|Subject: Archive: Lorne Greene, Sept. 11, 1987
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Date Posted: Monday, September 11, 04:09:28pm
Lorne Greene, a burly, deep-voiced actor who won international fame with his portrayal of Ben Cartwright, the stern but benevolent patriarch of the Ponderosa ranch in the television series ''Bonanza,'' died yesterday at Saint John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 72 years old.
Mr. Greene died of adult respiratory distress syndrome, according to a hospital statement. A family spokesman, Dupree Dial, said Mr. Greene had undergone abdominal surgery on Aug. 19, and had subsequently developed pneumonia.
The NBC ''Bonanza'' series, which ran from 1959 to 1973, was one of television's most successful programs, reaching the peak of its popularity in 1964. With Mr. Greene alternately guiding and rescuing his three high-spirited cowboy sons, ''Bonanza'' eventually played to viewers in more than 60 countries.
Some television analysts said Mr. Greene filled the need for a strong father image that had been missing from other television programs during that period. He was flooded with mail from young admirers, many of them saying they wanted to be like him when they grew up.
So popular was the series that in 1965 Jack Gould, the television critic of The New York Times, wrote:
''President Johnson reputedly has enough respect for the 'Bonanza' popularity not to schedule a speech that could clash with such decisions as might be simultaneously reached at the Ponderosa.'' Wide Variety of Roles
Over the years, Mr. Greene played scores of characters on the stage, screen, radio and television. He was seen in the movies ''Earthquake'' (1974) and ''Tidal Wave'' (1975) and on television in the series ''Griff,'' ''Battlestar Galactica'' and ''Code Red,'' among others.
He had a featured role in the 1977 mini-series ''Roots.''
Mr. Greene was born in Ottawa on Feb. 12, 1915, to Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. His father made and sold orthopedic shoes. In later years Mr. Greene said he had based his interpretation of his ''Bonanza'' character on his father.
He started acting in high school and, at Queens University in Ontario, where he studied from 1932 to 1937, he joined the Drama Guild. There, he changed his major from chemical engineering to languages (French and German) so he could have more time for the theater.
After graduation he accepted a fellowship at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater in New York City. When he returned to Canada two years later, acting jobs were scarce, and he joined the Canadian Broadcasting System as a news announcer. During World War II he was nicknamed ''The Voice of Canada.''
After serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force, he resumed his career in radio in Toronto, and founded the Academy of Radio Arts for student broadcasters.
A Lucky Encounter
Mr. Greene had developed a stopwatch that ran backward to permit announcers to quickly determine the amount of time remaining to them in the closing moments of a program. In 1953 he brought it to New York to demonstrate it to an NBC executive, and ran into a producer friend from Canada who offered him a part on television's popular ''Studio One.''
Producers were impressed with his work, and that same year he made his Broadway debut, playing a suave radio journalist in ''The Prescott Proposals,'' which starred Katharine Cornell and which ran for 125 performances. He also appeared on Broadway in ''Speaking of Murder'' and ''Edwin Booth.''
Mr. Greene played in dozens of television dramas, in Shakespearean plays in Canada and in a number of motion pictures.
His first movie role was the Apostle Peter in ''The Silver Chalice,'' in 1951. He played a racketeer in ''The Tight Spot'' (1955), a lecherous father in ''Autumn Leaves'' (1956), and a prosecuting attorney in ''Peyton Place'' (1957). Other films included ''The Hard Man'' (1957), ''The Gift of Love'' (1958), ''The Buccaneer'' (1958), and ''The Trap'' (1959). 'Wagon Train' Led to 'Bonanza'
His big break was a 1959 role in the western television series ''Wagon Train,'' which starred Ward Bond. He was spotted by David Dortort, a producer searching for someone to play the father in his new television western, ''Bonanza.''
Mr. Greene earned as much as $32,000 an episode for ''Bonanza,'' and the series reportedly made him a multimillionaire. He invested in real estate and race horses. Acquaintances said he tended to identify offscreen with Ben Cartwright and once built a replica of the Ponderosa Ranch house in Arizona, complete with a staircase to nowhere.
Mr. Greene also recorded stories to music, with titles like ''Ringo,'' ''Destiny'' and ''Five Card Stud,'' that became hit records.
His first marriage, to Rita Hands of Toronto, ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Nancy; a son, Charles, and two daughters, Linda Bennett and Gillian Greene, all of Los Angeles.
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