GREENE, LORNE

Canadian Actor

Long 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.

Greene's 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 Jupiter Theatre.

In 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.

The 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.

After 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.

-Manon Lamontagne

 


Lorne Greene

LORNE 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.

TELEVISION

1953-81 Newsmagazine (host)
1957      Sailor of Fortune
1959-73 Bonanza
1973-74 Griff
1978-79 Battlestar Galactia
1981-82 Code Red
1981-86 Lorne Greene's New Wilderness (executive producer/host)

TELEVISION MINISERIES

1976 The Moneychangers
1977 Roots
1977 The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

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

TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY

1974-79 Lorne Greene's Last of the Wild (host)

FILMS

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.

STAGE (selection)

The Prescott Proposals; Julius Caesar; Othello.

FURTHER READING

Landon, Michael. "Unforgettable Lorne Greene." Readers Digest (Pleasantville, New York), August 1988.

MacDonald, J. Fred. Who Shot The Sheriff: The Rise And Fall Of The Television Western. New York: Praeger, 1987.

West, Richard. Television Westerns: Major And Minor Series, 1946-1978. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1987.

Yoggy, Gary A. Riding the Video Range: The Rise and Fall of the Western on Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1994.

 

See also Bonanza; Westerns