Pernell Roberts 1928-2010

I know it’s a little late to bring it up, but Pernell Roberts died last month. He was a respected stage actor, but he was best known for playing the eldest son, Adam Cartwright, on Bonanza, a Western TV show that was hugely popular during the 1960’s. The show told the story of Ben Cartwright, who owns a huge ranch, the Ponderosa, next to Lake Tahoe. Cartwright has three sons by three different wives. The latter all met with untimely deaths. (This sounds suspicious to me. In the days of the Wild West, there weren’t any police around to ask questions.) I watched this show when I was a kid. I don’t remember much about it, except that every character seemed to wear the same clothes every day. I found this vaguely disturbing.

What I find interesting about Roberts is that he quit the show after six seasons. He complained about the bad writing and called the show “junk TV”. This was a gutsy thing to do, considering what an uncertain profession acting is. He also criticized NBC for not hiring minority actors. He took part in Civil Rights marches in 1965.

In the 1980’s, he did a TV medical drama series called Trapper John, M.D.. (The title character is supposedly the same Trapper John character in MASH.) I never saw this show, but I can’t imagine it could have been very good, considering that the writers were apparently unaware that the name, “Trapper John” is actually an off-color joke.

I guess there’s a limit to how principled and uncompromising an actor can be. He’s still got to pay his bills after all.

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