January 26, 2010

The Shakepearean actor who played the serious oldest brother on "Bonanza" thought it was "Junk TV"...

... "perpetuating banality and contributing to the dehumanization of the industry."

"I feel I am an aristocrat in my field of endeavor... My being part of 'Bonanza' was like Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk."

The gloriously prideful actor, Pernell Roberts — dead at age 81.

And now all the "Bonanza" actors are dead. I was 14 years old when Roberts left the show in 1965. Somehow, Adam — Roberts's character — was my favorite of the Cartwright brothers. Everyone had a favorite Cartwright brother. My older sister liked Little Joe. She also preferred Dr. Kildare, while I was for Ben Casey.


Salamandyr said...

Well, he was kind of a dick. Did he know nothing of Shakespeare? How much of it was designed to appeal to the groundlings; those huddled masses he dismisses as "banal"?

Ron said...

What, nobody liked Hoss?

rhhardin said...

I have to read Shakespeare through an explainer.

Stanley Cavell is probably the best.

Cavell is also a film explainer, particularly remarriage comedies and women's films.

Rick Lee said...

Trapper John MD ran for seven years? Somehow I managed to avoid seeing a single episode. I had no idea Roberts played that role.

Bob said...

Michael Landon on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson:

Were the Cartwrights gay? We often got asked that. No, the Cartwrights weren't gay. Fortunately Hop Sing was, though.


SMGalbraith said...

I guess he didn't know the doubling meaning of "hoist on his own petard". I'm sure he did...

As Salamandyr said, Shakespeare was written for the general audience. In fact, they would sell fruit (when in season) during the plays so that the audience could bury their faces in them to block out the foul odor of the other spectators.

Great unwashed indeed.

Bob said...

@Ron: Austin musician Gurf Morlix has a song titled Dan Blocker on his Toad of Titicaca CD. You can hear a sample at the link.

BT said...

I have seen several reruns of Lawrence Welk recently on PBS. It is easy to make fun of him but those guys could play. He had a guitar player in the late 70s who could play swing, country and did a terric bossa nova. I don't know who he was but I wish I were half as good as he was.

Scott said...

I second what BT wrote about Lawrence Welk. He was the Sir Georg Solti of corny music.

Tibore said...

"...perpetuating banality and contributing to the dehumanization of the industry."

Oh no, it's... it's... Dr. Lazarus of Tev'Meck!!

(Link for those who don't get the joke.)

bagoh20 said...

He had no idea back then how banal TV could get. I think it was a suicide.

2yellowdogs said...

Bonanza was junk TV, but Trapper John was haute cuisine? Prideful is understating the matter. What an assclown.

MadisonMan said...

I also notice that James Mitchell, aka Palmer Courtland on All My Children and Dream Curly in Oklahoma! has passed on.

Richard Fagin said...

Isaac Stern would probably have been proud to show up on the Lawrence Welk show. The truly gifted typcially aren't snobby about themselves.

michaele said...

Dr. Kildare was too pretty. Ben Casey was brooding and interesting looking.

Superdad said...

I vacillate between Little Joe and Hoss. That was one of the greatest shows of all time.

Brian said...

Yeah, we watched "Trapper John, M.D.". It was a pretty good show at the time. Gregory Harrison played a doctor who lived in an RV in the parking lot of the hospital.

I got this show confused with another doctor show, "House Calls" with Lynn Redgrave. This was when she got mired in the controversy for insisting that she be able to breast feed her baby at the studio. This show had Wayne Rogers, who played "Trapper John" on MASH, and it was on TV in the same time.

Opus One Media said...

libarace perhaps...but Isaac Stern?

Actually I blogged about Heifitz this morning at http://www.opusonemedia.blogspot.com. excuse the free pun but I really did.

ricpic said...

It was obvious at the time that Pernell Roberts was phoning in his performance on Bonanza. Rationalizing that lack of professionalism by claiming he was above the show was hokum then and it's hokum now.

Greg G said...

> He (Welk) had a guitar player in the late 70s who could play swing, country and did a terric bossa nova.

Absolutely right. Both Buddy Merrill and Neil LeVang were outstanding guitarists, as can be seen in this 1966 clip of them doing San Antonio Rose.

And check out LeVang doing a truly remarkable version of Ghost Riders In The Sky. High art indeed.

JonMichael S said...

For vain Pernell Roberts, you can't beat MST3K episode 614 San Francisco International.

From Inwood said...


It's "James Tyrone" redux.

As I'm sure most readers of this Blog know, Tyrone (read: O'Neill's father) is an old actor who'd gotten rich on one role with which he'd toured for most of his life & is resentful of this fact.

After awhile one gets bored with all the Tyrones.

MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

I was a big fan of Hop Sing. He kept them well fed and took no crap.

EDH said...

