Pernell Roberts lacked the ''psychological stamina'' for Bonanza

"I have an impotent role," said Roberts.

Not everybody is cut out for starring in a beloved and long-lasting television Western. That's just the nature of the beast. We can't all be Dan Blocker or James Arness. Those actors, and the shows they're on, are special for a reason. They were made to bring our cowboy dreams to the silver screen. But sometimes, even great actors aren't cut out for saddles and tumbleweeds.

Anybody familiar with the Cartwright family saga on Bonanza will doubtlessly remember that they lost a son partway through the series. After the show's sixth season, Pernell Roberts, who played eldest son Adam, left the series. Unlike similar departures in other shows, Roberts' exit was less-than-amicable.

In 1986, Roberts shared the details of his resignation with The Washington Post.

"I was in the series for six years," said Roberts. "I fought with the powers about the scripts, character development, and other things. It got so I was upset the minute I arrived for work. that's no way to live.

"I don't have the psychological stamina to last under artistic compromises over a prolonged period of time. I get hostile and vindictive. It wears me down."

Whereas most actors leaving a series might remain vague in their reasoning, towing the company line and delivering publicist-approved answers for tough questions, Roberts was honest and scathing in his indictment of Bonanza and its creative team.

"Isn't it a bit silly for three adult males to get father's permission for everything they do?" he asked. "I have an impotent role. Everywhere I turn, there's the father image."

The father in question, of course, was Lorne Greene. Greene famously approached his father-figure role seriously. In this paternal mode, he advised Roberts against vacating his seat at the Bonanza table. Green told Roberts to "stay with the series a few more years, and you'll be able to build your own theater. And you will be able to hire Tennessee Williams— or anyone else— to write a play for you."

Roberts would go on to play Trapper John McIntyre on CBS' hospital saga. Ironically, that character had also exited the associated series early, when Wayne Rogers left M*A*S*H after that show's fourth season. 

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11 Comments

SDWriter 26 days ago
Wayne Rogers left “M*A*S*H” after its third season, not fourth. “Abyssinia, Henry” was the final episode for both Lt. Col. Henry Blake and Capt. John Francis Xavier “Trapper John” McIntyre.
Hire an editor.
thewide7 1 month ago
My favorite shows were the ones with the four Cartwrights interacting with each other. Hoss was my favorite character but Adam was the best character. The scripts were not as good without him in my opinion. I always wondered why Guy Williams didn’t replace Roberts. He would have been perfect. I guess it was because he was Will Cartwright Ben nephew. I still watch The Cartwright almost everyday on MeTV
Mannixishot 1 month ago
I say this for every article about this topic. I will give Michael Landon credit because he studied to the point he could do different jobs besides acting. You had Michael Landon the actor, producer, director and writer. Did Pernell put that much effort into it as Michael or was he just in there complaining about everything that upset him? And I say this all as a fan of Pernell Roberts. Adam is my favorite Cartwright.

I will say it's strange thinking about the house that Adam was building for Laura during that storyline. They could've had Pernell move off the Ponderosa and at least have a house to himself.
Mannixishot Mannixishot 1 month ago
*had Adam move off the Ponderosa
John 2 months ago
I always thought the premise for Bonanza was a little goofy.
Pernell Roberts knew what he was getting into. If he didn't like it he shouldn't have taken the part instead of trying to be a producer
AgingDisgracefully 2 months ago
Tough life playing the son of a guy 13 years older than you.
No matter how welcome they made you feel at Alan Brady's House of Hair.
MrsPhilHarris 2 months ago
Blah, blah, blah. He could have left sooner than he did.
McGillahooala 2 months ago
I’ve read enough about him. He lacked the psychological health to succeed. He was engaging in make believe to entertain people, and he thought he was an artist.
MaryMitch 2 months ago
I've had jobs I hated, but I couldn't afford to quit. It does eat away at the soul. He stuck around for 6 seasons, which is plenty.
Runeshaper 2 months ago
I've read multiple versions of a similar story on MeTV. Sounds like Roberts really didn't enjoy or appreciate performing in the show. Not sure what else to say.
harlow1313 2 months ago
"I have an impotent role," said Roberts. Maybe Virginia City's Doc could have fixed him up. In those days, Viagra made a Turkey Jerky favored by saddle tramps.
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