The Ponderosa proved profitable for Bonanza's Lorne Greene
Greene's success was a long time coming.
People deserve to be paid well when they do great work, and that was certainly the case regarding Lorne Greene's performance in Bonanza. Throughout 442 hour-long stories, the episodic Western cemented itself in television history, becoming one of the most popular and profitable series ever. The show raked in so much advertising revenue that there was a rumor that cast member Lorne Greene lived in a replica of the show's Ponderosa ranch house.
As told by The Des Moines Register in 1971, the truth was far more lucrative for Greene, for whom the Ponderosa would've been quite a downgrade. His real home was tucked away, nearly hidden completely, within the Mandeville Canyon section of West Los Angeles. Originally, the house the Greenes lived in was built for one of the heirs of the Sears Department Store empire. Needless to say, the home was nicer than a humble dude ranch.
What's more important than the house itself was the people Greene filled the building with. Primarily, his house was occupied by Greene's wife, Nancy, and their daughter Gillian. At the time of that '71 interview with the Register, Gillian Greene was three years old. Clearly, she filled her father with pride and joy.
"Every time I look at that child," said Greene. "I feel as though I were 25 years old."
It was a happy time for Greene, who'd recently lost 40 pounds from dieting. Feeling healthier than ever, Greene spent his days laughing and dancing with his girls. It was a good time to be Lorne Greene, and that feeling was a long time coming.
It hadn't always been smooth sailing for Greene, so he could truly enjoy how special it was when things were good. He'd been a chemical engineering student at Queen's University in Kingstone, Ontario, Canada. But when he fell in love with acting, Greene lost interest in his former studies. Instead, he moved to New York, where he won a fellowship at a local playhouse. There, he learned acting "and practiced going hungry," according to Greene himself. The practice paid off; when he returned to Canada, Greene was unable to find any work in theaters. Instead, he found a role in broadcasting, eventually working his way up to the Chief Announcer of The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The lean years, though, eventually came to an end when Greene was cast in Bonanza. So how profitable was the show for its stars and creators? Well, at the time, it was one of the three most expensive hour-long shows on TV, costing over $220,000 per episode. However, it was also one of the most profitable; the program's gross weekly revenue was around $780,000.
How, exactly, did Greene fare as the star of this obvious hit? According to The Des Moines Register (and this is not adjusted to reflect inflation), the series' stars averaged about $15,000 per episode. While that may not seem like much at first, it's an absolute fortune when multiplied over the course of the show's 14 seasons and 432 episodes. On top of that, the figure doesn't even account for capital gains profits or residuals Greene would've made as part of his time on the show. Not bad for a cowboy!