The Only Actors Still Alive From The Cast Of Bonanza
When “Bonanza” first aired in 1959, it was part of a venerable lineup of shoot-em-up series that included such shows as “Rawhide” and “Wagon Train.” Like those other horse operas, as they were called, “Bonanza” adopted the Western conflicts related to morality and justice and translated them to the TV screen. “Bonanza” kept this formula running for 14 seasons until 1973, making it the second-longest-running Western program on TV after “Gunsmoke.”
“Bonanza” followed the wealthy Cartwright family, who live on their sprawling ranch — known as the Ponderosa — on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. Led by Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), the series took a look at the family dynamics between the widowed patriarch and his three sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Eric (Dan Blocker), and “Little Joe,” played by Michael Landon.
With “Bonanza” now having been off the air for nearly 50 years, the series’ main cast members have all passed away, beginning with Dan Blocker, aka “Hoss,” in 1972. When Blocker died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism, the “Bonanza” writers incorporated Hoss’ death into the show. “Just as we personally suffered a loss, so the audience suffered one, too,” said “Bonanza” producer Richard Collins. Still, a number of “Bonanza” alums are alive today, many of whom continue to work in the entertainment industry.
A former child actor, Mitch Vogel joined the cast of “Bonanza” at the age of 14. Vogel was brought in to help fill a gap in the cast left by David Canary, whose character “Candy” Canaday was introduced in 1967 as the Cartwrights’ ranch foreman, and left in 1970. Vogel played the red-headed teen cowboy Jamie Hunter. The orphaned character is later adopted by Ben in the Season 13 episode “A Home for Jamie,” becoming the youngest addition to the Cartwright family.
Prior to joining “Bonanza,” Vogel had first appeared onscreen in “Yours, Mine, and Ours,” a 1968 comedy starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. The movie caught the eye of Steve McQueen, who cast the young actor in his 1969 film “The Reivers.” For his role as Lucius McCaslin, Vogel earned a Golden Globe nomination.
Vogel would go on to appear in a number of other Western series, including “The Virginian,” “Gunsmoke,” and alongside his “Bonanza” co-star Michael Landon in “Little House on the Prairie.” However, in the ’70s, Vogel retired from acting. He continues to speak fondly of his time on “Bonanza.”
“I’m really grateful that ‘Bonanza’ has touched people like it has,” Vogel told Jeremy Roberts on Medium in 2017.
Much like Mitch Vogel’s Jamie, Griff King, played by Tim Matheson, was another character who benefited greatly from Ben Cartwright’s paternal outreach and sage advice. Matheson joined the Cartwright clan in the show’s final season, playing a parolee-turned-ranch hand. And like Vogel himself, Matheson got his start as a child actor, appearing in “Leave It to Beaver,” the animated series “Johnny Quest,” and, coincidentally, “Yours, Mine, and Ours.”
Post-“Bonanza,” Matheson would enjoy a prolific, ongoing film and television career covering dozens of projects. In the years following his nine-episode run on the Cartwright ranch, Matheson is perhaps best known for playing the womanizing Eric “Otter” Stratton in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” a decidedly raunchier project (via IMDb). The following decades would see him play some career-making roles, such as his Emmy-nominated performance as Vice President John Hoynes on “The West Wing.” Matheson can currently be seen on Netflix’s “Virgin River.”
Marlo Thomas will be the first to confirm the prolificness of her acting career. “I was on every show,” she told the Television Academy, referring specifically to her TV career in the 1960s. “I don’t think there was a television show I missed in those years.” One such show was “Bonanza,” on which she appeared in 1964. In “A Pink Cloud Comes from Old Cathay,” Thomas plays Tai Lee, a fiery mail-order bride who arrives from China when Hoss attempts to order fireworks.
Per Thomas, she filled in for Pat Suzuki, who had come down with an illness. When a producer requested that she speak in a Chinese accent, Thomas sought out the advice of famed acting teacher Sandy Meisner. Regrettably, he replied, “Go to [a Chinese] restaurant and tape the waitress.”
Fortunately, Thomas’s most well-known roles following “Bonanza” didn’t similarly traffic in stereotypes. She rose to prominence starring on the sitcom “That Girl” from 1966 to 1971 and created the children’s series “Free to Be. You and Me.” Over the next several decades, Thomas would return to the screen in various recurring roles, including Rachel’s mother in “Friends” (via IMDb). Furthermore, she remains a TV staple and also remains involved in philanthropic outreach for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
As one of the last surviving actors to appear on “Bonanza,” Mariette Hartley has the unique distinction of playing four different characters on the series. Hartley appeared in four episodes between 1965 and 1971, each time falling in love with a different character. “I was such a tart,” she jokingly recalled in an appearance on “A Word on Westerns.” “I really felt a lot of the times like Alice in Wonderland, who would kind of come to this place and had no idea what reality was in any way in my life.”
Like many of her “Bonanza” co-stars, Hartley would go on to appear in a number of other Westerns in the ’70s, including “Little House on the Prairie.” But it was an appearance as Bill Bixby’s wife on “The Incredible Hulk” series in 1978 that earned her a Primetime Emmy Award. She was nominated again a year later for “The Rockford Files,” then again for her work in the sitcom “Goodnight, Beantown,” where she also starred alongside Bixby (via IMDb).
Hartley continues to act today, appearing most recently in series like “Law & Order: SVU,” “The Mentalist,” and “9-1-1” (via IMDb). She is also an outspoken advocate for bipolar disorder and mental health awareness (via Cleveland.com).
Before Wayne Newton became an iconic Las Vegas performer, he played Andy Walker, a young ranch hand, in two 1966 episodes of “Bonanza.” One episode, “The Unwritten Commandment,” drew from Newton’s own entertainment aspirations and features the performer aiming to become a singer, to his farmer father’s chagrin. The real-life Newton was already more successful as a showman; in 1963, his song “Danke Schoen” peaked at No. 13 on the Top 100 (via Billboard).
Following his on-screen debut as Andy, Newton ascended to Vegas royalty, regularly performing shows on the strip for the next several decades. Along the way, Newtown appeared in a number of series and films, frequently in cameos, as with “Ocean’s Eleven.” Elsewhere he’s played himself on-screen, most recently in projects like “Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens.” Still, fans will recall that the longtime Nevada resident got his onscreen break in “Bonanza,” a Battleborn series for the ages.