If you’re a fan of Bonanza, you’ll remember Adam Cartwright – the eldest of the Cartwright Brothers played by actor Pernell Roberts. Pernell Roberts was a serious actor who had a prolific career in both film and television. Yet, for many fans – it’s his work on Bonanza, that we’ll always remember him by.
So why did Pernell Roberts leave Bonanza? For many fans, he was one of the best performers on the show. As such, many fans were disappointed when he left the show and Adam Cartwright was never seen again.
The truth is, that though we may love Adam Cartwright, Pernell Roberts wasn’t too keen on the character.
Let’s look at how Pernell Roberts felt about Adam Cartwright and Bonanza. We’ll also look into his incredible career before and after the show…
Bonanza was one of America’s greatest sitcom Westerns. It followed the Cartwright Brothers and their father as they tried to protect their land, the Ponderosa, from scheming villains throughout Virginia City.
Adam Cartwright was the perfect brave Cowboy who was able to save the day. Pernell Roberts managed to embody the stoicism that Adam Cartwright was meant to exemplify. Looking back at Bonanza, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor in the role of Adam Cartwright.
But the fact is, Pernell Roberts didn’t enjoy playing Adam Cartwright at all! He also didn’t care too much for the show. In fact, some people even believe that he hated playing the character altogether!
Pernell Roberts was born in Georgia in 1928. After finishing high school, he served in the United States Marine Corps. He then went on to study Classical Theater in college.
Pernell began his acting career working in Off-Broadway plays. He became successful acting in Shakespeare plays. His roles included work in The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and Twelfth Night.
His TV and film career began in the late 1950s, after working in theatre for over a decade…
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Pernell Roberts was able to find a variety of roles in many popular films and television shows. However, he eventually found himself getting regular roles in Westerns – a genre he seemed best suited for.
It was his work in Westerns that landed him the role of Adam Cartwright in Bonanza. The oldest of the Cartwright Brothers, he was more mature and soft-spoken compared to the boisterousness and jovial attitude of Hoss and Little Joe.
For many Bonanza fans, Adam was the best character on the show and Pernell Roberts became a household name from his work on the show. He was often the main character for many of the show’s earliest storylines. When Pernell Roberts left after the 6th season, it came as a shocker to many fans.
His career continued with acting occasionally in films and mostly on television. One of his biggest roles was in Trapper John MD.
But why did he leave Bonanza? How did he truly feel about the character of Adam Cartwright?
His background was in Classical Theater and as such, he couldn’t take his work on Bonanza seriously. He not only didn’t enjoy the character he played, but he didn’t enjoy the show at all.
Pernell apparently said, “I feel I am an aristocrat in my field of endeavor…My being part of Bonanza was like Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk.”
He wasn’t afraid to express his displeasure of working on the show to reporters and fans alike. When he left the show, he turned down a generous paycheck. But he felt that it was great for his emotional wellbeing to leave the show – and it seemed as if he never regretted his decision.
Pernell Roberts often found the schedule of working on Bonanza to be quite distressing. Each season had several episodes, often up to 34, and this was very time-consuming and exhausting. It also took its toll on Roberts who would have missed out on other acting opportunities due to his work on Bonanza.
His reluctance to work on the show didn’t always rub well with his co-stars. Co-star Michael Landon felt that Roberts liked to complain about the show but didn’t try to improve it. Lorne Greene, who played the father Ben Cartwright, tried to encourage Pernell Roberts to remain on the show.
He told Pernell Roberts that he could earn enough money to build a theater and then hire top playwrights to write plays for him! But Pernell Roberts didn’t care about the money. He was so unhappy with his work on Bonanza that he wanted to leave the show as fast as possible.
He later stated, “Okay, so I threw away a million bucks… So what? All I cared about was my emotional well being. That job was very unpleasant, and I never regretted leaving.”
He felt that many of the storylines were weak and that the characters were often unrealistic. He thought it was ridiculous that Adam Cartwright, who was in his thirties, had to seek approval from his father to take any major decision.
Pernell Roberts was also an activist who fought for racial justice and had participated in the marches from Selma to Montgomery. He felt that Bonanza didn’t have a diverse cast and often complained about the lack of good roles for minorities in the show.
Pernell was happy to eventually leave the show and returned to his roots on the stage. He acted in plays such as The Music Man, Camelot, Kiss Me Kate, and The King and I.
He then would play bit parts and recurring roles on many popular TV shows such as The Virginian, Alias Smith and Jones, Hawaii Five-O, Mission Impossible, The Love Boat, and Around The World in 80 Days.
His best-known work following Bonanza was arguably in Trapper John MD. His final work was in the show Diagnosis Murder.
Regardless of the risk he took with quitting Bonanza at the height of his career – he managed to keep working in show business. While many audiences could only see him as Adam Cartwright, there were many others who saw him as a versatile actor who could embody any role.
But wait, how did others perceive his leaving Bonanza? Michael Landon, who played Little Joe, felt that Pernell didn’t always give his best work on the show. The character of Adam Cartwright was written out of the show – but his fate was left uncertain, just in case Pernell Roberts decided to return to the show. Of course, that never came to fruition.
As a trained actor, Pernell Roberts felt it was challenging to work with many actors who didn’t have the same training as he did. He also wanted changes to be made to the show but the producers were reluctant to make changes to an already-working formula.
Even though he left the show and wasn’t happy with his work on the show, this didn’t seem to deter any fans. Pernell Roberts was one of the most popular actors on the show and received many letters from adoring fans.
Pernell Roberts, of course, wasn’t alone in his sentiments about his work. Throughout the history of film and television, there have been many actors who haven’t been pleased with particular roles or projects.
Nevertheless, they’ve still managed to win us over even if they weren’t satisfied with their work. Even if some co-stars believe that Pernell Roberts didn’t give his best on Bonanza, we still love watching reruns of the show and watching Adam Cartwright do his thing. While the show continued without Adam Cartwright, many fans didn’t enjoy it as much. The same happened after Hoss left the show following Dan Blocker’s untimely death.
One thing we can learn from Pernell Roberts is to never give up and to never settle for less. He wasn’t happy with his work on Bonanza, and though he had his detractors, he didn’t hesitate to leave the show when he felt it was no longer serving him.
He also didn’t let Adam Cartwright to overshadow him. Many actors fear getting typecast or getting overshadowed by one role. He always set to prove that he was a versatile actor who could play any role in film, television, or on stage. While some of us will always remember him as Adam Cartwright. All of us will remember him as a great actor, even when he wasn’t always giving his best! Now, how many actors can you say that about?
As new fans discover Bonanza, they’ll surely love to see the work that Pernell Roberts did with Adam Cartwright. While he wasn’t pleased with the show, it remains a classic and one that will continue to be popular for generations to come. We expect newer generations to discover Pernell Roberts through Bonanza. And then move on to see his other works after he left the show. We also expect that he’ll always be an inspiration for newer generations of actors.
He died at age 81 in 2010. We’ll always remember him as one of American television’s best actors…
Are you a fan of Pernell Roberts?
Do you think that he’ll always be remembered as Adam Cartwright? Or will he be remembered as a versatile actor who could take on many roles?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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