Bonanza (1959–1973)
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The Law and Billy Burgess 

A new school is opened in Virginia City, and one of the students is an angry teen-aged boy named Billy Burgess. After a difficult day at school, Billy angrily wishes that his teacher would ... See full summary »



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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Matilda Curtis
Doc Lyman
Billy Burgess
Charles Maxwell ...
James Chandler ...
Harlan Warde ...
Tom Burgess (as Bill Phipps)
Tani Guthrie ...
Nora Burgess (as Tani Phelps)
Judge Rogers


A new school is opened in Virginia City, and one of the students is an angry teen-aged boy named Billy Burgess. After a difficult day at school, Billy angrily wishes that his teacher would die. Sure enough, the teacher is found murdered and Billy is fingered as the suspect. Ben, who has been working to counsel the teen and get at the root of his anger, knows the lad is innocent comes to his aid - even if Billy insists that he killed his teacher. Written by Brian Rathjen <>

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Release Date:

15 February 1970 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Joaquin Murrieta (c. 1829 - c. July 25, 1853), also called the Mexican Robin Hood or the Robin Hood of El Dorado, was a famous figure in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. Depending on the point of view, he was considered as either an infamous bandit or a Mexican patriot. See more »


When Candy is fighting with Billings you can see his toupee coming off. See more »

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User Reviews

David Cassidy plays a lad sentenced to swing by his neck just months before teens will swoon to get to that same neck
22 January 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I give this eight points for many reasons. Bonanza had a history of outstanding guest stars, and it is not that David Cassidy is Spencer Tracy, but he had a huge impact on pop culture for about three years as part of "The Partridge Family", which would premiere in September 1970. Before the year ended this fictitious group would have their first number one song, still remembered and somewhat emblematic of the early post Beatles 70s - "I Think I Love You".

Despite the noncommittal title of his first hit song, David Cassidy is completely convincing and committed to his role as Billy Burgess, a kid from an impoverished home where his father beats him, and so he has taken to acting out. I believe he is playing a 16 year old, and at the time adulthood was marked at age 21, even though there were grandmothers just a few years older than that in the 19th century. Virginia City has opened a school, and an ex judge - a bit of an alcoholic but still the most learned guy around -is teacher of the school and committed to his new role. He disciplines Billy for his wild ways, and Billy threatens to kill him. Next thing you know, Billy has disappeared and the teacher is found murdered. Billy is suspect number one, and not even just a suspect for long, because he admits to the killing and also to several other unsolved murders soon after capture.

Now, a crusader for children's rights and separate juvenile justice is in town, played by the legendary Mercedes McCambridge, and the day before the trial Ben learns that she has convinced the judge to hold a closed hearing where Billy will plead guilty and instead of being sentenced to hang - the adult penalty - he will be sentenced to live with the warden of the prison until his 21st birthday when he will be released, but he will still be a convicted murderer which looks so nice on a resume.

Now Ben threatens to call the governor if this sham trial goes through, not because he thinks Billy is guilty or likes the idea of a teen hanging, but because he thinks Billy is saying he did the crime so he will be considered a big man and be remembered. Billy even SAYS he hopes people remember what a desperate character he is after he is gone. It seems so romantic to this teen. He just keeps forgetting that for the romantic ballad of Billy Burgess to be written, first he has to strangle to death.

So Ben begins the search for the real killer. Will he succeed in time to save David Cassidy's vocal chords? Watch and find out.

This episode is memorable for so many reasons - David Cassidy, just starting out and really seeming to get acting. It's a shame being a teen heartthrob probably prevented that from coming to full fruition. Then there is Mercedes McCambridge towards the end of her career. Ironically her voice is the reason for the end of her acting career - alcoholism ruins it and chronic bronchitis didn't help either - to the point where she is the convincing voice of the devil three years later in "The Exorcist".

Then there is the interesting argument that was actually the rule of 1970 America at the time - that children should never have to submit to adult justice. Now this was before gangs became so prevalent and nobody could foresee the future of teenage hardened killers that would never be anything else, but today the viewpoint of all children being redeemable in spite of their actions seems almost quaint. The pendulum has been swinging back the other direction over the last ten years, we'll see what comes of it.

Finally there is the one of the memorable but humorous lines that I remember from this episode 46 years ago - sweet endearing Dan Blocker as Hoss has taken over at the school as teacher after the original teacher is killed. As he herds the kids into the schoolroom, he says "Come on kids, let me learn you some grammar".

Highly recommended for so many reasons.

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