What's with the disappearing TV older brother syndrome?

You had Adam on Bonanza, and "Chuck" on Happy Days.

Coincidence? I think not.

William said...

He was reflecting the zeitgeist. Pauline Kael caused a stir by observing that Love Story was fascistic. How wise she was to warn us of the dark impulses that were latent in Al Gore's romantic fantasies....You can live on, although perhaps not grow on, junk food. Ditto with junk entertainment. Nobody eats exclusively at McDonald's, and nobody totally binges on junk entertainment. I like movies with lots of special effects and pretty girls in tight t-shirts. There should be more movies like Transformers. My taste in books is pretty good though....Al Smith famously said that no girl was ever ruined by reading a bad book. The flip side is also true. No civilization was ever saved by high art. German expressionism cinema was a higher cultural landmark than Bonanza and look what flowers blossomed on that cultural highland.

PatHMV said...

It's not just TV, EDH. Remember, the teenager in Zits has an older brother away at college. It's been years since he's been home to visit!

ricpic said...

The one actor in Bonanza who went on to bigger things was Michael Landon. Landon had like one Jew in his ancestry. He was maybe one eighth Jewish and looked and acted as Jewish as Sonia Henie, but he made a big deal of it. Anyway, in his later hit series, Little House On The Prairie, he either authored or directed (not sure) a segment in which a Jewish trader in the early west is portrayed with great sympathy. It made my dad cry. And for that I'm forever grateful to Michael Landon.

traditionalguy said...

With a name like Pernell he must have tried for acceptance where possible. Bonanza's portrayal of an American Patriarchal family owning its own land and defending it must have sickened Europe's educated Aristocrats that rightfully saw such goings on as the result of the Revolution by commoners that had stolen their inheritance claims here.

Steve Altman said...

Dude was from Waycross, GA "The Gateway to The Okeefenokee Swamp"! I grew up in a small town about 30 miles away. Trust me, he had no reason to be a snob about anything!

Comrade X said...

RIP Mr. Roberts.

I love Bonanza. Its cheesiness, its strong equality messages, the colorful costumes & sets, and how they would weave actual historical figures into some of the stories. Some of the recurring themes are funny too, such as falling in love with a Cartwright is a death sentence, Ben Cartwright constantly putting someone who is down and out in pocket, and that the Cartwrights are all about law & order until one of them is in jail or someone is trespassing on the Ponderosa. But my favorite is that almost every episode someone sneers "you Cartwrights think your so high and mighty" or some derivative of that, showing that there will always be people jealous of success and a 50,000 acre ranch with a lakefront view.

Most of the comments in the article were made in 1965 during the falling out, so maybe Pernell mellowed over the years. Anyway, Dan Blocker was the only cast member with a graduate degree.

I can remember when only 3 Cartwrights came riding up in the intro 1966 when I was 6 years old. I turned to my father and said "Where's the other one? Didn't there used to be four of them?" "No son", he said, "it's always been just three". I believed him and didn't know he was kidding me until I saw it in syndication in the late 70's. When I saw four Cartwrights riding up I thought "I knew it!"

I think I'll call my dad today.

William said...

Michael Landon will always be remembered for his brave battle on behalf of bed wetters. For dumb Hollywood causes, this will never be matched....I wonder who will be the last of the Star Trek principals to go?

tim maguire said...

My being part of 'Bonanza' was like Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk.

Wow! What an ass.

Penny said...

Hop Sing had a fake ponytail. :(

vnjagvet said...

My being part of 'Bonanza' was like Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk.

Isaac Stern was one of the least snobbish and most engaging maestros in music. He called himself a fiddler, loved to play Klesmer and jazz, and probably would have been delighted to appear with Welk since it would have exposed a very large audience to his music.

Pernell obviously wasn't familiar enough with "high culture" when he made that silly statement.

WV: vione - The austrian nickname for Obama.

mccullough said...

How can you not like a show where the main character has three sons with three different women and raises them himself.

The Pondersosa was the reverse ghetto.

Geoffrey Britain said...

Actually, I liked all of them.

Even Roberts obvious dissatisfaction worked as the brooding, restless, poetic one, who represented the 'dark' side of the Cartwright's success.

Hoss was absolutely my favorite. After he died, I found myself gradually losing interest in the show.

Like just about everything in life, Bonanza could be taken on many levels; from simple entertainment to commentary on class tensions to the eternal struggle between the cooperative and selfish impulses; from purely comedic episodes to the personal tragedy of loves lost.

Did any of the Cartright brothers ever have a family? No. Why? Obviously because the creative tension would have been lost.

In real life, all of the brothers would have taken wives and essentially waited for their inheritance. When old Ben died, they would have broken up the Ponderosa and whichever brother got the lakeside view would have been resented by the others. Like death and taxes, human nature always remains.

