Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Last of the Cartwright Boys

L. to R: Hoss, Ben, Adam, Little Joe

Pernell Roberts, actor, died day before yesterday, age 81. For those of you who aren't old enough to remember Bonanza, Roberts played Adam Cartwright, the oldest of the three sons on the big Ponderosa ranch, just outside Virginia City during the sliver boom years in the late 1800's. He was the last of the stars of the show alive.

The show was wildly popular in its day, airing originally from 1959-1973, and in reruns since; a western more about character than shoot-'em-ups. Pa was Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene, who went on later to do the original Battlestar Galactica, passed away twenty years ago. The other two sons were Hoss (Dan Blocker, d. 1972), and Little Joe (Michael Landon, d. 1991.)

Hop Sing, the ranch's cook (Victor Sen Yung) passed on in 1980.

One of the legacies of the series was what was sometimes called "The Curse of the Cartwright Boys." Any woman who hooked up with Pa or any of the sons would quickly disappear -- they'd run off with somebody else or croak by the end of the episode. The boys were all doomed to stay single. Pa had each son with a different wife and all were long-gone by the time the show aired. (This meme was passed on to James Tiberius Kirk on the starship Enterprise some years later ...)

All of the actors had careers before and after, save Blocker, who died from complications for gallbladder surgery while the show was still shooting. (Apparently Blocker was the original choice to play Major T.J. "King" Kong, in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, a role that went to Slim Pickens. Hard to imagine him riding that bomb down.)

Michael Landon, I first saw in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and God's Little Acre. He went on to do Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

Pernell Roberts left the show when it was at its peak and took a starring role in Trapper John, M.D., a spin-off from M*A*S*H. This was quite controversial at the time. He did guest starring roles after that, and bits in some movies, but never got back into the center spotlight after he left Bonanza.

Adios, Adam.

11 comments:

Dan Moran said...

Back in, oh, October, the last time I had five minutes to breathe, my family watched the Maverick episode "Three Queens Full." It was a spoof of Bonanza -- Pa (played by Mr. Thurston McGoo himself, Jim Backus) hired three debutantes -- hookers, it turns out -- to marry his three sons.

It's set on the SubRosa ranch, and the three sons are Henry, Small Paul, and Moose. They even have the scene where Small Paul climbs up something (for no damn reason, there's a stairway right next to him) so he can fight a guy. Just perfect.

It turns out that the boys, dim as they are, are perfectly suited to their dance hall brides, and it's true love for all.

It drags in places, but bits of it, for anyone who remembers Bonanza, are comedy gold.

Stan said...

Speaking of the "meme passed on to Kirk," I was surprised (back when that was easy) to learn that Roddenberry always considered Star Trek to be a western...basically a "wagon train to the stars."

The fact that he "intensely disliked" Shatner just...what,... shows that he was ahead of the curve, even then? ;~)

Since I live just north of Lake Tahoe, the Ponderosa Ranch was a common place to take visitors. It was closed in 2004, ostensibly to be "rebuilt" into another western theme park. Locals also heard that basically the land was too valuable to leave alone. Come 2010, they "ain't built nuthin up thataway, yet!"

Steve Perry said...

Shatner catches a lot of crap, and some of it deservedly so. Got to like Tim Allen's turn in Galaxy Quest as Shatner. (Actually, you have to like pretty much everything about Galaxy Quest. Brilliant movie if you get the joke.)

To his credit, Shatner later realized how arrogant he'd been and tried to make it up to folks. That's part of why the character Kirk worked -- Shatner's attitude.

They liked to hire Shakespearean emoters for the starship captains for a while -- Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, and they all brought their disdain for the roles with them ...

The last twenty years of his career, Bill has been mostly poking fun at himself -- I give him credit for that, too.

Stan said...

I think Shatner's best "poke" at himself was on Boston Legal when he was about to be arrested in a bathroom stall. He pulls out his cell phone and channels himself from "Wrath of Khan" as he calls for help!

Ed said...

I remember Little Joe was pretty fast on the draw. I saw some of the later Bonanza shows a while back - ouch - nothing like the early ones(actors moving on and all) but you could sure get a little house on the prairie feel from them.

Shatner's Kirk was cool in the early episodes - Balance of Terror or the first episode Shatner is the captain. Trivia - near the end of that episode the ESP bad guy makes a tombstone for Kirk's grave - the name etched in the stone reads James R Kirk - bad speller, he was supposed to be Kirks friend from way back -probably just characters not fleshed out all the way yet.

Later tinnitus took it's toll?

Ed said...

....and Galaxy Quest is great!

steve-vh said...

Roberts never really wanted the TV/movie spotlight, instead preferring the stage. And was quite known at the time of Bonanza for protesting the use of all white crews and marched with MLK.

Dojo Rat said...

As I remember, I saw Roberts on a celebrety talent show doing Martial arts. He used a Samurai sword and did a few stunts.

We watch Bonanza still, but the best acting for a western in that era was definately Gunsmoke. Lots of great stars rolled through Dodge. (we even have the western channel).
Best Western ever? Deadwood.

Steve Perry said...

Deadwood. Yeah.

Nancy Holder said...

My cousin and I spend a summer writing fan letters and asking for autographs, and I got one from Lucile Ball, the mom on Mr. Ed (who recently passed away, even though I had written asking for Mr. Ed's autograph), and all 4 of the Bonanza guys on horseback, all signed==passed the spit test. Then I sprayed my room with room deodorizer. The picture turned pink, the ink ran...and I was bereft. Little Joe was Shaun Cassidy. Adam with the Real Man.

Nancy Holder said...

My cousin and I spend a summer writing fan letters and asking for autographs, and I got one from Lucile Ball, the mom on Mr. Ed (who recently passed away, even though I had written asking for Mr. Ed's autograph), and all 4 of the Bonanza guys on horseback, all signed==passed the spit test. Then I sprayed my room with room deodorizer. The picture turned pink, the ink ran...and I was bereft. Little Joe was Shaun Cassidy. Adam with the Real Man.