29 September 2005 | silverscreen888
Quality Production, Character Stories; A Memorable Family Western
"Bonanza" was the first hour-long TV show in any genre produced in full-color. The continuing cast for the first 6 years featured essentially five persons--Benjamin Cartwright, his three sons and their Chinese cook, along with the local sheriff. Cartwright had been a seaman, who went west and married three times; each time he produced a son and lost his wife. Reaching the ponderosa pine country near Virginia City, Nevada and Lake Tahoe, he built up a large landholding, with cattle, timber, and mines, becoming an important man in the territory. Ben Cartwright was played by Canadian announcer-actor Lorne Greene, who was much younger than the part he played but had Shakespearean training and a powerful speaking voice. Pernell Roberts played his eldest son, Adam, a thoughtful but restless man, 1959-65. Eric "Hoss" Cartwright was portrayed huge Dan Blocker as a man of gentle ways and grit but ordinary intelligence. Attractive Michael Landon played "Little Joe", fast with a gun and learning to be a man; he also write and directed episodes for the series. Victor Sen-Young was Hop Sing, and veteran Ray Teal played Sheriff Roy Coffee. Later, others were added to the series for various stretches, once Adam's part was written out; these included David Canaray as Candy, Bing Russell, Harry Holcombe, Guy Williams, Kathie Browne, and Remo Pisani. Each week guest stars were hired, and a few actors were used in dozens of shows. Among the most memorable guest stars were John Larkin, Ruta Lee, Joan Hackett, Frank Overton, Bruce Yarnall, Inga Swenson as Inger, Ben's second wife, Felicia Farr as his third wife, Grandon Rhodes, Patricia Donahue, Robert Lansing, Lisa Lu and Steve Forrest. Titles such as "The Honor of Cochise", "The Eden Train", "Inger, My Love I,II", "Right is the Fourth "R"", and "The Mountain Girl" among many others bring fond memories. Many directors toiled on "Bonanza", whose title referred to the rich ore found in the Virginia City area during the nineteenth century. The list included Lewis Allen, Leon Benson, William F. Claxton, Herschel Daugherty, Don McDougall, Christian Nyby, Leo Penn and William Witney. Principal writers for the series, with 5 or more credits, included Robert V. Barron, Frank Chase, Suzanne Clauser, Frank Cleaver, the producer David Dortort, Warren Douglas, John Hawkins, Ward Hawkins, Arther Heinemann, Michael Landon, Jo Pagano, Stanley Roberts, Robert Sabaroff, Jack B. Sowards, Thomas Thompson and Al C. Ward. It is difficult to characterize the show except that it was a consistently second-rank attempt to do stories about first-rate ethical people living in an interesting era in a frontier setting. It was the first of the family-oriented westerns, and at the same time a show capable of detaching its principals for dual or independent adventures. If few of its episodes risk to great dramatic heights, many are far-above-average film-making efforts, even by feature-film standards. The production featured clean, straightforward cinematography, Nellie Manley's hairstyles, Wally Westmore's makeup, enjoyable costumes and expert sets, art direction and action scenes. If the family spent too much time at home, seldom were shown with cattle and had virtually no employees, the writers made up for such derelictions by involving the sons and the father in the affairs of town and territory. Innovatve and perhaps inimitable, this was quality dramatic western making from start to finish.