Hoss heaven this weekend at Ponderosa | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Hoss heaven this weekend at Ponderosa

Rick Chandler

They don’t have cute, catchy names like “Trekkies” or “Deadheads,” and they don’t gather at annual conventions or stand in line for weeks to see the latest movie installment.

Fans of the television show Bonanza are much more down to earth, but no less devoted. They won’t get all worked up at the drop of a hat – unless that hat was once worn by a Cartwright himself.

Bonanza turns 40 this weekend, and that is finally enough reason for its legion of fans to converge on Lake Tahoe and throw a party. The Bonanza Convention will celebrate all things Cartwright beginning on Friday and running through Sunday, when approximately 300 fans of the long-running horse opera will engage in a variety of events to celebrate the show that came to define the TV Western. Headquarters will be at the Tahoe Biltmore Casino/Lodge at Crystal Bay, on Tahoe’s North Shore. There will also be events at the Ponderosa Ranch at Incline Village, at Virginia City and aboard the M.S. Dixie II.

Bonanza was dreamed up by writer/producer David Dortort, whose intention was to create a contrast to the sitcoms and formula westerns that were so popular in the 1950s. Dortort wanted a hard-bitten, rugged family who represented the American West, and Tahoe was the perfect backdrop. In fact, it could be said that Lake Tahoe was one of Bonanza’s biggest stars.

The show debuted on NBC on Sept, 12, 1959, and was an initial ratings flop. But NBC’s parent company, RCA, was interested in selling color televisions – a new concept at the time – and so it stuck with Bonanza. And two years later, when the show was moved from Saturday to Sunday nights, it became a hit.

In fact, Bonanza was television’s most-watched show from 1964-67, and was a perennial ratings giant until the early 1970s (it was canceled in 1973, one year after the death of Dan Blocker). Today it is still seen in syndication in virtually every country in the world. An entire new generation of Bonanza fans have emerged from reruns – many of whom were not even born before the show was canceled.

Little did Dortort or NBC dream that Bonanza would become a part of the very fabric of American culture. The story of Ben Cartwright and his three sons carving a home from the American West during the Comstock era became intertwined with real history. The show put Lake Tahoe on the map – at the height of its popularity, thousands of tourists converged on the region, demanding to know “where the Cartwrights had lived.”

Seizing on that interest, Bill Anderson created the Ponderosa Ranch in 1967 – and the Old West amusement park will be one of the venues for this weekend’s convention. Virginia City, likewise, owes a great deal to Bonanza – the show is a big reason that tourists want to travel there.

None of its principle stars were household names when Bonanza debuted, but that soon changed. Lorne Greene, patriarch of the Cartwright clan, had been a radio reporter during World War II, and was working in Canadian radio when he got the part. Pernell Roberts as Adam, Blocker as Hoss and Michael Landon as Little Joe rounded out the cast.

All have passed away except Roberts – who left the show in 1966 and was barely heard from again. He won’t be on hand, but guest speakers this weekend will include Dortort, Nancy Greene (Lorne’s widow who resides in Incline Village) and Mitch Vogel (a regular cast member during the final four seasons).

Proceeds from the convention (there is a hefty $295 ticket price for the entire weekend) go to the Tahoe Blue and Michael Landon Children’s Cancer Foundation.


Bonanza Convention Event Highlights

Events will include screenings of selected Bonanza episodes, such as “Showdown at Tahoe” and “Hoss and the Leprechauns,” the latter voted the second-favorite all-time episode in a viewer poll.

Other events include a champagne breakfast cruise on the M.S. Dixie II (Saturday, 8 a.m.); barbecue and Championship Chili Cookoff at the Ponderosa Ranch (Saturday, all day); the Western Regional National Gunfight and Stunt Group Championships, also at the Ponderosa (Saturday and Sunday, all day); and a reception and buffet lunch at the Delta Saloon in Virginia City (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)

Information: Bonanza Convention, Inc. (505) 292-7485; Tahoe Biltmore Casino/Lodge (775) 831-0660; Virginia City Chamber of Commerce (775) 831-4440.

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