Mom sent me the obit last week–Pernell Roberts, of “Bonanza” has passed on. The last of the Cartwright clan, laid to rest. Whenever somebody dies–an old boyfriend or an actor I loved–Mom puts the clipping in the mail.
I’ve been so busy with “Austin” that I’ve barely had time to register this loss. And trust me, it is a loss.
Many of you know that I was the original “Bonanza” fan. I mean, I walked out into the living room one night, with a towel wrapped around my head because I’d just washed my hair, and there he was, in Living Black and White…Little Joe! (Yes, I know Pernell Roberts played Adam, not Little Joe. Frankly, it took me a while to notice the other brothers and Pa. I did spot the pinto pony right away, though.) I swear puberty kicked in at that very moment, and I never, ever got over Michael Landon and that impish grin of his. Not to mention the curly hair and the way he laughed. Even now, I feel a burst of joy when I think of him.
Roberts’ character, of course, was Adam Cartwright. Adam was the eldest brother, the one with the college education, dark-haired and seriously handsome. Also handsomely serious :)–if I remember correctly, he did not have the sense of humor shared by Hoss and Little Joe, who were often up to mischief of some kind and liked to play tricks on him. (Must have come from their mothers’ sides. Ingeniously, the Cartwrights were half-brothers, each with a different mother. I even remember the women’s names: Elisabeth, Inga and Marie.)
I recall being devastated when, about six years into the run of the show, Roberts decided the part wasn’t challenging enough for him. He left. His absence definitely changed the dynamics profoundly, but people (myself included) continued to watch. I think “Bonanza” was on for something like 20 years. Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon carried on admirably, but the trickle of characters meant to fill Adam’s boots didn’t really work. It just didn’t seem right when only three people rode up on horseback at the beginning, when there had been four.
The influence of “Bonanza” (also, to a lesser degree, “The Big Valley”, “The Virginian”, and “High Chapparal”) on my writing career was, and remains, huge. I love to write about brothers, on big ranches, with problems to solve, challenges to meet. This show was almost a personal mythology to me, and it was certainly an education. I learned the concept of scenes watching “Bonanza”, and that you needed a cliff-hanger to get folks to come back after the Chevrolet commercial.
I miss “Bonanza” and the other family westerns, big-time. Now, it’s all “reality”. (If that’s reality, folks, we are in worse trouble than we ever imagined.)
I sure do miss that stirring theme song, the ranch house, and the lovely shots of Lake Tahoe.
So farewell, Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon, Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker. Thanks for the memories.
Oh, yes. Thanks for the career, too.