This is what life was like for actor Pernell Roberts after playing ”Adam Cartwright” in ”Bonanza”

The actor wasn't fond of playing Adam, the role he's best known for.


Thinking of all those shows from the 60’s and the 70’s, it’s safe to say they were very different from what we are offered on the TV program nowadays. Unlike these modern films, most of what was filmed in the past was promoting true life values and family life. The series Bonanza, which ran from 1959 until 1973 was one of them.

It told the story of a father, Ben Cartwright, and his sons Joe, Adam and Hoss and depicted their life on the ranch along with all the difficulties they were forced to overcome.

Bonanza was a much-loved show and the acting crew was adored by large audiences. One of the actors there was famous Pernell Roberts.

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Roberts was born in Waycross, Georgia in 1928. His father was a salesman at Dr. Pepper and Roberts showed great interest in music and acting from very early age. In 1946, he became part of the Marine Corps Band where he played tuba, and headed to Broadway once his service was over. From what he had to offer on stage, it wasn’t surprising he managed to make a name for himself in a short amount of time.

In 1958, Roberts signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and had his first debut in film in a “Desire Under the Elms”, starring Sophia Loren and Burl Ives.

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After that, he got the role of Adam in Bonanza, and the rest is history. Although he wasn’t fond of portraying that role, it stuck with him until the rest of his life and many know him from that series.

It was around 1965 when he left the show and left fans wondering where he was and what he was up to. According to his family, Roberts didn’t like the show’s concept because there was not much of a change in it.

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Speaking to New York Times, the actor himself said, ”I had six seasons of playing the eldest son on that show. Six seasons of feeling like a damned idiot, going around — me, like a middle-aged teenager, saying, ‘Yes, Pa,’ ‘No, Pa’ on cue. It was downright disgusting — such dialogue for a grown man. I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously as an actor, and that’s like death to one’s talent…Stuck as Adam Cartwright, I was only able to use about one-tenth of my ability.”

In 1965, he told Popular Culture, ”I feel I’m an aristocrat in my field of endeavor. My being part of Bonanza was like Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk.” He believed the series limited his character and didn’t give him the chance to show all he could, so he didn’t see himself as part of it any longer.

What Roberts also disliked about Bonanza was there was the lack of black actors playing in the series. He was a huge supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the historic Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. 

Johnny Gregory wrote of Roberts in the book Pernell Roberts Stories. “With fans on set of Bonanza, Pernell couldn’t be nicer. One day, at lunch two friends he’d invited to join his table were actually a pair of hitchhikers in their late teens that he’d met just a few hours before. They were on their way north, hoping to work in a lumber camp for the summer. At lunch, Pernell willingly signed autographs at the boy’s request, and patiently and politely answered the fan-type questions they asked him. There was certainly no aloofness whatsoever in his manner, and when the boys had to continue on their way after lunch, he heartily wished them good luck in the search for jobs.”

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From 1979 until 1986, Roberts played in the CBS drama series Trapper John, M.D. after which he left Hollywood.

Roberts was married four times and only had one child, son Chris, with his first wife Vera Mowry who a professor at Washington State University. Unfortunately, Chris lost his life in 1989 after being involved in a motorcycle accident.

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The actor who captured the hearts of millions Americans and who was one of the most charming faces and characters on TV was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007 and passed away three years later, in 2010.