Thursday, February 12, 2015

100 Years Ago Today Lorne Greene Was Born

It was 100 years ago today that Lorne Greene was born in Ottawa, Ontario. For many today he is best remembered as Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the Ponderosa on the television show Bonanza, but Lorne Greene's career went far beyond Bonanza, or other TV shows for that matter.

Lorne Greene was born  Lyon Himan Green on February 12 1915. While his mother called him "Chaim", his name on report cards and other documents from when he was young is given as "Hyman". It is not known when he began using "Lorne" as his first name, nor when he added an "e" to his surname. Regardless, he attended Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He started out as a chemical engineering major, but found himself drawn to radio broadcasting while working for the Queen's University radio station CFRC. It was also while he was at Queen's University that he first became involved in acting. He was a member of the university's Drama Guild.

It was following his graduation from Queen's University that Lorne Greene got a job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). It was not long before he became the principal newsreader for the CBC National News. It was after Canada entered World War II that many listeners began referring to Lorne Greene as "The Voice of Doom" because of his solemn voice when often reading bad news from the war. With his impressive voice Lorne Greene was very much in demand as a narrator for propaganda films produced during the war. He served as the narrator on such films as "Front of Steel" (1940), "Churchill's Island" (1941), "The Mask of Nippon" (1942). Colloquially referred to as "The Voice of Doom", the CBC later referred to Lorne Green as "The Voice of Canada". During World War II he served as a flying officer in  the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Following the war Mr. Greene continued to work for the CBC as well as narrate such documentaries as "White Fortress" (1949) and "Social-Sex Attitudes in Adolescence" (1953).  He also founded the  Lorne Greene School of Broadcasting, now known as the Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto.

It was in the early Fifties that Lorne Greene began acting. He made his television acting debut in an episode of The Philip Morris Playhouse in 1953. That same year he appeared on Broadway in The Prescott Proposals. In the Fifties he later appeared on Broadway in the productions Speaking of Murder and Edwin Booth. Throughout the Fifties he appeared on such TV shows as Danger, You Are There, Climax, Encounter, Studio 57, The United States Steel Hour, Playhouse 90, Studio One, The Third Man, and Cheyenne. He was the star of the short lived TV series Sailor of Fortune. Mr. Greene also appeared in the movies The Silver Chalice (1954), Tight Spot (1955), Autumn Leaves (1956), Peyton Place (1957), The Last of the Fast Guns (1958), The Gift of Love (1958), The Hard Man (1957), The Buccaneer (1958), The Trap (1959), and The Hangman (1959).

It was in 1959 that Lorne Greene first appeared in what may be his most famous role, that of Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. Set on the sprawling Ponderosa Ranch in Nevada in the 1860s, Bonanza centred on the Carwrights--Ben and his sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. Bonanza could well have been the most successful show of the Sixties. It spent ten of its fourteen seasons in the top ten shows on the air. Nine of those seasons were spent in the the top five shows on the air, and three of them as the number one show. From 1962 to 1971 Lorne Greene hosted the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Betty White. He also appeared on such shows as The Andy Williams Show, The Jack Paar Programme, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and The Dean Martin Show.

Bonanza went off the air in 1974. Afterwards Lorne Greene played the lead in the television shows Griff, Battlestar Galactica, and Code Red. In the Eighties he was the host and producer on the syndicated wildlife series Lorne Greene's New Wilderness. He appeared in the television mockumentary The Canadian Conspiracy and the mini-series Roots. He also appeared in such films as Tidal Wave (1973), Earthquake (1974), Klondike Fever (1980), Living Legend: The King of Rock and Roll (1980), and Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986).  His last appearance was in the TV movie The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory.

In the Sixties Lorne Greene also released ten record albums, as well as several singles. His single "Ringo" hit number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. His single "The Man" peaked at #3 on the Canadian Country chart. 

Lorne Greene died on September 11 1987 from pneumonia following surgery for ulcers. Sadly, he had signed onto a revival of Bonanza only a few weeks before his death.

Lorne Greene had a huge impact on popular culture, and in more than one country at that. In Canada he first became famous as "The Voice of Doom", the newsreader at the CBC who was often heard during World War II. In the United States he would reach the height of his fame as Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. He was the host of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the better part of the Sixties. He also narrated several documentaries throughout this career, and was the host of Lorne Greene's New Wilderness in the Eighties. Indeed, in the history of Canadian broadcasting he is as important as Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite are in the history of American broadcasting. While today Lorne Greene may be best known as Ben Cartwright, he did much more throughout a career than spanned nearly 50 years

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