The death of Pernell Roberts yesterday is something akin to when the last Beatle dies – an end of an era.
Anybody over age 40 or so will never forget Bonanza. The long-running TV western brought the Cartwright clan into American living rooms from 1959 to 1973 before going into perpetual rerun status that continues today.
To continue the Beatles analogy, Roberts was kind of like George Harrison. He was the moody, quiet Cartwright.
Everybody loved Little Joe (Michael Landon) and Hoss (Dan Blocker), but Adam (Roberts) was kind of hard to like. Still, he was my favorite character on the show. He dressed in black and seemed mysterious and distant from the rest. That demeanor appealed to me (I was a born rebel).
Roberts left the show at the height of its popularity, something actors rarely did back then. Afterward, I wondered what happened to him. (In the show, his disappearance was summed up succinctly – “He moved away.”)
Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet, and so young viewers such as me couldn’t Google to find out what happened to Roberts. He just disappeared, adding to his mystery.
Nowadays, a couple of quick keystrokes takes web surfers straight to Wikipedia, which describes the reasoning behind Roberts’ abandonment of the show:
“Roberts had long disdained the medium’s commercialization of his craft, and for its mass production, assembly-line mindset. In 1964 he told Look magazine’s John Poppy, ‘I just get on and ask somebody for the lines and say them. They have to turn out 34 a season, one every six days.’ But the B-movie quality of the scripts were what the actor loathed most, ‘the plots, the godawful plots. They take a plot and write it six different ways for six different Sundays. One week its lawyers night, next week it’s ranchers night. You change protagonist, but it’s the same old plot. And the writing-GAD!’ ”
And how’s this for an insult: “My being part of Bonanza was like Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk.”
That quote might have angered my young, tender heart back in the day, when Bonanza was my third favorite show (Rifleman and Lost in Space topped my list).
However, in recent years I’ve taken to watching the occasional Bonanza rerun and I’m amazed at how horrible those old shows really were. Who knew?
Roberts, that’s who.
RIP, Adam Cartwright!