Here's why Guy Williams joined the Cartwright family on Bonanza and quickly disappeared

The Westerns tried to switch a son for a nephew at its peak of popularity.

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You hear the term "prestige television" thrown around a lot these days. In many ways, the small screen has surpassed the cinema in terms of critical acclaim. Half a century ago, this was certainly not the case. Television was seen as inferior to the high art of film. This was not just an opinion held by audiences and critics — many of the people working in the medium felt the same way, too.

This is why you often come across cases like Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch. Reed was a graduate of the drama program at Northwestern University. He studied at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He performed Shakespeare in New York City. So it's easy to understand why Reed deemed himself a "serious actor" and felt that some of his Mike Brady material was beneath him. After butting heads with creator Sherwood Schwartz, he even famously refused to appear in the series finale, "The Hair-Brained Scheme."

Pernell Roberts was another thespian who honed his skills on the stage. In fact, like Reed, Roberts performed with a troupe called the Shakespearewrights. Classical theater was his forte. Thus, he was perhaps the grumpiest one on the set of Bonanza.

As a stage actor, Roberts was used to hopping from production to production, doing a little Eugene O'Neill here, a little Macbeth there. The notion of playing Adam Cartwright for 200-plus episodes made him antsy. 

Unhappy with his job, Roberts looked to exit the Ponderosa. His opportunity came in season five with a love interest. Enter Kathie Browne as Laura Drayton. Adam and Laura met in "The Waiting Game" and their romance blossomed over the course of four episodes throughout that season.

Meanwhile, the producers of Bonanza were plotting out Adam's replacement. Enter Guy Williams as Will Cartwright. It would have perhaps been too out-of-the-blue to suddenly introduce another Cartwright son to the clan. Well, to be honest, this was 1960s TV and stranger things happened. In fact, Bonanza did indeed introduce a wayward Cartwright son the prior season in "The First Born," when Little Joe's long-lost elder brother Clay (Barry Coe) blew into town.

So, anyway, cousin Will Cartwright was written as Ben's nephew. That seemed more believable for a permanent cast addition. The producers snagged a dashing hero to play the newcomer. Guy Williams was widely known and beloved as Walt Disney's Zorro. This was all happening as Bonanza sat atop the ratings as television's most-watched show.

The transition from Adam to Will was meant to happen in "Triangle." The writers crafted an exit for Adam, leaving the possibility that he could simply ride off with his new lover. But in the end, the episode that was constructed to show the departure of Adam turned out to be the goodbye for Will. After five mere episodes, Williams vanished. He was never seen again nor mentioned.

Likewise, "Triangle" would be the last time we saw Laura Drayton, as well. In many regards, "Triangle" is the episode upon which the entire future of Bonanza swung. It would have had an impact beyond the Ponderosa, too, because if Williams had stayed on Bonanza, he likely never would have played John Robinson on Lost in Space.

So what happened? Well, the short version is that Pernell Roberts changed his mind. He stayed on the show for its sixth season. Not seeing a need for both Will and Adam, the writers erased Will. There are also reports that fans just did not like Will Cartwright.

But Roberts ended up leaving the show anyway after the sixth season. By that point, Bonanza felt it wise to leave enough alone and not introduce another replacement Cartwright.

Well, until honorary family members Candy Canaday and Jamie Hunter showed up in later seasons. This was classic TV, after all.

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MikeMarshall 16 days ago
I understood that Little Joe & Will had a rift between them. Little Joe felt he was in competition with him. Joe was the youngest and good looking so was Will so he threatened to quit if they didn't get rid of him. Idk, it was just the understanding back in the day.
Please feel free to respond to my comments. I'd like to hear others point of view on this. Thank you!
Wiseguy MikeMarshall 14 days ago
If you're talking about actors, please use actors' names.
WhiteRook 16 days ago
One of actor Guy Williams early roles was on the tv series Highway Patrol. He played a handsome patrolman who took orders from gruff Dan Mathews.
DMZABO 18 days ago
Always wished Adam ( Pernell Roberts ) would of hung in there for a few more seasons. But as far as a replacement character Candy was always the better choice.
Wiseguy DMZABO 14 days ago
would "have"...
JamesB 18 days ago
Fortunately, there are far more actors who embrace their roles, wherever and whatever they might be, over those vainglorious (a word they can appreciate!) actors who pathetically cling to Shakespeare as the end-all of acting accomplishment. I always liked Tony Randall, who was personally very particular, but set aside his own preferences to play his roles for maximum effect!
sjbang88 19 days ago
Mr. “serious actor “ Pernell Roberts leaves Bonanza and eventually winds up on the incredibly stupid Trapper John M.D., or as I called it, Trapper John LSD.
MarkSpeck sjbang88 18 days ago
And he complained there as well! A close friend of his said, "That's Pernell for you. He's just upset that they won't let him bring Chekhov to City Hospital".
DMZABO sjbang88 18 days ago
Saying that...Pernell was in some great cowboy roles on the big screen as well as the boob tube . Thinking of that episode when he was on Gunsmoke and battled with Matt Dillon.
DMZABO DMZABO 18 days ago
The episode was “Stranger in town” that one stood out.
QueensJack 19 days ago
That Ponderosa crowd was sure bad luck for the women who came in contact with them including Ben Cartwright and all of the wives he took to have 3 sons some of which were close to his age somehow?

