‘Bonanza’: What Was Pernell Roberts’ Last Episode on the Legendary Western?

by Joe Rutland

Pernell Roberts found fame on “Bonanza” as Adam Cartwright, but he high-tailed it off the Ponderosa. What was his last show?

Well, Roberts, who left the NBC smash-hit western after six seasons, appeared in “Dead and Gone” on April 4, 1965. He’s the featured Cartwright brother in this episode, by the way.

Adam stops guitar-singing Howard Mead, played by singer-guitarist Hoyt Axton, from a robbery. He decides to bring Mead back to the Ponderosa and Virginia City, though. Trouble brews as Mead’s wily ways affect the Cartwrights and others around them.

‘Bonanza’ Star Wasn’t Happy With Show’s Writing, Different Actors In Roles

Back to Roberts and his departure. The actor reportedly was not happy with the “Bonanza” writers. He felt their writing and making Adam talk up to his father Ben, played by Lorne Greene, really wasn’t effective.

Roberts also was outspoken about having people of color actually play those roles. That would be different back in the 1960s since a lot of television shows would use actors that either closely resembled Native Americans or put makeup on white actors to make them look like Native Americans.

Seeing Roberts take that type of stance aligns with his personal views as an activist. Roberts and his wife would join other high-profile celebrities on the Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala., marches.

“Bonanza” would survive quite well after losing Roberts. The show ran for 14 seasons, putting itself as the No. 2 longest-running Western in TV history. What’s No. 1? Easy. CBS’s “Gunsmoke” at 20 years.

Besides Roberts and Greene, “Bonanza” also starred Michael Landon and Dan Blocker.

Roberts Receives Some Sharp Criticism From Classic TV Sitcom Actor

Roberts probably caught some flack from his costars behind the scenes for leaving. Little did one expect Dawn Wells of “Gilligan’s Island” fame to crack back on him.

In 2015, Wells, who played Mary Ann on the CBS sitcom, offered her perspective about Roberts leaving “Bonanza” for greener pastures.

“Turn [the role] down then and give it to another actor,” Wells said. “I get really irritated. Pernell Roberts did ‘Bonanza’ and talked horribly about it for years. Well, let another actor do it. You’ve got crew and craft service and writers and everyone depending on that show.

“It’s not about you,” She said. “It’s not about the star of the show.”

Well, there you go. Wells offering some critical words about Roberts as both an actor and as a man.

Roberts died on Jan. 24, 2010, at 81 years old. Wells died on Dec. 30, 2020, at 82 years old.

It should be noted that Roberts also had success on another TV series. He played “Trapper” John McIntyre in CBS’s “Trapper John, M.D.” That’s after original “M*A*S*H” star Wayne Rogers, who played McIntyre on that show, turned down a chance to play the role.