How Well Do You Know “Bonanza”?

By: Pierre Roustan

Based on the setting, the Cartwrights would’ve had a famous neighbor in history. Who would that neighbor be?

It just so happened that Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, lived in Virginia City, Nevada, in the 1860s. Exactly where the show “Bonanza” was set! Heck, the famous Huckleberry Finn novelist even came to the city just to mine silver.

Lorne Greene was well known for his deep and imposing voice, which gave him what iconic nickname?

Before he starred in “Bonanza,” the Canadian actor was an announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company during World War II. He was the one delivering all the news on the war in such a fierce way that he gave him that wicked infamous nickname.

What was the record that Dan Blocker broke?

Would you like to know just how much Dan Blocker weighed when he was born on December 10, 1928? A hefty 14 pounds. That made him the largest baby born in Bowie County, Texas.

Michael Landon got his name from somewhere very special. Where?

He didn’t care much for his real name from a showbiz standpoint, so he did the easiest thing he could do. He opened up the phone book one day and picked the coolest name he could find: Michael Landon.

Which famous musician watched Bonanza regularly?

"Bonanza" ran for such a long time that it still ranks up there with all-time iconic American shows, hence why many A-listers and celebrities often tuned in – or even starred in episodes. Even The King tuned in religiously!

What was Michael Landon’s real name?

Eugene Maurice Orowitz was born in 1936, and you can imagine his name probably didn’t fit a marquee very well. So he opted to change it for showbiz purposes – finding his name in a phone book, no less.

What was the “Cartwright Curse”?

It just happened to be the way storylines worked, but no matter how the script played it, any of the Cartwrights had to deal with love interests either dying, or becoming ill, or just leaving them for another man. It was so funny that the concept became a big joke among the cast members.

What was the name of the Cartwrights’ magnetic and appealing family cook?

Yes, the Cartwrights’ family cook was indeed a Chinese man with bubbly character. He was often one of the reasons why many wanted to tune in and watch the episodes. The character appeared in more than one-hundred of them.

Dan Blocker died all too soon, forcing the showrunners to sadly deal with the disappearance of his character. How did Blocker die?

At the tragic age of 43, Blocker left us with a legacy due to a failed gallbladder surgery, which left the writers with a dilemma that was, in fact, the first time in television history that a show had to deal with the sudden death of a male character.

Who was Dan Blocker really?

You’d be surprised to know that while his character Eric “Hoss” Cartwright was just a bubbly gullible and dopey guy, the fact is Dan Blocker was quite the intellectual. He had a Masters degree, for one, and initially was an English and drama teacher at a high school in Sonora, Texas.

David Canary was a truly a reputable soap opera star who left the show in 1970. Why?

David Canary played the role of Candy Canaday after Pernell Roberts left the show but then had some major disagreements with respect to his salary. He had asked for a raise but was refused. Two years later, though, both Landon and a producer wanted him back with a contract renewal and a decent raise to boot.

Which film was Blocker up for besides Bonanza?

Robert Altman, director of the film M.A.S.H. wanted Blocker on of the cast. Blocker wouldn’t have minded had it not been for the fact that the producers refused. M.A.S.H. was a mega-hit, which truly could’ve pushed Blocker’s career even further had he been cast for one of the roles.

Which famous character almost had a part on the show?

To clarify, there were no ‘cross-overs’ on TV in these cases, although it would’ve been cool if the Spaniard found his way to the Ponderosa for a rather fun episode. However, it was the actor Guy Williams who chose to play the iconic character for that other TV show back in the day.

Which famous guitarist popularized the Bonanza theme song?

As Bonanza was developed, it was brought to the producers’ attention that a certain country singer wanted in on the action: That singer was Johnny Cash, who recorded the theme song in its full version for the show. The single was then released by Capitol Records in Cash’s sixteenth album, Ring of Fire.

Actor Ray Teal played a secondary role as Sheriff Roy Coffee for how many episodes?

It’s remarkable that a minor role lasted that long, and yet Hop Sing was featured close to that number. Ray Teal, in fact, had the most appearances in 98 episodes from 1960 to 1972. He went on to star in almost 100 other TV shows and over 250 films, too!

How much did Blocker weigh when he was six years old?

Given this kid was born at a massive 14 pounds (which still to this day holds a record in Bowie, Texas), you can only imagine he was a hefty kid at 105 pounds.

The producers did something crazy to improve ratings during the first season. What did they do?

One of the gutsiest moves the producers wanted to manage was the fact that the main cast was completely unknown. They weren’t, however, confident that the show would catch on without some name recognition, so they actually hired several well-known celebrity actors to co-star.

The showrunners consistently tried to cut costs on the show for good reason. How?

"Bonanza" still to this day ranks as one of the most expensive television shows of all time. So you can’t blame the producers for trying to minimize expense. The best way they did it was to have the four Cartwrights wear the exact same outfits in each episode. This made it that much easier to reuse all sorts of stock footage for action sequences and scenes requiring stunt doubles.

The producers of the show wanted to keep their cast looking youthful on set. How?

The last few years of the TV series were not kind to the men facing older age. All but Michael Landon had to wear hairpieces as they all started going bald.

During the first season, the show was in danger of being canceled. What saved it?

While it was true that "Bonanza" happened to be one of the first shows broadcast in color and more of those TVs were sold as a result, what actually improved the show’s ratings for the second season was a simple time slot change. It moved from Saturday to Sunday, and that’s all it took.