I went into the military during that Bonanza run so missed anything from 66 to 69 and was surprised to see some of the changes and stopped viewing at that time so some of the posts and articles filled in some blanks for me and for that I am thankful.. The Christmas Episode stands out in my mind, possibly the first or second season when it was on NBC and sponsored by Chevrolet is all I remember right now... That and Michael Landon was the only main cast member to not wear a Toupe.. aka Wig.
AgingDisgracefully 19 days ago
Kathie Browne, Fabulous Babe.
Attention must be paid.
She was married to Darren McGavin for 34 years [until her death in 2003]... what a great couple!
Kathie Browne was great in "Hondo", even if her role was limited.
Kenner 19 days ago
Mr Willams passed in 1989 of an aneurism, age 65. RIP.
QueensJack Kenner 19 days ago
I remember him when he played ''Zorro'' in a weekly series.. ''Don Diego'' was his character if I remember right?
Don Diego De la Vega. Don was a title, such as land owner.

In 1959 Disneyland had an occasional Stunt Show, in Frontierland. It starred the 4 actors from Zorro, Guy Williams, Gene Sheldon (Bernardo), and the actors who played Sgt Garcia and the Commandante. An excellent video is posted on YouTube
Kenner QueensJack 17 days ago
Yep, that’s right if I remember correctly!
MichaelSkaggs 20 days ago
As far as Pernell Roberts was concerned the producers should have said, in the famed words of SNL's David Spade, "BAB-BYE!!"
jh4306 20 days ago
guy williams was much better on lost in space anyway.....who needed bonanza
Mac2Nite 20 days ago
My recollection is that the Michael Landon didn't see any need for another male lead on the show, if and when Pernell left. Plus, he was jealous of Guy Williams... who was extremely good looking & likeable. He made an exception later in the series... so long as the actor wasn't better looking than he was.😉
Pacificsun 21 days ago
I thought MeTV wrote the story about Michael Landon being insecure about his status with the addition of different recurring talent on Bonanza. And one by one they all disappeared.
Mac2Nite Pacificsun 20 days ago
Exactly what I had read. Guy was far better looking than Michael... in an adult masculine way. I remember reading how hurt Guy Williams was by being "used" this way, and it left him somewhat embittered about it.
Pacificsun Mac2Nite 20 days ago
IMO (regarding television) Michael Landon was the insecure-feeling equivalent of Steve McQueen in the movies. No matter how memorable he was in any role it never shook his amount of anxiety as to the role he was playing!
TheDavBow3 21 days ago
To me, the show went way down hill after PR left.
Mac2Nite TheDavBow3 20 days ago
He [and Guy Williams] were the only two that held my attention. When Pernell left, so did I.
TheDavBow3 Mac2Nite 20 days ago
Totally agree
denny 21 days ago
But Reed got to use his Shakespearen talent on all those Mannix episodes.
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texasluva MrsPhilHarris 20 days ago
A lot of times it has to do with egos. We know that actors have this thing about themselves. Sometimes we find out behind the scenes. Petty jealousies or wanting to do bigger and better things. Parnell is okay but to me he's not why I watch a certain movie or show.
MrsPhilHarris texasluva 20 days ago
Yes sometimes people let their egos get in the way of what's best.
Gumbysstuntdouble denny 20 days ago
Don't forget his tour de force in Bloodlust!.
THAT'S IT! That's why PR didn't want to say pa. thanks for reminding me! I knew what I typed didn't sound right, but I couldn't think of anything else.
Blondie7 21 days ago
I hated when Guy Williams left. Have seen him a couple of times recently in Highway Patrol.
Mac2Nite Blondie7 20 days ago
I wish they had kept him on too... but Michael was the show's moneymaker at that point and he didn't want him [jealousy is an ugly thing]... so out Guy went. 😒
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