‘Bonanza’: Pernell Roberts’ Hairpiece Once Fell Off During an Episode

by Joe Rutland

Actors have been known to wear hairpieces for different roles. Pernell Roberts, though, had an unfortunate incident with his on “Bonanza.”

Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright on the famed NBC western, happened to lose his during a sixth-season episode called “Thanks For Everything, Friend.” Adam takes a dive into a river as he’s trying to save a calf from drowning.

When Roberts gets into the water, his hairpiece floats away as he’s caught up in the rapids. Yet the scene itself is very brief. In fact, if you blink and miss it, then you’ll come back and see Roberts with his hair in place. It’s that fast and that quick, but you really have to watch for Roberts’ bald head.

Roberts Not Only ‘Bonanza’ Star To Wear Hairpiece On Show

Speaking of hairpieces, though, Roberts had company wearing them on “Bonanza.” Lorne Greene, who played Ben Cartwright, and Dan Blocker, who played “Hoss” Cartwright, also wore toupees.

Now Roberts initially went to “Bonanza” director David Dotort and asked if he could appear on the show minus the toupee.

Dotort, after being surprised by Roberts’ revelation, noted that the actor looked older without it on. Roberts, at the time, was 31 years old compared to Greene’s 44 years old in 1964.

Toupee Stayed On Roberts’ Head Until ‘Trapper John, M.D.’ Role

Dortort said Roberts had to keep it on, which he did throughout his stay on the show from 1959-64. In a much-later series, “Trapper John, M.D.,” Roberts didn’t need his toupee so he ditched it.

Pernell Roberts died on Jan. 24, 2010, at 81 years old. He spent his off-screen life as an activist for civil rights, taking part in the Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala., marches in 1965. Roberts also pushed NBC to use non-white actors for roles that called for it.

When Roberts left “Bonanza,” Guy Williams of “Zorro” fame was supposed to fill his spot. It didn’t work out, though, and Williams left after six episodes. Eventually, the show would simply focus on Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe, played by Michael Landon. They tried different actors to play roles that might take up the slack. It never was a sure fit, though.