Among my many fondest memories of excessive childhood television viewing are all the hours that I spent watching “Bonanza,” one of the few things that we regularly did together as a family.
Still, I came on board a few years into the show, so I had to rely on syndicated reruns to catch up on earlier episodes. Normally, when I saw four guys riding up during the opening credits — hey, it’s a Pernell Roberts episode! — that was good news.
All this resurfaces in light of the death of producer David Dortort, who passed away over the weekend at 93, providing further proof that if you are interested in personal longevity, being a comic or a producer of westerns is a great career path. (Arthur Gardner, who produced “The Big Valley” and “The Rifleman,” recently turned 100.)
One of the most impressive things about “Bonanza” was the way the show could move effortlessly from drama to comedy. There were episodes that were flat-out silly, often followed by genuinely dark ones that involved 19th-century injustices toward Native Americans or attempts to drive the Cartwright clan off the Ponderosa.
Through the years there have been many great jokes about “Bonanza,” one of my favorites being Barry Levinson’s movie “Tin Men.” In it, one of the characters is seemingly obsessed with the show, asking why these men who live together never go get laid, and wondering how you can have a series with a 48-year-old father “and three 47-year-old sons.”
It has also been pointed out, more than once, that there was no faster way for a woman to die in the Old West than to fall in love with one of the Cartwrights. Ben alone (played by Lorne Greene) buried three wives, who were shown in flashback episodes that forced him to wear hilarious black shoe polish in his hair.
Such gags notwithstanding, I genuinely loved the show and wouldn’t change a frame of it. Cue the music. In Dortort’s honor, I’m going to ride over to TV Land hunting for some reruns.