If you grew up in the 1960s, you probably remember watching your favorite TV programs with the zeal of a religious fanatic.
Saturday nights were the best times of the week for catching popular shows.
Westerns were a genre that provided seemingly endless themes.
One show in particular captivated audiences of all ages—Bonanza.
Set in the beautiful rolling hills of Nevada, Bonanza was notorious for packing teens and their parents into family rooms with color TV sets, big bowls of popcorn and peanut butter fudge.
Spectacular scenery, however, was only one of the weekly program’s virtues.
Bonanza was the story of a father and three adult sons who lived on a large Nevada ranch—the Ponderosa—named after the towering pines that reached to the high heavens.
The father—Ben Cartwright—was a triple widower. And each of the wives had given Ben, a charming, silver-haired patriarch—a son.
All three sons, though different in personality and appearance, occasionally became engaged to lovely women of the Old West.
But their fiancés all died, often within a few minutes of their introduction to family members.
The rich and fertile Ponderosa soon became a Death Valley for the female sex.
Even the family cook—Hop Sing—was a man.
And the message from the weekly installments suggested that women posed a threat to the Western machismo.
While the gallant Ponderosa heroes never seemed to run out of adventure, their girlfriends were about as useless to the cowboys as dual saddle horns.
Little Joe—a baby-faced Adonis in a green jacket—could have practically any woman he wanted.
But as soon as the youngest Cartwright made his bid for romance, his love object would suddenly begin her drift toward death.
Neither her beauty nor her poetic sensibility could free her from her fate.
She had to go.
So Bonanza became a kind of male-exclusive saga for prime-time TV.
In some memorable episodes, Ben, an ideal father-figure, became immersed in romances with matrons of mature figure and wit.
Nevertheless, the same fate awaited the women who set their sights on the wealthy widower. An invitation to the visit the Ponderosa was tantamount to a death sentence for any adult female.
Even the beefy but slightly slow-witted second son Hoss (played by Dan Blocker) occasionally fell for a compassionate creature only to discover that he, too, was luckless in the draw when it came to feminine companionship.
It was no different for Adam (Parnell Roberts), the erudite eldest of the Cartwright offspring, when it came to pursuing members of the opposite sex. The scenario: meet, fall in love, and perish.
And yet, the promise of dining with the polite, polished, and refined protectors of gracious nobility seemed every woman’s dream, either in real time or TV fable.
A probable reason was that the Cartwright men savored their meals in an atmosphere of filial harmony.
They teased each other good naturedly and chatted amiably about their daily duties. They esteemed their “Pa” and maintained a chivalrous attitude toward females of all ages.
No wonder the show was such a hit with American audiences.
Bonanza brought families and friends together on Saturday nights for some wholesome entertainment—free of four-letter words and blatant sexual innuendo.
The Ponderosa offered a kind of Shangri La as global armadas teetered on the brink of atomic annihilation.
The Cartwright vitality seemed to embody the lusty persona of the American dream—even if it meant the end of the trail for the cast of unfortunate females who aspired to woo the affluent, close-knit clan.
Every time the Cartwright foursome rode off into the sunset at the end of the weekly dramas, you could almost hear the cowboys’ no-longer-living girlfriends cheering…
Top of the morning!