Lorne Greene, the barrel-chested actor best known for his portrayal of Ben Cartwright, played the strong, stern, immutably ethical yet caring father in, "Bonanza," one of America's most popular television series.
And it is as that level-headed patriarch of the Ponderosa for which he will be always remembered, despite the classical and popular credits he accumulated as a young actor.
Along with Dan Blocker (Hoss), Michael Landon (Little Joe) and Pernell Roberts (the short-lived Adam), Greene gathered a following of such magnitude that even President Lyndon B. Johnson reputedly had enough respect for "Bonanza's" ratings that he would not schedule a speech that would clash with the show's 9 p.m. time slot on Sunday nights.
After numerous roles on Broadway and in television, including the Apostle Peter in "The Silver Chalice" and Yellow Jack on NBC's "Producer's Playhouse," Greene was seen in a guest shot on "Wagon Train." On the strength of that appearance the producer, David Dorton, recognized Greene as the authoritative figure he wanted for his new western, titled "Bonanza."
After "Bonanza" went off the air in January, 1973, Greene tried to diversify his repertoire by playing such roles as a Russian espionage agent in "Destiny of a Spy" and a grizzled old farmer in the TV adaptation of Steinbeck's "The Harness."
He could not, however, shake the paternal image he gained in "Bonanza." Even in the popular series "Battlestar Galactica" (1978-80), Greene was typecast. As Commander Adamas, he played the paternal leader of a space-age wagon train, which forever searched the galaxy for a permanent camp site.
But that series, like his brief private-eye series, "Griff" and the ill-fated "Code Red," did not match "Bonanza" for its popularity and was dropped by the networks.
He made a few films, including "Earthquake" and "Tidal Wave," and was seen in the popular TV mini-series "Roots," "The Moneychangers" and "The Bastard."
Greene said he would never do another full-time TV series unless he had some kind of control of the script. With "Lorne Greene's New Wilderness," a series that dealt with animals and the environment, Greene got exactly what he wanted: control.