During the filming of one episode, Lorne Greene was required to jump off of a small ledge into a lake five feet below. Michael Landon recalled that when Greene did the stunt, he jumped into the water feet first and went completely under, but his hair piece came off and floated on the surface of the lake. Landon and the rest of the crew watched to see what would happen. After a short while, Greene's hand shot up out of the water, grabbed the hairpiece, and pulled it down. Greene emerged from the lake, wearing his hairpiece slightly askew. He walked nonchalantly past the snickering crew, and went into his trailer without saying a word.
When Dan Blocker died unexpectedly shortly before filming began for the final season, it was decided to have Hoss die, too, by having him killed in an accident. The opening episode, a two-hour special in which Little Joe marries only to see his bride die, was originally scripted to feature Hoss.
Dan Blocker owned a chain of restaurants called "Bonanza". They were steakhouses similar to the "Golden Corral" chain. When the ownership later changed, all of the restaurants were later renamed "Ponderosa".
According to the 1973 book "Marilyn Beck's Hollywood", when Pernell Roberts told Lorne Greene he was leaving the series because he wanted to challenge himself as an actor, Greene told him to stick to it as he would be so rich by the end of the run he could hire Tennessee Williams himself to write a play for him. Roberts' career went into a tailspin that lasted over a decade after he left the show. Co-star Michael Landon later said of Roberts' departure that they simply took a leaf out of the dining room table and split the money three rather than four ways. While the post-"Bonanza" Roberts struggled (until later catching on with Trapper John, M.D. (1979), Greene, Landon, and Dan Blocker became very wealthy from their income from the show, which all three wisely invested in.
During the first season of the show, the guest stars were paid far more than the stars of the show, because the producers didn't think that the stars were well-known enough to pull in viewers.
Most viewers have only heard the famous theme song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans played as an instrumental. The theme song had lyrics, and there is footage of the lead actors singing those lyrics. Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon sang a lyrical version of this famous instrumental theme for the pilot, but it never aired. Johnny Cash recorded his own version of the theme song.
Saturday night's ratings were dismal, and the show was soon targeted for cancellation. Given one last chance, it was moved to Sunday nights at 9 p.m. The new time slot caused the series to soar, and it eventually reached number one by the mid 1960s.
According to David Dortort, Michael Landon grew difficult during the last five seasons of the show: "Nearly every line, every scene, every set up, everything would halt for endless story conferences on the set, it got increasingly bitter toward the end."
In the show's early episodes, the writers would typically have the Cartwrights being hostile to visitors to their property. Lorne Greene objected to this, pointing out that with the Ponderosa being as large as it is, the Cartwrights would be an important business interest in the community. Thus visitors would naturally come for economic and political reasons, as well as social ones, and the Cartwrights would logically welcome them as such. The producers agreed and altered the premise of the characters accordingly.
The character "Ben Cartwright" was ranked number two in TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" (June 20, 2004 issue).
From the third season on, the Cartwrights, and nearly every other recurring character on the show, wore the same clothing in almost every episode. This was done to cut the cost of re-filming action shots (such as riding clips in-between scenes), as previously-shot stock footage could be re-used.
This was the first U.S. Western television show to have all of its episodes filmed in color.
Pernell Roberts was not popular with his co-stars or the crew. He continually complained about the show, feeling it was poor quality and beneath him as an actor. According to Michael Landon, other than when working together, Roberts very rarely, if ever, spoke to him.
Every time one of the Cartwrights became seriously involved with a woman, she died from a disease, was killed, or left with someone else.
Lasting fourteen seasons, this is the second-longest-running Western television series, behind Gunsmoke (1955). It continues to air in syndication.
Michael Landon was the only original cast member who never wore a hairpiece during filming. Pernell Roberts and Lorne Greene began the series with hairpieces. Greene wore his modest frontal piece in private life, too, whereas Roberts preferred not to wear his, even to rehearsals. Dan Blocker began wearing a toupée in 1968, as he began to lose his hair. Even Victor Sen Yung's Hop Sing wore an attached ponytail.
For most of its four hundred thirty-episode run, the show's main sponsor was Chevrolet. The stars occasionally appeared in commercials endorsing Chevrolet automobiles.
