Childhood & Early Life
Lorne Greene was born on February 12, 1915, in Ottawa, Ontario, to Dora and Daniel Green, a shoemaker. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. Lorne was named Lyon Himan Green at his birth, but it is not known when he began using ‘Lorne’, or when he added an ‘e’ to Green.
He attended Queen's University in Kingston, where he took an interest in broadcasting for the campus radio station CFRC. He gave up on a career in chemical engineering to follow his dream career in acting.
After studying acting at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, he returned to Canada in 1939. During the World War II, he served as a Flying Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
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Lorne Greene began acting while studying in Queen's University. He was the drama instructor at Camp Arowhon, a summer camp in Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada.
After graduation, he joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as a radio broadcaster. He became the principal newsreader on CBC National News. At CBC, he was called ‘The Voice of Canada’. However, since he used to announce the list of soldiers who were killed in the World War II with his deep, resonant voice, many listeners called him ‘The Voice of Doom’.
At CBC, he also narrated documentaries produced by the National Film Board of Canada like ‘Churchill’s Island’ in 1941 and ‘Fighting Norway’ in 1943.
In 1945, he opened the Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto, which was a school for writers, actors, directors, and production personnel. Some of the school’s alumni were James Doohan of Star Trek fame, TV and film actor Leslie Nielsen, and TV actor and writer Gordie Tapp.
In 1953, he did the lead role in a one-hour adaptation of Shakespeare's ‘Othello’. In 1954, he made his Hollywood debut in ‘The Silver Chalice’. In 1955, he was featured in an episode of ‘You Are There’.
He acted twice in Katharine Cornell’s Broadway productions in 1953—in ‘The Prescott Proposals’ and in ‘The Dark is Light Enough.’ In 1957, he was featured in the American drama film ‘Peyton Place’.
In 1957, he was also cast as the lead in ‘Sailor of Fortune’, a British-produced half-hour TV series that was syndicated throughout the US. He did two western films—‘The Hard Man’ in 1957 and ‘The Last of the Fast Guns’ in 1958.
He was cast as Ben ‘Pa’ Cartwright in the TV series ‘Bonanza’, which premiered on NBC in 1959, and continued for 14 seasons till 1973, making Lorne a household name.
During the 1960s, he capitalized on his image as Ben Cartwright by recording several albums of country-western and folk songs. In 1964, his spoken-word ballad ‘Ringo’ topped the music charts.
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In 1973, after ‘Bonanza’ finally concluded, he joined the ABC crime drama, ‘Griff’, which was about a police officer, Wade “Griff” Griffin, who retires to become a private detective. However, the series failed to garner sufficient ratings, and was cancelled after 13 episodes.
Lorne hosted the documentary series ‘Last of the Wild’ in 1974-75. In 1977, he was cast as the first master of Kunta Kinte, John Reynolds, in the miniseries ‘Roots’.
In the 1970s, he was the spokesman for Alpo Beef Chunks dog food commercials. He was also well known for his role as Commander Adama in the science fiction TV series ‘Battlestar Galactica’, which ran from 1978 to 1979. He played another father character in the 1981 series ‘Code Red’ in which he was a fire department chief who commanded his children as subordinates. He was also featured in an episode of ‘Highway to Heaven’, and in a two-part episode of ‘Vega$’.
In the 1980s, he devoted himself to the cause of wildlife and environmental issues, and hosted and narrated nature series like ‘Lorne Greene's New Wilderness’, a show that promoted environmental issues.
Awards & Achievements
Lorne Greene was honored as an Officer of the Order of Canada on October 28, 1969 for his services to the performing arts and to the community.
In 1971, Queen’s University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
In February 1985, he became the Krewe of Bacchus King of Mardi Gras.
In 1987, he was honoured with the Earle Grey Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Canadian Gemini Awards.
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He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1559 N. Vine Street.
In May 2006, Canada Post honored him by featuring him on a 51-cent postage stamp. He was one of the first four entertainers to be honored by the postal department.
In 2015, he was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.
Lorne Greene married Rita Hands of Toronto in 1938. The couple divorced in 1960. Their twins—Charles Greene and Belinda Susan Greene (now called Linda Greene Bennett)—were born in 1945.
Lorne married Nancy Deale in 1961, and was married to her till his death. They had a daughter named Gillian Dania Greene.
In 1960, Lorne built The Ponderosa II House in Mesa, Arizona, now listed in the Mesa Historic Property Register. It is a replica of the ‘Bonanza’ set house.
Lorne died on September 11, 1987, from complications arising from pneumonia, following an ulcer surgery, in Santa Monica, California.
His daughter, Linda Greene Bennett, wrote his biography, ‘My Father’s Voice: The Biography of Lorne Greene’, in 2004.