‘Bonanza’ Star Pernell Roberts on Cartwright Boys’ Dynamic with their Father, Ben: ‘A Bit Silly’

by Clayton Edwards

“Bonanza” was one of the longest-running live-action shows in TV history. Viewers tuned in to watch the adventures of the Cartwright family for fourteen seasons. The show focused on the wealthy ranching family. However, less than halfway through the series, the eldest Cartwright boy left the Ponderosa Ranch for good.

The late Pernell Roberts played Adam Cartwright, Ben‘s oldest boy, on “Bonanza,” but soured on it quickly. The “Washington Post,” ran a story about the actor, his feelings about the series, and more back in 1986.

Pernell Roberts Talks About “Bonanza”

Adam was the eldest Cartwright boy. He was an educated man and an architect by trade. In fact, he designed and built the ranch house in which the family lived. However, before his six-year obligation was up, Roberts was well and truly done with the show.

He told “The Washington Post,” that he fought with “Bonanza” showrunners all the time. He didn’t like the scripts. At the same time, he wanted to see more character development. The late actor said that it was “a bit silly,” that his character was always looking for his father’s approval. The fact that all three Cartwright boys were adults but still had to ask Ben’s permission for everything irked Roberts. He felt that his character was impotent. He wanted to see growth in Adam. However, the writers were happy with the format of the show.

After a while, Roberts would get upset the moment he stepped on the “Bonanza” set. This led him to be, “hostile and vindictive,” according to the article.

Before “Bonanza,” Roberts worked mostly on the stage. He enjoyed being able to go from one character to another. At the same time, he found that returning to the same character over and over again was tiring for him. He said he didn’t have the mental stamina for that kind of acting.

Lorne Green tried to talk Roberts into staying on “Bonanza” for a little while longer. That would have made the young actor a multi-millionaire. Green told him that he just needed to stick it out for a few more years. Then, he could build his own theater. On top of that, he would have enough money to hire whoever he wanted to write plays for him.

However, money wasn’t enough to keep Roberts on “Bonanza” a day longer than he had to be. In the end, Roberts said, he didn’t leave the show in pursuit of any particular goal. Instead, he said, “I left for my own good.”

“Bonanza,” ran for eight more seasons after Pernell Roberts left. They attempted to fill the hole he left in the cast several times. However, they never found anyone who could truly take his place.