The opening burning map of the Ponderosa Ranch was illustrated without compass points, which caused the map to appear to be incorrectly oriented (Reno appeared to be west of Carson City). David Dortort, choosing not to redo the map, added the compass points. Many have suggested that the compass points are pointing in the wrong direction (slightly north-northwest). However, the compass points are aligned with Magnetic North instead of True North.
Robert Blake and Robert Fuller were considered for the role of Little Joe Cartwright. Producer David Dortort had mixed feelings about Michael Landon, the new, unfamiliar actor auditioning for the part, thinking he was way too young. With the encouragement of his wife, who picked up a publicity still of Landon, Dortort changed his mind and gave Landon the role.
Several actors and actresses from Star Trek (1966) appeared as guest stars. They are: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, Majel Barrett, and Walter Koenig.
Bonanza was not the first television western series to be completely shot in color as stated elsewhere. That honor goes to The Cisco Kid (1950). Bonanza was the first network television western to air completely in color.
It took many unsuccessful attempts by Michael Landon before he eventually wrote a script that producer David Dortort thought was good enough to use. After this, he became a regular writer for the series, and later on, would re-write many of his Bonanza scripts for new episodes of Little House on the Prairie (1974).
Anthony Lawrence didn't write authentic Western scripts, so he focused on writing about relationships and character (as he did in season one, episode thirty-one, "Dark Star" and season two, episode ten, "The Last Viking", for example). One day, Producer David Dortort told Lawrence he wanted to do a story on each of Ben's wives, and Lawrence replied, "Let me do it, I can kill off at least two of them!" Lawrence thought he would get thrown off the set for saying this, and instead was given the task of becoming the writer who scripted the stories with Ben and his wives, all three of whom died (season two, episode thirty-three, "Elizabeth, My Love"; season three, episode twenty-nine, "Inger, My Love"; season four, episode twenty, "Marie, My Love"; and season five, episode eight, "Journey Remembered").
The last fourteen episodes of season one, and the first seventeen episodes of deason two, have fallen into the public domain. These thirty-one episodes have been released by many different companies in many different configurations, usually with the familiar theme music replaced with generic music. Starting with season one, episode nineteen, the episodes in order are: "The Gunmen", "The Fear Merchants", "The Spanish Grant", "Blood on the Land", "Desert Justice", "The Stranger", "Escape to Ponderosa", "The Avenger", "The Last Trophy", "San Francisco Holiday" (aka "San Francisco"), "Bitter Water", "Feet of Clay", "Dark Star", "Death at Dawn", "Showdown", "The Mission", "Badge Without Honor", "The Mill", "The Hopefuls", "Denver McKee", "Day of Reckoning", "The Abduction", "Breed of Violence", "The Last Viking", "The Trail Gang", "The Savage", "Silent Thunder", "The Ape", "The Blood Line", "The Courtship", and "The Spitfire".
Season seven, episodes seventeen and eighteen, "Ride the Wind: Parts I and II" were released as a theatrical film outside the U.S. In Mexico, it was called "Jinetes del Viento".
Before becoming a rancher, Ben Cartwright was a ship's Captain. His port of call was New Orleans, Louisiana.
In a Television Archives interview, Ray Evans and Jay Livingston said that when Desi Arnaz asked them to write a theme song for a Western television show, he told them he couldn't pay them much for a weekly salary, because the show was only going to last one year. The men made a deal with Arnaz to keep the rights to the song. When "Bonanza" became an unexpected smash-hit, the men made millions.
The brothers Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe were not full brothers, but half brothers. Same father, different mothers.
After eleven seasons, the show's theme music was replaced at the start of season twelve by an original tune composed by David Rose. Rose continued to work with Michael Landon after this show ceased production, by becoming the resident composer on Landon's two later series Little House on the Prairie (1974) and Highway to Heaven (1984).
One piece of footage was used often, of the main street in Virginia City. You'll notice in the lower left, a surrey with passengers, with a Chinese Man and an Indian talking over a jug, and in the lower right, two old prospectors with mules.
Michael Landon (Little Joe) and Louis Gossett, Jr. (Buck Walter) appeared on Little House on the Prairie (1974).