Mitch Vogel spills the beans on joining beloved television series ‘Bonanza’
Former child actor Mitch Vogel may not be a household name in the twenty-tens, yet his exemplary work during the final three seasons of western Bonanza, by far the most popular television series of the 1960s and an unheralded impetus for NBC Universal’s domineering corporate conglomeration, earns deserved mention in a brief interview unveiled today.
Introduced to movie aficionados in Yours, Mine and Ours, a 1968 box office champion starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, Vogel garnered the attention of Steve McQueen the following year when the King of Cool decided to confound critics and fans alike by tackling The Reivers, William Faulkner’s lighthearted depiction of the early 20th century American South.
As the red-headed actor prepared to depart for an appearance at the Bonanza Round Up 2 fan festival in Carson City, Nevada, he clarified via telephone how he joined the Bonanza cast as orphaned rainmaker Jamie Hunter and ultimately became the adopted son of Ponderosa patriarch Ben Cartwright.
“I actually did a guest star part on Bonanza when I was 12 years old — two seasons before I officially joined the cast,” confirms Vogel. “The episode was called ‘The Real People of Muddy Creek’ [broadcast on October 6, 1968, during season 10].
“I was a young, working child actor who had only appeared onscreen up to that point in Yours, Mine and Ours [the popular family comedy was the top-grossing film of 1968 for United Artists. Vogel was Tommy, one of Lucille Ball’s eight children. Coincidentally, Tim Matheson, who joined Bonanza during its ill-fated final season as parolee turned ranch hand Griff King, portrayed the eldest of Henry Fonda’s 10 children] and an episode of the short-lived 1967 Western Dundee and the Culhane [Academy Award winner John Mills portrayed a British lawyer who teams up with a younger Irish-American lawyer — Sean Garrison — to practice law in the Wild West].
“I didn’t even have to audition for ‘The Real People of Muddy Creek.’ They just asked me to do it. Even though it was a small part, I had a great time being there. I remember being on the set for about two days.
“The thing that impressed me so much was that Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, and Dan Blocker were all so very nice to me. They brought me pictures — which I didn’t ask for — that they signed to me. They made me feel so special.
“Fast-forward a bit, and creator-executive producer David Dortort had apparently seen me in The Reivers with Steve McQueen [released on Christmas Day 1969]. I got a call from David saying he would like to use me in one of his shows. At that time he didn’t know if it was gonna be Bonanza or The High Chaparral [Mark Slade, who played heartthrob Blue Boy Cannon, decided to exit Chaparral at the conclusion of its third season].
“David decided to cast Rudy Ramos as a half-Pawnee, half-white youth named Wind, so he wrote the part of Jamie Hunter for Bonanza. The first appearance of Jamie was in ‘A Matter of Faith’ — the rainmaker episode [broadcast on September 20, 1970; the second episode from season 12].
“David actually didn’t tell me that I was going to be a series regular. He kinda said, ‘You can come and stay with us.’ But it wasn’t a commitment at that point for a series. I guess David wanted to see how the character would resonate with people. Apparently it resonated well. He officially asked me to join the cast not long after. It was quite exciting to be asked to do something like that without having to audition or anything [laughs].”
Now that CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment is releasing complete seasons of Bonanza on DVD after decades of inactivity, would Vogel participate in a commentary track if asked? “I would love to do that,” admitted the soft-spoken gentleman. “However, since the eighth season is the most recent release, it’s gonna be awhile before they get to me” [laughs]. As to what he would like to communicate to fans of the family-themed program, Vogel paused for a moment and replied, “I’m really grateful that Bonanza has touched people like it has. May God bless them.”
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