‘The Voice of Canada’ who became the second most popular TV father of all time
Born Lyon Himan Green in Ottawa on February 12, 1915, Lorne Greene was a Canadian actor, radio personality and singer who was best known for his role as Ben “Pa” Cartwright, the patriarch on the popular western TV series “Bonanza,” which ran on NBC for 14 seasons and 431 episodes from 1959 until 1973 and which is still seen in syndication today.
Greene’s parents, Dora and Daniel Green, were Russian Jewish immigrants to Canada and called him “Chaim” when he was a small child.
According to his daughter, Linda Greene Bennett, it is not known when he switched his name from Lyon to Lorne and added an “e” to the end of his last name.
Greene attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he studied chemical engineering. While attending Queen’s, Greene began to act in campus productions and discovered a passion for broadcasting at CFRC, the university’s campus radio station. After graduating from Queen’s, Greene joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as a radio broadcaster.
During the Second World War, Greene served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and became the primary newsreader on the CBC’s National newscast. He was nicknamed “The Voice of Canada,” during this time, known for delivering difficult war news in a deep, strong, mellow voice. While working as a newscaster, Greene invented a stopwatch that ran backwards to help radio announcers keep track of how much time was left in their broadcast.
In the 1950s, Greene pursued an acting career in the U.S., appearing on Broadway and in film and television roles. Ben Cartwright in “Bonanza” was his first continuing role and he later played Commander Adama in “Battlestar Galactica” and “Galactica 1980.” He also hosted and narrated “Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness,” a Canadian nature documentary series, and appeared in commercials.
As well, Greene made several albums as a country singer and scored a number 1 hit in 1964 with “Ringo,” a song about Johnny Ringo, an old west outlaw.
In 2007, TV Guide rated Greene’s Ben Cartwright as the second most popular television father of all time.
Greene was married twice and had three children. He died at the age of 72 on September 11, 1987 of complications from pneumonia after ulcer surgery. Shortly before death, Greene had agreed to star in a revival of Bonanza.
Greene was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1969 for his service to the performing arts and the community and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Queen’s University in 1971. Greene was the 1987 recipient of the Earle Grey Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Gemini Awards and has a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2006, Greene became one of the first four entertainers to be honoured by Canada Post by appearing on a postage stamp and he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2015.
Throughout 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is publishing a series of profiles spotlighting the contributions of historically important Jewish Canadians to our country. Previously in the series: