‘Bonanza’ fan club hits North Shore
September 11, 2005
One year to the day of the Ponderosa’s close, some 150 fans of the television show “Bonanza” descended on the North Shore for a three-day convention celebrating the long-running western.
“I have been a big fan of the show for 35 years,” Stephanie Hartenbach said Friday. She flew all the way from Germany to meet with fellow fans. “I came here just for the convention, it’s my first time in the U.S.A. and I am looking forward to the weekend.”
Hartenbach said the show runs on pay television in her country and she became a fan as a child, but can’t say exactly why.
“Everything I guess. The actors, the family, I don’t have the words in English to say how I feel,” Hartenbach said.
One thing that has put a damper on her visit is the closing of the past centerpiece for the convention, the Ponderosa Ranch.
“It’s very sad,” Hartenbach said. “It was a life-long dream to see it.”
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Vicki Christian, a resident of London and founder of the “Bonanza” fan club with Tom Swann of New Mexico, said she’s been a fan since she was 12.
“It was when the Internet came along and I discovered I wasn’t the only “Bonanza” fan in the world, that I got this idea to bring everyone together who loved the show,” Christian said. “Now we have me from the UK, Tom from America and our Web site designer Heike Barke from Germany. So you can see we’re definitely international.”
The fan club meets in Tahoe every other year. This year’s convention also featured people connected with the show in one form or another, including family members of the stars.
“I think this is really fantastic,” said Stacy Lietz, one of two granddaughters of series star Lorne Greene. “It’s amazing that the show still lives so long after the last episode and all these people still love it.”
As for her memories of growing up as the granddaughter of “Ben Cartwright,” Lietz said, “I really just remember having a grandfather.”
With her sister, Danielle Bennett, the pair is selling their mother’s book about their famous grandfather called “My Father’s Voice.” Bennett remembers that, because of their grandfather’s notoriety, she and her sister are able to ride in the Rose Parade.
Lietz said she could never figure out why everyone wanted her grandpa’s autograph and Bennett remembers, “When I saw him on the Alpo commercials, I used to think he was just talking to me. That he was only on my television.
Known as the “Voice of Canada” for his baritone newscasts during World War II, Greene’s granddaughter Lietz recalls making her grandfather angry once.
“The walls shook,” she said with a smile.
Not all the attendees are long-time fans of the show like Christian, who owns all 431 episodes on tape because she didn’t watch them on television originally.
“They don’t show them in England anymore,” Christian said.
Maryland resident Francine Olewinski became a fan of the show just a year and a half ago when she happened to catch an episode on television.
“It was Adam that got me,” Olewinski said, referring to the character of the oldest Cartwright son played by Pernell Roberts. “Then I went on the Internet and found these chat rooms devoted to the show and talked to all these people. It was great and here I am.”
Besides a chance to share their love for a television show, the convention and fan club serves another purpose.
“We support the Michael Landon Cancer Fund, and the Waycross Children’s Library, in honor of Pernell Roberts,” Christian said.
Among the activities, the fans enjoyed the weekend with a trip to the Cartwright’s main shopping mall, Virginia City, and a barbecue at John Tyson’s “7 Mile Canyon Ranch” and a cruise on the M.S. Dixie.
“The real sadness is we can’t see the ranch,” Christian said. “I think it affected how many people showed up this year. Hopefully, the ranch will open again, but at least we still have the show. That’ll live forever.”