Which is why, the lakeside view parcel should have gone to Hoss because he had the greatest heart and thus the resentment would have been least. The father character represented wisdom and would have realized that.

Adam the brooding older brother would have sold off his portion and moved to San Francisco to participate in progressive causes, all to atone for the unfairness of his inherited wealth.

Little Joe would have married some beautiful mexican girl and had lots of babies and after Hoss' death (he wouldn't have lived a long life, not with that frame) 'Little' Joe would have sought to become 'Big' Joe by emulating his father's patriarchy, though on a much smaller scale.

All quite predictable but then, people aren't really complicated, just often conflicted.

Perhaps it's the contrast between the conflicted=complicated and unconflicted=at ease with oneself, the "straight shooter" personality... that Bonanza most clearly illustrated.

Just a show? Perhaps but we still have those themes evident in modern life. Obama = conflicted/complicated and Sarah Palin (the real 2008 nominee) = the unconflicted, straight shooter.

A stretch too far? Perhaps but the essential point remains; times change but not human nature and, no one ever expressed that point more eloquently than the lyrics to this song::

"As Time Goes By"

This day and age we're living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like a fourth dimension.

Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein's theory.
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax, relieve the tension

And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed.

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

And when two lovers woo
They still say, "I love you."
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.

Moonlight and love songs,
Never out of date.
Hearts full of passion,
Jealousy and hate.
Woman needs man,
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny.

It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.

Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.

music and words by Herman Hupfeld

© 1931 Warner Bros. Music Corporation, ASCAP

Penny said...

Sad to see all these people I grew up with dying. If Bonanza was on, it was a given that I was lying on the living room floor doing homework for Monday.

Now Lawrence Welk was another story entirely. I hated that show with a passion, most likely because my parents failed to miss it on a Saturday night, and I was still too young to go out with friends. Damn, I thought I could NEVER grow up fast enough.

HA! See how all that wishin' and hopin' comes back to smack you in the ass later on?

Alex said...

Should I be sad that old bitter farts are dying out? Rare clumbers indeed.

sydney said...

Re: Disappearing older brothers.

There was also Mike on My Three Sons:

The character was written out with Meredith MacRae, who had played his fiancee and (in his last episode) new wife. (The "Mike Douglas Kiss-Off" is a reference to a character whose departure is explained - such as a marriage, or college - but whose name is never again referenced. For the last seven years of the series, Mike Douglas seemingly vanishes from existence, even while relatives marry, graduate, have children, et cetera.)"

The Crack Emcee said...

Hoss, definitely, followed by Little Joe. LJ was stylish, but, as others have said, Hoss was the good guy who could kill you if he so desired.

And Lawrence Welk is bitchin' - ever smoke pot and watch it? The clothes, the hair, Jesus - Wild. And yes: really, really great music.

Pernell Roberts is/was an ass.

BT said...


Thanks for the headsup on Neil LaVang, I never knew what his name was but that man can flat out play. I loved the Merle Travis treatment on San Antonio Rose.

Also one thing that I have noticed on the reruns is that Lawrence had an eye for the ladies, many of his female singers were gorgeous.

EDH said...

sydney said...
Re: Disappearing older brothers.

There was also Mike on My Three Sons

Yes, I knew there was another one!

It's always in threes...

My Three Missing Oldest Sons

glam1931 said...

William, most of German Expressionist film was created by Jews and homosexuals who got the hell out of Germany by 1931. They took their culture with them, mostly to Hollywood, and we are richer for it. But it's true that the darkness in those films was a harbinger of things to come.

Geoffrey Britain said...

"Should I be sad that old bitter farts are dying out?" Alex

Not at all, there are plenty of young, arrogant and too-stupid-to-learn-from-the-past farts, waiting anxiously in the wings to replace those old farts, such as yourself.

That also apply's, as time goes by.

Ralph L said...

Odd that Roberts had the same type of cancer as Landon.

We never watched Bonanza or Little House, so when my parents sat next to Landon at the Kennedy Center, they had no idea who he was. He told them he was an actor interested in photography (he was doing Kodak ads at the time).

Very sad that from 4 marriages Roberts had one child, who died in 1991.

Trooper York said...

Everybody knows that Hoss was the coolest.

Trooper York said...

Plus he was a cowboy ahead of his time!

Trooper York said...

But don't let them fool ya! Nobody messed with Hop Sing!

Trooper York said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trooper York said...

But don't worry. I think Pernell is finally getting his starring role!

Lori Quaresimo said...

I hated Roberts. Both add Adam Cartwright and as himself. He was so arrogant. He had such a high opinion of himself. He was way over confident. I could never be friends with someone like that. I could tell he would try to bully me intellectually. I wouldn't put it past him that he was a left wing nut!