Pernell Roberts had name recognition with NBC’s “Bonanza.” His desire for racial equality led him to take part in civil rights marches.
Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright, joined the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 in the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. He wanted NBC to get away from hiring white actors for minority roles. That was something a lot of TV shows at the time did. Shows would have white actors put on makeup that reflected Native Americans.
Upon his death in 2010, Roberts’ family said he was not a fan of “Bonanza” sets being filled with only white characters.
Pernell Roberts Protested All-White ‘Bonanza’ Crews, Stars
“On the set of ‘Bonanza,’ he protested the use of all-white crews and guest stars,” the family said. They said Roberts found some support “but never enough to satisfy his sense of outrage.”
Pernell Roberts left “Bonanza” after its sixth season. He never seemed happy with the relationship between patriarch Ben Cartwright, played by Lorne Greene, and his three sons. Adam’s brothers were “Hoss,” played by Dan Blocker, and “Little Joe,” played by Michael Landon.
Later on after he’d left the series, Roberts said that a lot of comments attributed to him were not true. He did admit, though, that he found some things associated with the show didn’t suit him.
The NBC hit western stayed on the network until 1974.
Roberts Returns To TV In ‘Trapper John, M.D.’ Role
He became known to another generation of TV viewers in “Trapper John, M.D.,” which ran for seven seasons on CBS.
That show was a spinoff from the popular “M*A*S*H,” where Wayne Rogers originally played “Trapper John” McIntyre. Rogers wasn’t interested in taking on the role, so Roberts chose to dive back into television.
But his desire to have equality among humanity drove Pernell Roberts to take stands when other entertainers might not have done so. Especially a white actor walking in step with African-Americans in the 1960s.
Roberts might not have been the biggest fan of working on “Bonanza.” Yet a whole new generation continues to see him as part of the Ponderosa clan.