LAS VEGAS -- It was a weekly portrait of Americana about the adventures of the fictional Cartwright family, and it became a fixture for tube-addicted baby boomers, and the second-longest-running TV Western behind “Gunsmoke.”
Starring Lorne Green as rancher and father Ben Cartwright, “Bonanza” ran 14 seasons from 1959 to 1973 -- 430 episodes in all -- and is still in regular syndication out there in the wilds of TV Land.
Now fans of the show are being treated to a bonus episode of sorts -- a real bonanza, if you will: Several pieces of memorabilia from the beloved Western will be auctioned off this weekend in Reno.
Included will be photographs of Greene and his TV sons: Dan Blocker as Hoss, Pernell Roberts as Adam and Michael Landon as Little Joe. There’s also the commemorative buckles given to several cast members and the branding iron used in the long-running Western’s opening credits.
Greene’s son Chuck, a resident of Lake Tahoe, arranged for the sale of memorabilia and personal items owned by his father, who died in 1987 at age 72. At auction will be more than 500 artifacts, including 20 from the television series, in which Greene portrayed a dedicated father and three-time widower with a son from each marriage.
“For a lot of people, this show just brings back good memories of their childhood,” Reno auctioneer Jeff Pilliod told the Los Angeles Times. “It was just a good, wholesome show. The fact that it featured a father with three sons by three different wives was kind of unusual for the era. Still, it has a lot of Lawrence Welk-type nostalgia for many.”
The Cartwrights’ mammoth 1,000-square-mile Ponderosa Ranch was set in the High Sierra between Tahoe and Virginia City, but much of the show was filmed in the Los Angeles area, including Hollywood back lots. Some of the scenery came from natural spaces closer to home, including Lake Hemet and Garner Valley in the San Jacinto Mountains and Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardinos. Even Chavez Ravine figured in.
Pilliod, owner and auctioneer of Anchor Auctions and Appraisals, said he was contacted by the Greene family’s personal assistant a few months ago and rushed to the family home to investigate the potential treasure trove.
“The son had it all arranged on tables throughout the house for me,” he said.
Chuck Greene’s assistant, Sky Richarde, told the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper that the actor’s son “still has a lot of his father’s stuff. He needed to not have so much stuff, and he wants the public to have access to these things that were his father’s.”
The family had earlier donated some of Lorne Greene’s documents to USC for research purposes, she said.
Pilliod told The Times he was excited to see the bidding on the branding iron that in each opening credit burned into the Old West-style map of the ranch and surrounding frontier. “The iron has the logo of Chevrolet, which took over as sponsor during the third season,” he said. “There’s also photos of Lorne in costume and the canvas back of the director’s chair.”
Also included are several large personalized belt buckles, including one Greene received in 1962 from the owners of the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City, with an inset of an 1884 Liberty silver dollar.
“The collection isn’t just all cowboy things,” Pilliod said. “There’s Spanish modernist art, Chinese artifacts from his visit there in the 1970s and African items. Lorne Greene was a Jewish scholar.”
Pilliod told The Times he expected interest from overseas, where “Bonanza” is still popular.
“The reaction has been overwhelming,” he said. “I didn’t know Lorne Green was so popular.”