Wednesday 16 May 2018

A Hat Full of Hope For a Singing Career

Not many Canadian radio newscasters move to the United States and eventually try out a singing career.

I can think of one. Lorne Greene.

Greene is known to the world as the star of Bonanza, one of TV’s longest-running and most successful Westerns. Before that, Greene was a drama grad from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario with a ballsy voice and a lot of ambition. The only work he could find in 1939 was in radio. He quickly became the top news reader at the CBC, served in World War Two, became part of a hand-picked staff at CKEY, founded a broadcasting school in Toronto, and then headed to the U.S. in 1953 where he was a male lead on Broadway almost immediately. Greene worked steadily after that—including a stint reading news on the Mutual network—before finding a top-rated home on the Ponderosa (in colour!) in 1959.

Within a few years, he tried singing.

I’ve never quite understood why some TV stars suddenly decide they are vocalists. I can only presume they’re doing it either for the ego or the money or both. But, in Lorne Greene’s case, it kind of worked. If anyone’s going to sing the Bonanza theme, shouldn’t it be Ben Cartwright? You wouldn’t expect a rancher (or a former Canadian radio newscaster) to be on key all the time, would you? And he kept his repertoire to something you’d expect the star of a Western to sing. It isn’t like he tried Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. That great, low baritone helped, too.

Bonanza was on NBC so NBC’s mother company, RCA, offered him a recording contract in 1963. By the end of the next year, he had a number one hit after six weeks on the charts with “Ringo.”

So let’s read more about Greene’s aspiring singing career. Here’s a United Press International story from July 7, 1963.
Veteran Actor Now a Crooner Greene Finds a New Bonanza

HOLLYWOOD (UPI)— Many a singer pipes his way to stardom in movies and television.—Crosby, Sinatra, Presley et al—but few are the Shakespearean actors who turn successfully to crooning.
One such is Lorne Greene, big daddy of the "Bonanza" television series.
Green, a veteran Shakespearean, has recorded a new album, "Young At Heart," I which is on its way to becoming a hit, and making the 47-year-old Greene very young at heart.
His booming baritone sometimes dips to the bass range and is especially effective in the shower of his new home, a showplace on the outskirts of Mesa, Ariz. Greene and his wife, Nancy, 29, built the place as a replica of the "Bonanza" ranch house in the heart of Ponderosa country. Even the walls of the living room are lined with ponderosa logs.
Located in a section known as the Apache Country Club Estates, the Greene's new pad overlooks a golf course.
Plays Golf
This was not a coincidence. The gray-haired star is a golf nut; who shoots in the 80s whenever he can spring himself for a weekend away from Southern California.
When he's working in the series, Greene, a native of Canada, lives in an enormous San Fernando valley home surrounded by palm trees, cactus gardens, and a swimming pool. It is as modern in design and decor as his Mesa home is rustic.
If "Pa Cartwright" is living high on the hog now, it must be remembered he suffered through some lean years, too.
As a radio announcer in Canada he earned $5 a week. Later he became the "Voice of Canada" heard nightly during the war years as chief newscaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. This no doubt accounts for his deep, sonorous voice.
He further polished his voice in British television and on Broadway and in the Shakespearean Festival at Stratford, Ont.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Greene, 6 foot 2 and weighing 195 pounds, was well prepared to cut the new platter which includes such favorites as "Hello Young Lovers," "As Time Goes By," "The Second Time Around" and "You Make Me Feel So Young."
The album's accent on youth reflects the actor-singer's own outlook. He and Nancy, his second wife, spent six weeks preparing the Mesa home for a grand opening for his movietown friends.
Evidently the house is a monument of gratitude to "Bonanza" for boosting Greene to stardom. Even the furniture has been copied from the home in the show. To round out the feeling of the permanent set at Paramount studios, Nancy, an accomplished artist, has decorated the walls with portraits of Lorne as well as his costars, Mike Landon, Dan Blocker and Parnell Roberts. All three play his video sons.
He has a family of bis own, teen-age boy-and-girl twins, by a previous marriage. They attend school in Switzerland and were visited by Greene and his new wife on a European vacation in April.
It is possible Greene has assumed the characteristics of Ben Cartwright. Or perhaps he infused his own personality into that of the character he plays. At any rate, there is little difference between the man on the screen and the actor off screen.
Serious minded, sometimes to the point of pomposity, Greene weighs his words carefully before speaking. He stands Cartwright - straight and looks you squarely in the eye when he talks.
There is the ring of authority about him, which also comes through in his singing.

