Bonanza ran for fourteen seasons. This made it one of the longest-running shows in TV history. For six of those seasons, Pernell Roberts played Adam Cartwright, the eldest son of Ben. He was an educated man and an architect by trade. The character designed and built the sprawling home on the Ponderosa. However, the late actor reportedly hated every minute of working on the series.
He made no secret of his disdain for Bonanza. His co-stars as well as the showrunners and network personnel knew Roberts wanted out. However, he was under contract and had to fulfill his obligation. It seemed that he hated just about everything about the classic show. There were a few things in particular that made him want to leave, though.
Why Pernell Roberts Despised Bonanza
The things that Roberts didn’t hate about Bonanza would probably be a much shorter list. That list would probably include the paycheck and not much else. He wasn’t on the show long before he knew he wanted out.
One thing that irked Pernell Roberts about Bonanza was the relationship between the Cartwright boys and their father. The boys were all adults. However, in Pernell’s eyes, they constantly had to seek the permission and validation of their father. In his mind, the characters should have been able to live the way they wanted. He thought this was especially true for his character. Adam Cartwright wasn’t just an adult. He was the eldest son and college-educated. He found it “a bit silly” that they were all under Ben’s thumb as grown men.
Then there was the fact that Pernell Roberts saw Bonanza‘s scripts as too low-brow. Roberts was much more comfortable acting on the stage. He would have rather acted in a Shakespeare play than on the classic western. To Roberts, the show was beneath him. On top of that, he said he just wasn’t wired for series television. It didn’t give him enough variety.
Bonanza also clashed with Pernell Roberts’ incredibly progressive political views. To Roberts, the show glorified wealth in a time where most Americans were living in poverty. He also wanted to see more racially diverse casting and storylines. In fact, at one point he wanted his character to marry a Native American woman played by a Black actress.
Pernell Roberts’ last appearance on Bonanza was in the final episode of the sixth season. They never found someone to truly replace Adam Cartwright. However, the show continued to be a hit without Roberts.