Lyon Chaim Green O.C., LL.D. (February 12, 1915 – September 11, 1987) was a Canadian actor, best known in the United States for his roles on two American television programs: the long-running western Bonanza and the shorter-lived cult classic science fiction program Battlestar Galactica.
He gave up on a career in chemical engineering and, upon graduation, found a job as a radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). He was assigned as the principal newsreader on the CBC National News. The CBC gave him the nickname "The Voice of Canada"; however, his role in delivering distressing war news in sonorous tones following Canada's entry into World War II in 1939 caused many listeners to call him "The Voice of Doom". During his radio days, Greene invented a stopwatch that ran backwards. Its purpose was to help radio announcers gauge how much time they had available while speaking. He also narrated documentary films, such as the National Film Board of Canada's Fighting Norway (1943). In 1957 Greene played the role of the prosecutor in the socially controversial movie Peyton Place.
The first of his American television roles was as family patriarch Ben Cartwright on the long-running western series Bonanza (1959–1973), making Greene a household name. He garnered the role after having turned in a highly regarded performance in a production of Nineteen Eighty-Four for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). After the cancellation of Bonanza, he was host for the syndicated nature documentary series Last of the Wild from 1974 to 1975. In the 1977 miniseries Roots, he played the first master of Kunta Kinte, John Reynolds. Greene was also popular as the spokesman for Alpo Beef Chunks dog food commercials through-out the 1970s.
Greene's next best-known role was Commander Adama, another patriarchal figure, in the science fiction feature film and television series Battlestar Galactica (1978–1979) and Galactica 1980 (1980). Greene's typecasting as a wise father character continued with the short lived 1981 series, Code Red as a Fire Department Fire Chief whose command includes his children as subordinates. Greene also made an appearance with Michael Landon on an episode of Highway To Heaven.
In the 1960s, Greene capitalized on his Pa Cartwright image by recording several albums of country-western/folk songs, which Greene performed in a mixture of spoken word and singing. In 1964, Greene had a #1 single on the music charts with his ballad, "Ringo." He was also known as the host and narrator of the nature series, Lorne Greene's New Wilderness. He also appeared in the HBO mockumentary The Canadian Conspiracy, about the supposed subversion of the United States by Canadian-born media personalities. For nearly a decade, Greene co-hosted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. He is also fondly remembered as the founder of Toronto's Academy of Radio Arts (originally called the Lorne Greene School of Broadcasting).
Greene died of complications from prostate cancer on September 11, 1987 in Santa Monica, California at the age of 72. He was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Culver City, California. Only weeks before his death, he had been signed to appear in a revival of Bonanza.
His second wife was Nancy Deale (1961–1987, Greene's death), with whom he had one child, Gillian Dania Greene, born January 6, 1968 in Los Angeles, California. In 1993, Gillian married actor/director/producer Sam Raimi; they have five children.
Forlorn Green , an album by trumpeter Greg Kelley and tape loop manipulator Jason Lescalleet, is an indirect tribute to the actor: the album's title is a pun ("For Lorne Green"), the four pieces are each named after a movie featuring Greene, and the album is dedicated "most of all" to "Ben Cartwright". A more subtle acknowledgement was given in the film Donnie Darko, wherein a Parent Teacher Association meeting discusses a proposal to ban celebrated author Graham Greene's (no relation to Lorne Greene) "The Destructors". When a supporter of the ban is asked "Do you even know who Graham Greene is?" she scoffs, "I think we've all seen Bonanza."