Leslie Nielsen and James Doohan.

Greene invented a stopwatch that ran in reverse to alert announcers to the time remaining during a broadcast. He was in New York in 1953 promoting the instrument when he met Canadian producer Fletcher Markle.

Markle was there to produce the fifth season of "Studio One" and cast the George Orwell play "1984." He hired Greene for the role of "Big Brother." It was the beginning of a television career that in six years made Greene a household name in America.

From 1953 to 1957, Greene worked in popular television dramas that were live and originated in New York. He performed in such series as "Kraft Television Theatre," "Producers Showcase," "Alcoa Hour," "The Elgin TV Hour," "Omnibus," "Climax" and "Playhouse 90."

In 1954, Greene and Paul Newman made Hollywood screen debuts in "The Silver Chalice," a two-hour-23 minute Biblical bomb best left in a film canister. One never knows when fame, fortune or failure is going to strike, but in Greene's case we know -- Wednesday, March 11, 1959, at 7:30 p.m. when NBC aired the 62nd episode of "Wagon Train" and the guest star was Greene.

Writer and producer Dortort was casting four men for a new one-hour Western on NBC called "Bonanza." He was looking for a father figure, and when he saw Greene, he knew he had his man.

"Bonanza" premiered Sept. 12, 1959, six months after Greene's performance in "Wagon Train."

"When "Bonanza" ended its 14-year run on Jan. 16, 1973, Michael Landon and Greene were the only two original Cartwrights remaining. Pernell Roberts had left the show in 1965, and Dan Blocker died in May 1972.

During his "Bonanza" years, Greene recorded more than a half dozen albums for RCA Victor. On Dec. 5, 1964, the song "Ringo" went to No. 1 on the charts for a week and was later added to the album "Welcome to the Ponderosa" that became a major seller.

Greene went on to star in "Griff," "Battlestar Galactia" and "Code Red," all with little success. In 1981, he hosted the syndicated series "Lorne Greene's New Wilderness," which had a five-year run. Greene could never shake the dust from the Ponderosa, for he was and always would be Ben Cartwright.

In 1987, plans were in the works to reprise the role that had made him an icon almost 30 years earlier. "Bonanza: The Next Generation" was scheduled to begin production that summer at Lake Tahoe. Ben Cartwright would once again ride the Ponderosa.

In failing health, Greene was admitted to a Santa Monica hospital for a perforated ulcer and caught pneumonia after surgery from which he never recovered. America's favorite "Pa" died on Sept. 11, 1987. He was 72.


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