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The Birth Of Bonanza:

Joan Markowitz

     Joan Sherman was born in Philadelphia on January 29, 1933. She was adopted by Edward and Lillyn Sherman. They moved to Beverly Hills sometime later. Her father discovered Abbott and Costello, put them together as an act and was their manager. He had a successful management agency and later sold it to the William Morris Agency. Joan loved to sing and act in the early years. She enlisted in the Women's Army Corps during the Korean conflict in the 1950's. Joan was awarded the Commendation Medal for meritorious service at the time of this international conflict.

     In 1954, Joan was hired by NBC in Burbank. She served as secretary to Fenton Coe. He was one of the company's unit production managers in live television. In March of 1959, producer David Dortort was writing his pilot script for his new TV-Western in Joan's office. It was entitled "Bonanza". He was currently working on his first series, "The Restless Gun" for NBC. The airwaves were ruled by thirty-nine Westerns and numerous sitcoms.

     The CEO of NBC was Tom Sarnoff. He was hoping for a new color television series that would promote RCA's new color television sets. They were the parent company who owned NBC at the time. He wanted a 60-minute series that could be filmed and broadcast in living color. "Bonanza" was the perfect catalyst for Sarnoff's wishes. The cast leads consisting of Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon were hired for the series.

     Fenton Coe was promoted to Director of Film Production in 1959. When NBC went to filmed television that year, Coe was promoted to this high-ranking position at the network. He took other live unit production managers to the film unit, such as A. J. Durkas, John Banse and Kent McCray. He also took his loyal secretary Joan Sherman with him during the transition in his network career.

     The pilot script was finished, but had one problem; the name of the ranch to be used in the new series. Dortort had researched Nevada history and suggested the name Panamint, after several mines in the state. He spent much of his time in Joan's office writing the script. One day, David, Joan and the cast were reading through the script. She noted that Ben Cartwright loves the towering Ponderosa pine trees on his land. She suggested to David this be the name of the ranch. He thought it was appropriate and Dan Blocker applauded her and gave Joan the nickname, "Madam of the Ponderosa".

     The script was handed to Coe, who gave the series the green light to start filming the pilot in April. Joan served as script girl on location at Chavez Ravine and Janss Conejo Ranch where the exterior shots were filmed at that month. Joan was a friend to the cast members since they got together on the first day in her office at NBC. She'd visit the soundstages at Paramount infrequently, but would always attend some of the company's parties, including the Christmas parties held every year.

     Her primary job at NBC kept her busy on a weekly basis. Joan was in charge of breaking down scripts for all of NBC's television series that included critical things such as sets, props, etc., to make sure the series stayed within budget. She was also responsible for making sure "Bonanza" didn't fall into the same formulas as NBC's other filmed television series they were producing at the time. She also had the task of making certain the music was in accordance with ASCAP and BMI regulations for no copyright infringement on NBC's behalf.

     In 1962, she traveled to the High Desert and fell in love with the landscape of Apple Valley. She spoke to Lorne Greene about it and suggested he buy some land to build his own "Ponderosa" in the region. Apple Valley had a past history of being anti-Semetic. At the time, it wasn't, but Lorne didn't like that it was in the valley's history. He decided not to buy property there.

     Joan met Nathan Markowitz in 1964. They fell in love and decided they would marry. In December of that year, Joan gave notice to NBC, attended the annual Christmas party and was off to start a new life with her new husband. The "Bonanza" cast and crew gave her a fond farewell. In the late 60's, she and Nathan had two children, Cheryl and Phillip.

     Several years later, Joan and Nathan decided it was time for a divorce and went their separate ways in life. She was now a single parent and decided to move to Apple Valley with the two children in 1976. She loved to ride horses, bowl in the leagues and hang out with friends at the Apple Valley Inn, Gold Strike Lanes, and Moose Lodge. She worked for the High Desert Rehabilitation as administrative agent in the 1980's and retired years later in 1999.

     That year, she got a home computer and hooked up with many "Bonanza" fans on the Internet. She spent the next several years online and became acquainted with the show's many fans, helping as many of them as possible. She would share her wealth of memories and any insights she remembered during her years at NBC and for anything else in question about her life.

     Joan was happy to be invited to the 40th anniversary Bonanza Convention that took place at Lake Tahoe in September of 1999. She finally was given the recognition as the rightful individual who gave the Ponderosa Ranch its name when it all started in 1959. Joan also attended the Bonanza Convention in 2002 and a few mini-conventions that were held in Los Angeles during that time. Fans came to visit Joan at her home and met her when she was in Washington D.C. to visit relatives. Several of them visited with Joan and kindly took her out to lunch.

     Joan was a longtime smoker and was diagnosed with emphysema at the age of 51. She quit smoking, but it was too late to stop the progression of the disease. She couldn't breath well while walking, so she used a scooter to make the long distances. Joan was still able to to do everything and enjoy her life despite having the disease. Phil and Cheryl would see her frequently and if she needed any assistance, they would help her out. Joan shared a good relationship with her brother and sister, Rob and Susan, but they lived far apart and talked sporadically over the years.

     On August 3, 2006, Joan passed away from emphysema at her Apple Valley residence. Joan wasn't alone; she was surrounded with her entire family at home. She was 73. Friends and fans around the world mourned her loss. Her memorial service was held at 10 a.m. on August 12, at Dudley Mortuary in Apple Valley. The graveside service following at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley.

     Joan Markowitz is gone, but not forgotten. She will live on in the hearts and minds of all those she touched so deeply, including your's truly.


Click Here To Learn About Joan Markowitz!

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