"Bonanza," the first color TV show, aired Sept. 12, 1959, and it ran 14 seasons to Jan. 16, 1973. Cheryl Landon, a Coronado resident, is the daughter of Michael Landon, who played Little Joe. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Landon.

“Bonanza,” the first color TV show, first aired on Sept. 12, 1959, and it ran 14 seasons to Jan. 16, 1973.

It was the second longest Western in broadcast history recounting the fictional story of the Cartwrights, a family of ranchers living on the bountiful Ponderosa Ranch in the mid- 1800s, near Virginia City, Nevada.

The Cartwrights were an all-male family headed by Ben, (Lorne Greene), thrice a widower with a son from each marriage.  They were Adam, (Pernell Roberts) serious and intellectual; Hoss, (Dan Blocker) a giant-sized man with a mighty blow and big heart; and  Little Joe (Michael Landon), a feisty, handsome  romantic and definitely a lady’s man.

My father was Little Joe.  

Growing up on sets of “Bonanza”

As a little girl, I was fortunate to grow up on the sets of “Bonanza,” all 10 of them, and go out on location to Lake Tahoe, home of the outdoor scenes.

What set “Bonanza” apart from other Westerns was how the Cartwrights employed diplomacy and dialogue more than solely shoot-outs and show-downs.

Not to say they didn’t have their fair share of fights. But uniquely, each episode featured a major celebrity and also left us with a message to ponder. 

Cheryl Landon (above) made a deathbed promise to actor Michael Landon, her father. Staff photo by Willem Quigley.

 Bonanza had many funny moments, especially behind the scenes such as the introduction to the show featuring the Cartwrights galloping in unison towards a camera and stopping at the edge of a lake.

The camera zooms in introducing each Cartwright showing off a warm, dazzling cowboy’s smile greeting the audience while on their horses.  

Now the truth is none of those actors  knew how to ride a horse, and they had to learn to ride fast.  

Scene behind the scene

The actual scene behind the scene is all of the Cartwrights were holding on for dear life trying to look masterful in handling their horses.  

I remember all of the Cartwrights forcefully pulling the reins and their horses  immediately halted sending each one flying into the lake and landing underwater.

Suddenly an arm reaches up and we all saw a hand feeling around for something floating.

It was Lorne Greene’s toupée!

For Greene, the patriarch of the family,  the toupée was his source of power, and he lost it when he was submerged into deep waters.

Being over our head

He literally was in over his head.

 I wonder how many of us have been in situations like this where we are over our heads?

So deep are these situations that many of us experience hopelessness that takes us to a  dark places in our minds.  Some, sadly, may have suicidal thoughts. 

Instead of getting help most often the pain becomes so unbearable we may be tempted to jump into a dark abyss to end the pain.

In Coronado, we see that abyss all too often with bridge jumpers.

Suicide bridge

The Coronado Bridge is frequently used as a suicide bridge, and at least 407 suicide deaths by bridge jumpers have occurred on the Coronado Bridge, which trails only the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as the most often used for suicides in the United States.

 Why jump?  

There are all types of mental disorders causing suicide.

Also social, economic, health, lifestyles and relationships including divorce and death contribute to suicide.

Many factors all lead to self talk. 

The self talk we entertain is the critical point leading to death or life.

Knowing the darkness

I know this darkness.  

At 20, one year after a  car crash that left me as a sole survivor, I endured chronic pain, surgeries, experimental procedures, trial and addictive medications. 

I only saw darkness and made a decision to end it. But instead of jumping, I ran into a plate glass window.

I was sent for 2 years to a residential, therapeutic ranch in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Both as student and then teacher.  Their motto: “The truth shall set you free.”  

Truth began my freedom out of darkness into light.

Challenges became opportunities. Meaning gave way to purpose. Most of all I found God in the forest mountains. And a deeper love.

Family, faith and purpose

Since then I’ve endured other surgeries and pain, but I’m blessed with a beautiful son who is happily married to the best daughter in law. And today, I have grandsons, other family,  Coronado Community Church, friends, and a connection with God to make these golden  years filled with purpose. 

There’s hope for those feeling lost, hopeless and contemplating suicide. 

It’s a link or a call away. 

Here are a few resources to help: San Diego 24/7 crisis line 888-724-7240 

National Suicide Prevention Life Line:  1 800 273-TALK (8255)

Cheryl Landon is a Coronado resident and is a daughter of actor Michael Landon.

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Cheryl Landon is a Coronado resident and is the daughter of actor Michael Landon.