‘Bonanza’: Why the Cartwrights’ Nephew Abruptly Disappeared From the Show

by Matthew Wilson
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“Bonanza” may have been a western. But much like “Blue Blood” of today, it always thrived on family and its interactions together. Viewers related to the Cartwrights and their comings and goings. So it’s all the more shocking that the show dropped one of the characters without so much as a goodbye.

What happened to Ben Cartwright’s nephew Will? The character was a short-lived creation in Season Five, appearing in only a handful of episodes. Guy Williams played the part, which producers originally intended to become a major part of the show. At the time, Williams was a star in his own right, headlining as the popular hero Zorro.

He would make a natural fit on “Bonanza,” especially when Pernell Roberts considered leaving the show. Roberts played the eldest son Adam Cartwright on the show. Rather than introduce his replacement abruptly, “Bonanza” producers wanted to gradually introduce Williams’ character. Eventually, they planned for Williams to take over for Roberts on the show.

At the time, Roberts grew restless after spending five years on the show. The actor was used to stage productions with a limited timeframe. He felt stifled by a TV production that seemed to stretch onward each year. At the time, the western was highly rated with no threat of cancelation. Cue Season Five, “Bonanza” planned to let Roberts’ character ride off into the sunset with a new love interest, Laura Drayton.

‘Bonanza’ Gets Rid of Guy Williams’ Character

But Pernell was still uncertain if he wanted to leave “Bonanza” or not. In the episode, “Triangle,” the actor was supposed to take his big bow. Writers planned for Adam and Laura to leave together to start a new life together away from the Ponderosa Ranch. Likewise, the western had positioned Williams to take the lead as the new member of the Cartwrights.

So what happened during the episode and to Williams’ character? Well, Roberts changed his mind at the last second. He decided that he would return for the next season after all. With Roberts staying on, “Bonanza” didn’t have a need for Will Cartwright anymore. Additionally, he hadn’t proved to be a popular addition to the show. Many fans hated the character as a result. So, “Bonanza” simply forgot about Will.

Guy Williams’ character disappeared from the show like he was never on “Bonanza” to begin with. Likewise, so did Adam’s love interest as well. Roberts ended up staying on “Bonanza” for one more season but left after Season Six. The show introduced both Candy Canaday and Jamie Hunter to replace him in those later seasons.

As for Williams, it all worked out well. He ended up starring as John Robinson on the classic “Lost in Space.”

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