‘Bonanza’: One Actor Was Hired and Fired in Just One Episode

by Megan Molseed

When it comes to classic television westerns, few are quite as iconic as the 1960s series Bonanza. Even to this day, the Cartwrights remain household names for many. However, there is one Cartwright that even the most dedicated Bonanza fan may have a hard time remembering, a fifth Cartwright known as “Clay.”

Bonanza Fans Remember the Cartwright’s Well, However, Few Remember One Son, Barry Coe’s ‘Clay’

During the fourth season of Bonanza, the successful western series was facing a shakeup. One of the stars of the top-rated show, Pernell Roberts was ready to step away from his role as the eldest Cartwright boy, Adam. Suave and sophisticated, Adam was a series favorite. However, Pernell Roberts had a hankering to return to his early works performing on stage in some classic roles both off-Broadway and on.

This change to the series, of course, means that the Bonanza showrunners were looking to fill the vacancy left by Pernell Roberts’s Adam Cartwright as the series prepares for its fourth season on the air. This is where Barry Coe’s Clay – the fifth Cartwright – enters into the story. A native of Southern California, Barry Coe was declared to be the “Most Promising Newcomer – Male” in 1960. And, he was available since Coe had just wrapped up an ABC series titled Follow the Sun.

One Actor Becomes An Oft Forgotten Piece Of Bonanza’s Legacy

Coe’s first – and only – appearance on Bonanza came in the episode First Born. A decidedly good-looking actor, the well-tanned mustachioed California native seemed to fit right into the Bonanza cast. However, one longtime star of the series wondered if Coe’s presence in the series wasn’t going to be a little too welcome.

In this Bonanza episode, Barry Coe portrays Clay Stafford, a man who arrives at the famous Ponderosa as a worker. However, things get dicey for this new character after he finds himself in trouble after killing a man in self-defense. As he is about to be run out of town, Stafford reveals to Little Joe that they are half-brothers. They are each sons of Marie. Little Joe is pleased with this new addition to the family. However, the rest of the Bonanza characters are not quite sure what to think.

Clay Leaves The Bonanza Cast Just As Swiftly As He Appears

It is a decent set-up for the introduction of a new character in a series as well-received as Bonanza. Especially when welcoming a character as appealing as Clay. However, the on-screen connection that Coe’s character shares with Michael Landon’s Little Joe wasn’t a reflection of real life.

According to reports, Michael Landon wasn’t sure about the actor’s good looks. And he began to fear the actor would usurp his screentime. Furthermore, the tension born from these concerns emerged immediately.

The Bonanza crew even had to halt filming during the First Born episode as core cast members and showrunners met to come up with a plan going forward. By the end of the meeting, Coe was out of the classic TV series. The episode was rewritten to show fans that Clay deciding life on the Ponderosa just isn’t the right one for him as he moves on from the Cartwright clan.