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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pernell Roberts: An appreciation

Pernell Roberts died this past weekend. A relatively minor celebrity death after the year we just had, but it hit me especially hard. I guess that's what happens when your namesake dies.

Yes, I was named after Adam Cartwright, the character Roberts played on the still-popular 60s TV Western "Bonanza." My mother, it is safe to say, was and is the world's biggest "Bonanza" fan. Adam was her favorite character, and Pernell Roberts her earliest celebrity crush.

I grew up watching "Bonanza" reruns with her, and it was easy to see why she favored Adam over the show's more obvious teen idol, Michael "Little Joe" Landon. Adam was the oldest of the three Cartwright boys, meaning he was the responsible, mature one. He was well-read, musically inclined; a sensitive artsy type, basically. Little Joe, by comparison, was just a punk. (My favorite character, of course, was Hoss, because he was the funny fat guy. No kid's gonna like Adam more than Hoss, namesake be damned.)

As I grew up, I began to appreciate how talented Roberts really was. Besides being a good-looking dude (I wish he could have been my jawline-sake, too -- holy crap), Roberts was a pretty fine actor, to boot. (Get it? Boot? Western.) One of my all-time favorite "Bonanza" episodes featured Roberts and Lee Freaking Marvin in an epic battle of wills and scene-chewing. SPOILER ALERT: This clip is from the end of the episode, but it's a good example of Roberts' formiddable chops.

Roberts famously left "Bonanza" after six seasons, at the peak of its popularity. He got some bit roles here and there on shows like "Mission: Impossible," and eventually headlined another series, "Trapper John M.D.," in the 70s. But he never quite acheived the level of success both I, and especially my mom, thought he deserved.

Here then, in tribute, is another clip from "Bonanza": Adam and guest-star Hoyt Axton singing a fittingly appropriate song called "Endless Road."

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Very well written, brother. That is still one of the best moments in that series. The pure emotion he unleashes and ranges through for the end of the episode is a remarkable thing to have accomplished.

By Blogger CarrieLynn, At January 27, 2010 at 2:51 PM  

And that singing - listen to how he harmonizes. This is a man well deserving of a wonderful career, long past Bonanza.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 27, 2010 at 2:55 PM  

Rest in peace, Pernell.
Big factual inaccuracy - Pernell did not leave Bonanza at the peak of its popularity, as viewer ratings actually went up after he left!!!

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 27, 2010 at 3:28 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 27, 2010 at 3:33 PM  

Nice article and some great video clips. Thanks. Rest in peace PR.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 27, 2010 at 5:08 PM  

Thank you Adam ! I have your mothers'
Bonanza books and just love them --
I have a very special place in my heart for Bonanza and especially "Adam" -- great article ... thanks again

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 27, 2010 at 6:07 PM  

My brother was named for Adam Cartwright too. (He was almost named Pernell, but my father put his foot down.)

Pernell Roberts was a truly wonderful actor but was really just too far ahead of his time for his own good. He couldn't cope with Bonanza because he saw it as racist and sexist and silly; no one else was seeing that in the show in the early 60's. If he'd been more diplomatic about things and tried to work with the producers, he probably could have gradually changed things. (The Big Valley, a far more progressive and adult TV western debuted just after he left Bonanza.) But he burned bridges and was essentially blacklisted from headlining in anything until Trapper John MD. By then, he was moving past his prime.

He never regretted leaving the show, but he was sorry about the manner in which he handled the whole thing. Adam was a great character and Bonanza could have been a platform for Roberts to help it evolve into something far greater than it was.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 28, 2010 at 10:23 PM  

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