David Dortort fought against NBC to cast unknown actors as the Carwright family in Bonanza

It was a decision Dortort would stand by.

CBS Television Distribution

To cast an unknown actor in a starring television role might seem like a leap of faith, to some. Casting a well-known actor lends itself to the series by increasing mass appeal; you've guaranteed viewers will watch your show simply because they're fans of the actor.

However, there are drawbacks. If an actor is particularly recognizable or has played iconic characters in the past, it can be difficult for an audience to comprehend them in a new role. Sometimes, it can pay off to cast a lesser-known actor in a television role, especially if people can look back on television history and understand that yours was the series that jumpstarted an actor's rise to success.

As a writer with experience in the television industry, David Dortort had his reasons for hiring relatively unknown actors as the Cartwright family in his series, Bonanza.

Dortort explained his reasoning during an interview with The Sacramento Bee. "I know TV," he said. "I know actors. I know how a little success can make them unmanageable and dissatisfied, so I cast Bonanza with four unknowns: Lorne Greene as the father and Dan Blocker, Mike Landon, and Pernell Roberts as the son."

Originally, NBC attempted to push for at least one famous actor to play the father, Ben Cartwright, but Dortort knew that Greene was the perfect man for the job, despite not knowing him very well. "I never knew Lorne before Bonanza, and generally I don't traffic with actors," Dortort said. "But Greene and I have become warm, personal friends, and I can tell you he's a fine, level-headed, substantial human being. I'm glad I picked him for the Ben Cartwright role despite the opposition."

Of course, Dortort was correct in all of his decisions, as the cast of Bonanza, including Greene, went on to achieve worldwide acclaim, and the series generated a popularity that lingers to this day.

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12 Comments

JJ614 1 month ago
I always loved all of them but Pernell, who IMO was a casting DISASTER.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Dortort made good casting choices. The show speaks volumes in that area.
CaptainDunsel 1 month ago
It would be interesting to know who the suits wanted for Ben Cartwright.
MaryMitch 1 month ago
Dortort chose well. I am certain that the chemistry of the 4 actors was responsible for the success of the show.
cperrynaples 1 month ago
It was Dortort's plans to only have celebrities as guest stars! For example, the guest in the pilot was Yvonne DeCarlo, who although best known now as Lily Munster was in many movies in the 50's!
Runeshaper cperrynaples 1 month ago
And she ROCKS!
cperrynaples Runeshaper 1 month ago
Well,she sang a song, but it wasn't a rock song! After all it was the old West...LOL!
Runeshaper cperrynaples 1 month ago
LOL good point!
Wiseguy70005 Runeshaper 1 month ago
Do you two have to shout everything? Can't you just end a sentence with a period like a normal person?
JJ614 Wiseguy70005 1 month ago
👎👎👎!!!
Runeshaper Wiseguy70005 29 days ago
No...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Runeshaper JJ614 29 days ago
Thank you!
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