Pernell Roberts Appeared on ‘Gunsmoke’ Both Before and After Time on ‘Bonanza’

by Joe Rutland

“Bonanza” star Pernell Roberts kept himself busy through his career, especially with a couple of appearances on “Gunsmoke.”

Yes, before and after his time playing Adam Cartwright on the NBC hit western, Roberts played different roles in two episodes of CBS’s classic TV western starring James Arness.

Back in 1957, Roberts had a role in “How to Kill a Woman.” He played Nat Pilcher, a gunman who keeps harassing station master Jesse Daggett, played by Barry Atwater.

It seems Pilcher keeps killing Daggett’s passengers, leading Marshal Matt Dillon, played by Arness, to start an investigation.

‘Bonanza’ Star Played On NBC Western From 1959-65 Before Leaving Show

Well, the situation goes from bad to worse when Pilcher kills a female passenger. The episode pits Dillon against Pilcher. Who wins the struggle? You’ll have to check out the episode.

Roberts played Adam on “Bonanza” alongside costars Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon between 1959-65. He left that hit series over creative differences with show writers.

Roberts was an activist especially during the civil rights marches between Selma and Montgomery, Ala. He wanted more actors on the show who truly represented specific ethnicities instead of hiring other actors to fill those roles. Also, Roberts felt like the writers were positioning Adam beneath patriarch Ben Cartwright (Greene) with their scripts.

So, what does an out-of-work actor do? Get more work, even if it leads one back to “Gunsmoke.” That’s what happened with Roberts.

Roberts Finds Himself Playing Gunfighter In Second Appearance On CBS Hit

In 1967, which was during the show’s 13th season on CBS, Roberts stars in an episode called “Stranger in Town.” Roberts plays gunfighter Dave Reeves, who gets hired by Harvey Cagle, played by Henry Jones, to kill his business partner Carl Anderson, played by R.G. Armstrong.

What makes the story even more heated for Reeves is he sees Anderson in love with Reeves’ wife who left him years earlier. Now Reeves isn’t only out to do a job but to exact some heated revenge against his former wife.

It’s quite a different role from “Bonanza” for Roberts. He would also go on a few years later and get his own CBS series, “Trapper John, M.D.,” between 1979-86. Obviously, that show was a spinoff from “M*A*S*H” and original “Trapper John” actor Wayne Rogers didn’t want to do the role.

Roberts’ time on “Bonanza” is not forgotten by fans who still watch the reruns. He died on Jan. 24, 2010, at 81 years old.