before millions of Americans knew Lorne Greene on the popular western
series Bonanza, he was known to Canadians as "The Voice of
Doom," an epithet he acquired as the chief radio announcer for CBC
radio from 1939 to 1942, the height of Canada's darkest days of
World War II.
interest in acting and media had begun in his hometown of Ottawa,
Canada and gained further impetus when he joined a drama club while
studying engineering at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
Always seeking a challenge, he joined the CBC radio where his "distinctive
voice" soon propelled him into newscasting. After finishing his
military service in 1945, he decided not to return to his job as
chief announcer at CBC radio and pursued other interests which eventually
led him to co-found the Academy of Radio Arts in Canada and the
1953, like many of his contemporaries, Greene migrated south to
pursue his acting career in the burgeoning television industry.
He made numerous appearances on various U.S. telecasts such as Studio
One, Climax and Playhouse 90. He also made two movies,
The Silver Chalice and Tight Spot. After a role in
the Broadway production of The Prescott Proposals, he was
offered the part in The Hard Man in 1957. In spite of his
friends' concerns that a western would limit his appeal, he accepted
the role as a way of exploring the genre. It quickly led to another
western The Last of the Fast Guns and eventually to the small
screen and Wagon Train. It was after seeing him in Wagon
Train that the producers selected him to play Ben Cartwright
in the pilot episode of Bonanza.
show became a hit despite formidable competition. A Sunday night
standout on NBC for fourteen years, 1959 to 1973, Bonanza
rode the television western's biggest wave of popularity. Its stories
focused on the lives of widower Ben Cartwright (Greene) and his
three sons--all from different mothers--Adam (Pernell Roberts),
Hoss (Dan Blocker), and Little Joe (Michael Landon). Each week the
family would defend the Ponderosa, the most prosperous ranch outside
Virginia City, or some helpless person against unscrupulous outsiders.
The formula was common in U.S. television Westerns though Bonanza
did differ somewhat from its competitors. Indeed, many critics consider
the series to be more a "western soap opera" since it downplayed
the violent action and moral ambiguity which characterized "adult
westerns" such as Gunsmoke or Cheyenne.
But Bonanza was still engaging and had a large following
particularly among women, who could perhaps find among the Cartwrights
a man to appeal to all types. Ben Cartwight was a tough yet wise
father who exuded a balance between ruggedness and compassion. Adam
was a suave lady's man. The huge Hoss was dim-witted but lovable.
All three kept an ever watchful eye on the fresh-faced and hot tempered
Little Joe. It was a successful pattern that outdrew audiences for
dozens of competing shows. Its "family-oriented" themes also made
it popular when the medium was under criticism during congressional
hearings on TV violence.
the end of Bonanza and the collapse of the Western's television
popularity, Greene starred briefly in 1978 in the ill-fated Battlestar
Galactica, a science fiction television series about a flotilla
of human refugees voyaging to Earth while hunted by evil subhuman
Cylons. Despite the interest generated by Star Wars, the
series failed to catch on. In the 1980s Greene devoted his energies
to wildlife and environmental issues. He collaborated with his son,
Charles and a television series Lorne Greene's New Wilderness
to promote environmental awareness.
GREENE. Born Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 12 February 1915. Educated
at Queen's University, Canada; studied on fellowship at Neighbourhood
Playhouse, New York, U.S.A. Married 1) Rita Hands, 1940, divorced
1960; two children; 2) Nancy Deale, 1961. Joined Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation, 1939; principle radio news reader, 1939-42; established
the Academy of Radio Arts and the Jupiter Theatre; actor, U.S. television
series from 1950s. Recipient: NBC Radio Award, 1942; Canadian Man
of the Year, 1965; Order of Canada, 1969; Outstanding Service Award
from International Fund for Animal Welfare, 1983. Died in Santa
Monica, California, 11 September 1987.
1957 Sailor of Fortune
1978-79 Battlestar Galactia
1981-82 Code Red
1981-86 Lorne Greene's New Wilderness (executive producer/host)
1976 The Moneychangers
1977 The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
1969 Destiny of a Spy
1971 The Harness
1975 Nevada Smith
1977 The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
1977 SST-Death Flight
1980 A Time for Miracles
1980 Conquest of the Earth
1981 Code Red
1987 Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory
1974-79 Lorne Greene's Last of the Wild (host)
The Silver Chalice, 1954; Tight Spot, 1955; Autumn
Leaves, 1956; Peyton Place, 1957; The Last of the
Fast Guns, 1958; The Gift of Love, 1958; The Bucaneer,
1958; The Trap, 1959; Nippon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks),
1973; Earthquake, 1974; Klondike Fever, 1980; Ozu
no Mahotsukai (The Wizard, U.S. version only), voice; Vasectomy:
A Delicate Matter, 1986.
Prescott Proposals; Julius Caesar; Othello.
Landon, Michael. "Unforgettable Lorne Greene." Readers Digest
(Pleasantville, New York), August 1988.
J. Fred. Who Shot The Sheriff: The Rise And Fall Of The Television
Western. New York: Praeger, 1987.
Richard. Television Westerns: Major And Minor Series, 1946-1978.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1987.
Gary A. Riding the Video Range: The Rise and Fall of the Western
on Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1994.
See also Bonanza;