What could be more American than John Wayne introducing the man who played Ben Cartwright on “Bonanza” as George Washington? Granted, Lorne Greene was Canadian. But still, star-spangled in more ways than one.
In 1970, the pair of iconic actors starred in “Swing Out, Sweet Land.” The TV movie aired on NBC and told the story of America via an incredibly star-studded cast. Names like Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, William Shatner, Bing Crosby, even Greene’s “Bonanza” co-stars, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon, filled out the talented roster.
In a snippet from the movie, John Wayne, appearing as himself, sets up a skit that sees Lorne Greene playing George Washington on his inauguration day.
“The occasion? The inauguration of our first president. George Washington, having been duly sworn in earlier today, finds relaxation talking to some of the men that helped create the government that is now about to be put to the test of leadership,” John Wayne narrates in the 1970 skit.
Wayne then passes the screen over to Lorne Greene’s George Washington and a few other founding fathers. The men muse over what title should be accorded to Washington’s position. Hugh O’Brian as Thomas Jefferson and William Shatner as John Adams turn in strong performances. The characters are serious and funny in equal parts.
The ‘Bonanza’ Star Plays Hilariously Off of Jack Benny
As Greene’s George Washington adjourns in the skit, he is confronted by a colonial-era Jack Benny. The legendary comic and TV personality has dressed the part but makes no attempt to alter his voice or personality in any way.
Benny’s character asks Washington if it’s true that he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. The “Bonanza” star corrects him, claiming that he threw one across the Rappahannock River instead. Jack Benny perks up at the news and says, “Well, good. Then this dollar belongs to me.” The joke earned a major laugh from the studio audience.
As the skit draws to a close, John Wayne enters once again. He marks the transition between time periods as the movie shifts to the history of the Industrial Revolution.
“…the men who had survived one revolution were putting their ideas of leadership to the test up north,” Wayne narrates. “Down south, in a building something like this, a man named Whitney took out a patent on a machine that was to kick us off on our second revolution.”
You can watch the entire skit in the video linked above.