Bonanza

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Bonanza.jpg

Archetypal television western which was broadcast between 1959 and 1973, Bonanza told the story of the Cartwright family, owners of a vast ranch called the Ponderosa:

  • Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), patriarch of the family, a former ship's chandler from New England.
  • Adam Cartwright (Pernell Roberts), his eldest son by his first (late) wife. He was the quiet, educated, angsty one who dressed all in black.
  • Eric "Hoss" Cartwright (Dan Blocker), his middle son by his second (late) wife. He was the affable Gentle Giant and usually a peacemaker between his brothers.
  • Joseph "Little Joe" Cartwright (Michael Landon), his youngest son, by his third (late) wife. He was the young, hotheaded immature one.

Beyond the core cast of Cartwrights, the program had a vast ensemble of regulars and recurrers numbering literally in the hundreds, including at times such current and future famous names as James Coburn, Tim Matheson, Jack Elam, Buddy Ebsen, Mariette Hartley, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, George Kennedy, Bruce Dern, Bonnie Bedelia, Dawn Wells, Wayne Newton, Majel Barrett, James Doohan and DeForest Kelley. Beyond the big name guest stars, there were rarely one-off characters on Bonanza -- almost every character ever seen, even bad guys, made appearances in at least two episodes; and even nameless extras in the background (such as "Blonde Saloon Girl" and "Brunette Saloon Girl") could and did have multi-year runs playing their characters. In fact, between the length of its time on the air and the scope of its storylines, Bonanza was virtually a gateway series for talent both new and established looking for television credits.

More than just a "shoot-em-up" horse opera, Bonanza first exploited and then explored the cliches of The Western, eventually evolving into something more than its origins might have suggested it was capable of.


Bonanza is the Trope Namer for:

Tropes used in Bonanza include:
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: See Chinese Laborer.
  • Badass Family: The Cartwrights.
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Burn, Baby, Burn: The notorious map-burning at the start of the opening credits.
  • Cartwright Curse: Obviously.
  • Cattle Baron: The Cartwright family are stated to have a 640 000 acre spread and a few hundred permanent employees. Moving a few thousand head of cattle to new pastures is a morning's work, and the Nevada mining industry in was nearly crippled by Ben's refusal to cut and sell more lumber than he was. A rare protagonist example of the trope.
  • Chinese Laborer: Complete with Asian Speekee Engrish.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Some characters are never seen nor heard from again.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ben Cartwright prefers to stay at home and act as Mission Control to his sons, but when the chips are down he can fight, shoot and work just as well as his boys.
  • Cousin Oliver: The addition of Jamie Hunter Cartwright (Mitch Vogel) to open the 1970-1971 season. As the character of Little Joe began maturing throughout the 1960s, he began to be too old to take Ben's intended-for-teenager's fatherly advice. That, and to maintain interest among younger viewers, justified Jamie's arrival on the Ponderosa. (To be fair, the series continued to be a top 20 hit for two more seasons, with the real dooming catalyst being Dan Blocker's death and a move of the series to Tuesday evenings (from its longtime Sunday night home).
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Adam's main outfit is completely black, occasionally with a splash of color, and he's probably the broodiest of the bunch. Yet he's still loyal to his family and won't hesitate to help anyone in need.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Gerald Eskith.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics

"We chased lady luck, 'til we finally struck Bonanza.
"With a gun and a rope and a hat full of hope, planted a family tree.
"We got hold of a pot of gold, Bonanza.
"With a horse and a saddle, and a range full of cattle,
"How rich can a fellow be?"

  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Ben = Choleric.
    • Adam = Melancholic.
    • Hoss = Phlegmatic.
    • Little Joe = Sanguine.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Happens frequently, often, and at least twice to each of the main characters, although the altar isn't always reached by the time it's called off. Justified a little by the fact marriages often did occur with haste back in the 1800s.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Chinese Laborer -- though nowadays, not so much.
  • Ghost Town: A literal one, in one episode.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Frequently.
  • Historical In-Joke: A few. The Cartwrights were directly involved with the invention of the honeycomb timbering for silver mines and the water pumping windmill, for example.
    • In an early episode, gold prospectors were complaining about the blue clay that was gumming up their equipment -- it was never revealed in-story that it was silver ore.
    • Real life historical figures from the West - like Mark Twain and Emperor Norton - would make guest appearances.
  • Hitman: Eskith is hired to kill Jason.
  • Horseback Heroism
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "The Hunter", the final episode of the series.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: An absolute classic example of this trope.
  • Just a Flesh Wound
  • Limited Wardrobe: From about the third season onward, the main characters wore the same costume in just about 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 reused.
  • Long Runner: Take a look at the top of the page and count how many years it was on the air....
    • For many years its run made it only second longest running prime-time American drama after Gunsmoke before being surpassed by Law and Order (20 seasons, itself tied with Gunsmoke) and ER (15 seasons) though only the former had more episodes.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Eskith is always dressed well, in silk and top hats and such.
  • Meanwhile Back At The
  • Missing Mom: Not just one would do, as all three of Ben's wives died not long after giving birth to each son.
  • Non-Idle Rich: The Cartwrights are the wealthiest people in Virginia City, but they're frequently seen doing menial labor around the ranch.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: In one episode, Hoss get framed for murder when the blank rounds from a prop gun get switched for real bullets and the blanks turn up in his saddle bag.
    • During a friendly fencing match, the button covering the point comes off and Joe is very nearly stabbed.
  • The Patriarch: Ben Cartwright.
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "Old Sheba".
  • Put On A Stagecoach: When Pernell Roberts left the show, his character Adam was said to have moved to Australia.
  • Race Lift: The real Virginia City was a popular destination for freedmen escaping the South, especially during the time the show was set. Yet few blacks were ever shown on Bonanza, even as walk-ons. Pernell Roberts said he left the show in part specifically because of the Race Lift.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Dan Blocker's death in the last season.
  • Rearrange the Song: The driving, rock-oriented version of the theme song heard in later seasons.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Marriette Blaine is like a sister to them! Why haven't we seen her before?
  • Straw Vulcan: Eskith talks a lot about how emotions are the cause of most problems. In his dying moments, he laments that he was defeated by emotion.
  • Syndication Title: Ponderosa.
  • Temporary Love Interest: Virtually every woman the Cartwrights came in contact with, usually because they would die by the end of the episode.
  • Wall of Weapons: A literal wall in the Ponderosa living room with a dozen or so guns lined on it.
  • The Western
  • Western Characters: Used virtually all of them at one time or another.
  • Wicked Cultured: Eskith.
  • The Wild West
  • The Worf Effect: Joe is subjected to this when Gerald Eskith wins a fencing match against him.