Lorne Greene was a Canadian radio personality, actor, and singer, known primarily as “The Voice of Canada,” and for his role as Ben Cartwright on the hit television series Bonanza. His work as an artist contributed greatly to Performing Arts in Canada, as well as the community at large.
Greene was born in Ottawa in 1915. He began his career in the performing arts as a drama instructor at Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park. He attended Queen’s University in Kingston and began acting in the university’s Drama Guild. He began broadcasting the Radio Workshop for the Drama Guild over the university’s radio station, CFRC. Initially majoring in chemical engineering, Lorne eventually switched his major to be able to focus more on theatre. In 1939, he landed his first major position as an announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). His deep and smooth voice quickly earned him the title of the “Voice of Canada.”
During World War II, he was assigned to be principal newsreader for the CBC National News. This unfortunately earned him the title “The Voice of Doom,” as he would read out the dreaded lists of names of soldiers who were killed in the War. He also served as a flying officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II.When he returned to Canada after the War, inspired by his work in broadcasting, Lorne invented a stopwatch that counted down to help radio broadcasters gauge how much time they needed to fill. While attempting to sell the gadget to an NBC executive, Greene crossed paths with television producer Fletcher Markle, who cast him in the first of many stage and screen productions.
His debut on the big screen came in 1954 when he played Apostle Peter in The Silver Chalice, however his big break came when an American producer noticed Greene playing a supporting role in Wagon Train. The producer recruited Greene to play the role of Ben Cartwright on his upcoming television series Bonanza, a Western based on the adventures of Ben and his three sons. The show debuted in 1959 on NBC and ran until 1973, making it the longest-running Western on television. Not only was Bonanza popular because it was the first network Western to be televised in colour, but it was also a unique portrayal of familial bonds and fatherhood in a Western setting. Greene’s character, Ben or “Pa,” was adored by viewers who looked to him as the ideal father figure and role model.
After Bonanza’s cancellation in 1973, Greene acted in several other shows, including Battlestar Galactica in 1978. Additionally, throughout the 1980s, Greene dedicated much of his time to environmental issues, hosting a nature series called Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness to promote environmental wellness. He also founded Toronto’s Academy of Radio Arts, originally named the Lorne Greene School of Broadcasting.
Greene dedicated his life to the performing arts. On October 28, 1969, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for his services to performing arts and to the community. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Queen’s University in 1971.
Lorne Greene has a star on both the Canadian and Hollywood Walks of Fame. He is fondly remembered as “Pa” from Bonanza, but also as one of the most influential Jewish Canadians in the past 150 years of Canada.