Creator of Iconic Burning ‘Bonanza’ Map Dies at 98

L-r: Michael Landon, Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker in "Bonanza" (Photo: Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — He was not well-known outside of the TV and movie business, but the burning map Robert Temple Ayres illustrated for the opening title sequence of “Bonanza” is among the best-known images in the history of television.

Ayres, one of the last links to the legend that was “Bonanza,” has died in California. He was 98. His death was announced by his daughter, Sharon Richards. She said he died of heart failure Feb. 25 at his home in Riverside County.

The Los Angeles Times has a terrific obit of Ayres here. The obit says Ayres made a final trek to see his “Bonanza” artwork at Los Angeles’ Autry National Center of the American West just days before he died.

He created the painting at Paramount Studios in 1959. The Ponderosa map, with the title “Bonanza” placed across it, opened each episode of the show, which was not TV’s longest-running Western series (that title belongs to “Gunsmoke”) but it was probably its most beloved.

As the famed “Bonanza” theme music played, the center of the map burst into flames to reveal the Cartwright clan, played by Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts.

Ayres began his studio career on “Ben-Hur” and worked as a set illustrator on hundreds of films, including “Blue Hawaii” and “The Black Hole.”

You can see Ayres’ legendary Ponderosa map at the beginning of any number of “Bonanza” episodes. And it just so happens, we have a lot of them; seriously, we have so many (right here) that you could spend all weekend watching “Bonanza” if you felt like it.

Why not start with this one?
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