Here’s a story from the “other” wire service, dated December 22, 1963, almost a full year before “Ringo” reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
Bonanza Papa Lorne Greene Loosens Ties to Ponderosa

Associated Press Writer
New York—After four fabulous years establishing the wise, just father image in the NBC's and Channel 40's top-rated Bonanza, Lorne Greene is making an effort to reassert his own personality.
In recent weeks he has appeared in well-cut, modern tuxedo as TV host of an international beauty contest, in business clothes and topcoat as commentator on NBC's television coverage of New York's Thanksgiving Day Parade and, again in dinner jacket, presided over a memorial program to John F. Kennedy.
He has also popped up on Perry Como's and Andy Williams' variety hours, sat down with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show a number of times and made two record albums (he has a rich baritone).
"I guess you might say that I like a fullness in my career, and enjoy doing a variety of things," Greene explained.
"I'm not unhappy with Bonanza—who could be unhappy in such a popular show?—but by doing these outside things I guess I'm really just trying to express myself in performances, most for my soul's sake."
• • •
GREENE, in his mid-forties, looks younger in person than he does—deliberately—on the television screen.
He is both intelligent and loyal, and would never complain about his lot. But the truth is that, no matter how successful a series, how rich or famous it makes an actor, after four or five years of playing the same character, life does tend to become a bit boring.
Bonanza is a western in the classic mold, and even with four regular characters, all hero types to take turns carrying the main role, situations do tend to get repetitious.
This season the producers have deliberately attempted to throw the meatiest roles to guest stars. And while this may add variety to the series, it distresses the regulars, who find they have little to do.
Greene, when asked about this shift of emphasis, merely noted drily that, in the last 20 episodes he has made, only one had been "his" show, meaning that he was the leading character.
Although most of us were not particularly aware of him until he turned up with a six-gallon hat, buckskin vest, three stalwart sons and an enormous ranch empire called "The Ponderosa," Greene has a broad theatrical and broadcasting background.
HE IS A NATIVE of Canada, studied at Queens University in Ottawa. Performing in a student drama, he was noticed and given a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.
In Canada at the outbreak of World War 2, he found little work for a professional actor and turned to radio. He soon became chief newscaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
By 1953 he had decided to quit radio to become an actor again.
Television parts in New York led to movie roles and a Broadway play. In 1954 he was Katharine Cornell's leading man in "The Prescott Proposals." Then more films — including two westerns, his first.
But when, in 1958, Bonanza beckoned, Greene still had to learn to ride a horse like an expert.
"I went to Palm Springs," he recalled, "and took two lessons of an hour each. And then I practiced."
The horse he rides as Ben Cartwright is a thoroughbred quarter horse with a long, splendid name shortened to "Buck."
Lorne's working days start early—he reaches the studio at 7—and ends late, usually after 7 p. m. On weekends, particularly when the weather is warm, he is likely to be flying someplace for a personal appearance tour. He has an act with co-star Dan Blocker, and sometimes he does a single, usually at rodeos or state fairs.
• • •
MOST OF THE ACT is devoted to kidding his television character, for he usually leads off by singing a parody that goes, "I'm an Old Cow-Hand From TV-land ..."
Greene and his second wife live in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks. Chuck, 19, his son by his first marriage, is a freshman at M.I.T., and Chuck's twin, Linda, is a freshman at the University of Toronto.
Do they want to go into the theater?
Greene laughed and shook his head: "They say that one actor in the family is plenty."
Perhaps to Greene’s chagrin, his number-one hit didn’t lead to much more than treated as a novelty. But it was all just as well. The Bonanza theme, with its lyrics about “a hat full of hope” led to more than a hat full of money.

Greene died far away from the carillon in Canada’s capital. He passed away in Santa Monica, California in1987.

You can hear him sing his show’s theme song below.

1 comment:

  1. I have always been amazed by that booming, clear baritone voice. When I was very young, my Dad would refer to Lorne Greene as " The Voice Of Canada ". He told me that Ben Cartwright was originally a News Reader for Canadian Radio. I never asked how he knew that, but Dad was correct.