If you know your Bonanza lore, you should know that the show once tried to phase out Pernell Roberts’ character Adam Cartwright and bring in Guy Williams as a new face to the Cartwright family in season 5. Roberts was a stage actor through and through and wanted to leave the show to focus on more creative projects. He felt stifled in his role on Bonanza and was used to staying with a role for a few months, not a few years.
Enter Laura Drayton, Adam’s love interest for a series of 4 episodes. Those episodes culminated in him building a house for her as a surprise. Enter Guy Williams as Will Cartwright, Ben’s nephew. The two created a love triangle with Adam what was supposed to end with Laura and Adam getting married and living in the house on the Ponderosa together. Will was supposed to take Adam’s place in the family, and Pernell Roberts’ place on Bonanza.
But, it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Instead of Adam and Laura riding off together and living happily ever after, Will leaves the Ponderosa. We never see nor hear from him again. We never see nor hear from Laura Drayton again, either.
So what happened? Well, according to MeTV, Pernell Roberts just changed his mind. He decided that he wanted to stay on the show; he did so for another season before finally leaving in season 6. But, there are other sources that say the people just didn’t like Will Cartwright.
Bonanza fans didn’t want Adam to leave, didn’t want to lose Pernell Roberts, and so they rallied against Will Cartwright. Well, as much rallying as you could do before the internet made it so easy to share your opinions on popular media. The writers phased out Will Cartwright instead of Adam, and maybe it was for the best; without Will’s exit, Guy Williams would have missed out on Professor John Robinson on Lost In Space.
‘Bonanza’: Guest Stars Were Once Paid More Than Regulars
If you can believe it, there was once a time where the Cartwright men didn’t get paid as much as their guest stars. The producers felt the series’ stars weren’t recognizable enough to carry the show; they relied on their guest stars to bump up the ratings.
That would eventually change, as Bonanza would become one of the most loved western series ever. Surpassed only by Gunsmoke, it’s the second-longest-running western series in the U.S. and ranks in the top 10 longest-running series ever.
Bonanza lasted 14 seasons, still successful even after losing Pernell Roberts as Adam Cartwright. Will Cartwright probably would have fit right in on the Ponderosa. But, then we would have missed out on Guy Williams’ other fantastic performances. All in all, Pernell Roberts’ decision to stay for one more series altered the course of TV history for the better.