How much did each episode cost the network?

Even with the producers’ cost-cutting methods, to this day "Bonanza" ranks as one of the most expensive TV shows ever made at $100K to $150K per episode. It, however, performed remarkably well after the first season, so that justified it tremendously.

What was “Hoss” Cartwright’s actual full name?

You probably already guessed that the name “Hoss” was a nickname. The other characters always referred to him as that, but he did have an actual character name, and that was Eric. Eric Haas Cartwright, to be exact. You’d have to be a die-hard fanatic to know this one.

What did Bonanza help do besides get people to watch TV?

NBC’s parent company RCA had a monopoly on their hands – they had the newest innovation in technology called “Technicolor,” and it just so happened that "Bonanza" staying on the air contributed to the increased sales in color televisions. That made RCA quite happy.

Which famous science fiction television show cast was featured at the Ponderosa?

You’d be a little surprised to know that Lorne Greene, who was also in “Battlestar Galactica,” did not have the pleasure of acting alongside that cast on some of the episodes for "Bonanza." Instead if you watch those episodes, you’ll see each cast member from Star Trek on there – even Lieutenant Uhura.

Believe it or not, but “Bonanza” had a different show title for a year. What was that title?

Weird that a show technically had ‘two’ show titles. Wouldn’t that have caused confusion? Not even. The reason for the two names was that the new episodes for the summer of 1972 were still premiered on Sundays, but reruns began airing on Tuesday nights.

What story model did the producers try to follow for the show?

Surprisingly, the producers didn’t want to go head to head with the likes of “Gunsmoke,” which was another Western show on TV at the time. Instead they thought of the age-old legend himself: King Arthur. After thinking about how Arthur ruled Camelot with his knights at the round table, it was pretty clear that the Cartwrights fit the model perfectly.

Which actor in the main cast actually had to wear heels on set?

While Landon wasn’t exactly short by any standards (he’s at a respectable 5’9”), the guy still needed to wear some heels to measure up to the rest of the Cartwrights.

What year did the Bonanza cast release a special Christmas music album?

It’s amazing to think that actors of a popular Western TV show came together to release an actual album – a Christmas album, no less. The name of the album was “Christmas at Ponderosa,” featuring many of the classics you love, like “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells.”

To this day, the show "Bonanza" still beats Netflix by a mile. How?

Believe it or not, Bonanza aired in every nation on planet Earth as long as there was an available TV station to support it. Not even Netflix manages that currently.

Did Bonanza feature a full-length theatrical film, and where?

It wasn’t a surprise that there would be a theatrical release at some point given Bonanza’s success. However, it only debuted in Mexico, featuring the episodes “Ride the Wind: Part 1” and “Ride the Wind: Part II.” The combination was then renamed to “Jinetes del Viento” as a full-length feature with no commercials.

Which actor in the main cast had serious issues with the show?

Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker loved the work they did. So did Michael Landon except some time later on when he started causing some issues. It was Pernell Roberts that hated the show so much that all the pressure he put on the network caused the termination.

What other forms of transportation did the Cartwrights endorse besides horses?

Strangely enough, the cast could be seen during several commercials back in the day for Chevrolet. They’d be standing right by some of those iconic vehicles due to a long-standing partnership with the automotive company given a main portion of the show’s budget was due to Chevrolet in general.

What’s funny about the show’s title “Bonanza”?

The word “bonanza” is actually a slang term used by miners back in the day discovering gold, silver or other precious metals. Interestingly enough, it just so happened that the ranch where the show was filmed happened to be right by a real-life “bonanza” called the famous “Comstock Lode.”

How many TV specials aired following the eventual cancellation?

It was hard to think that the show would ever get canceled, but alas some great things do have to come to an end. That didn’t mean the network didn’t want to continue heralding and praising the show that began an American phenomenon. Three specials following the series aired: “Bonanza: The Next Generation,” 1988, “Bonanza: The Return,” 1993, and “Bonanza: Under Attack,” 1995.

Besides “Battlestar Galactica,” which other well-known show did Lorne Greene star in?

Lorne Greene was obviously very much into science fiction, having dabbled into his role in BG. It was the show “Code Red,” however, that took him into modern times and not the distant future of robots and starships.

Explore More Quizzes

Image: Wiki Commons by NBC Television

About This Quiz

Cowboys, gold, the wild frontier – sounds like a winner for a TV show, and the proof was in the pudding (or the goldmines of the wild, wild west. The iconic TV show “Bonanza” came out to eventually steal the hearts of TV viewers far and wide, and it didn’t even matter if you were a kid or a senior citizen. Something about watching the Cartwrights running the Ponderosa Ranch and getting into adventures seemed to grab people in a way that would make you scratch your head given the sitcom typically was about a more “traditional” family with a focus on, well, family! 

Nevertheless, the show lasted quite a while – through an alarming 14 seasons -- until eventually, progress took hold and more of those “urban” shows we know of, like “All in the Family,” started making marks. Still to this day, though, we have plenty of “Bonanza” freaks out there. Shows back in that day carried with them loyal fan bases – hence such classics like “Star Trek” and “Green Acres.” But “Bonanza”? Are you the top fan in the world for this show? Prove it! Take this test to see just how well you know the show even beyond that of the characters and episodes!

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!