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Bonanza is an American Western television series that ran on NBC from September 12, 1959, to January 16, 1973. Lasting 14 seasons and 431 episodes, Bonanza is NBC’s longest-running western,
and ranks overall as the second-longest-running western series on U.S. network television (behind CBS’s Gunsmoke),
and within the top 10 longest-running, live-action American series. The show continues to air in syndication.
The show is set in the 1860s and it centers on the wealthy Cartwright family who live in the vicinity of Virginia City, Nevada, bordering Lake Tahoe. The series initially starred Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon and later featured (at various times) Guy Williams, David Canary, Mitch Vogel and Tim Matheson. The show is known for presenting pressing moral dilemmas.
The title “Bonanza”
The title “Bonanza” is a term used by miners in regard to a large vein or deposit of silver ore, from Spanish bonanza (prosperity) and commonly refers to the 1859 revelation of the Comstock Lode of rich silver ore mines under the town of Virginia City, not far from the fictional Ponderosa Ranch that the Cartwright family operated.
The show’s theme song, also titled “Bonanza”,
became a hit song.
Only instrumental renditions, absent Ray Evans’ lyrics, were used during the series’s long run.
In 2002, Bonanza was ranked No.
43 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, and in 2013 TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.
The time period for the television series is roughly between 1861 (Season 1) and 1867 (Season 13) during and shortly after the American Civil War, coinciding with the period Nevada Territory became a U.S. state.
During the summer of 1972,
NBC aired reruns of episodes from the 1967–1970 period in prime time on Tuesday evening under the title Ponderosa.
western, a genre of novels and short stories, motion pictures, and television and radio shows that are set in the American West, usually in the period from the 1850s to the end of the 19th century.
Though basically an American creation, the western had its counterparts in the gaucho literature of Argentina and in tales of the settlement of the Australian outback.
The genre reached its greatest popularity in the early and middle decades of the 20th century and declined somewhat thereafter.
the western’s traits
The western has as its setting the immense plains, rugged tablelands, and mountain ranges of the portion of the United States lying west of the Mississippi River, in particular the Great Plains and the Southwest. This area was not truly opened to white settlement until after the American Civil War (1861–65), at which time the Plains Indians were gradually subdued and deprived of most of their lands by white settlers and by the U.S. cavalry. The conflict between white pioneers and Indians forms one of the basic themes of the western.
Another sprang out of the class of men known as cowboys,
who were hired by ranchers to drive cattle across hundreds of miles of Western pasturelands to railheads where the animals could be shipped eastward to market.
The cattle and mining industries spurred the growth of towns, and the gradual imposition of law and order that such settled communities needed was accomplished by another class of men who became staple figures in the western,
the town sheriff and the U.S. marshal. Actual historical persons in the American West have figured prominently in latter-day re-creations of the era. Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and other lawmen have frequently been portrayed, as have such outlaws as Billy the Kid and Jesse James.
Who was Pernell Roberts?
Pernell Elven Roberts, Jr. was an American actor and singer who is best remembered for his performance in the western TV series ‘Bonanza’ (1959–1965). The show featured him as the character ‘Ben Cartwright’s son, ‘Adam Cartwright.’ The role made audiences notice him.
His other prominent performance was in the series ‘Trapper John, M.D.’ (1979–1986), where he played the eponymous character ‘Trapper John McIntyre.’
Though Roberts made guest appearances in more than 60 TV series, his acting career was not limited to the small screen.
He was an equally proficient actor on stage and had worked in a number of movies.
Roberts also made it to the news due to his activism, such as his participation in the ‘Selma to Montgomery marches’ in 1965, where the marchers demanded that ‘NBC’ stop casting white actors in the roles of minorities.
Roberts had an elaborate career as an artist. He died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 81.
According to the 1973 book “Marilyn Beck’s Hollywood”
According to the 1973 book “Marilyn Beck’s Hollywood”, when Pernell Roberts told Lorne Greene he was leaving the series because he wanted to challenge himself as an actor, Greene told him to stick to it,
The show, which aired a whopping 431 episodes from 1959-1974, followed three-time widower Ben Cartwright and his three sons – each from a different wife.
His sons were Adam Cartwright, played by Pernell Roberts, Eric “Hoss” Cartwright, played by Dan Blocker, and Joseph “Little Joe” Cartwright, played by Michael Landon. They all lived on a Lake Tahoe, Nevada-area ranch called the Ponderosa.
Landon was the only Cartwright brother who remained a series regular for the entirety of the series.
Blocker unexpectedly passed away in 1972 at the age of 43 from a pulmonary embolism following surgery to remove his gall bladder. Bonanza chose to kill off his character following his death, marking the first time a television show killed off a major young male character.
however, left on his own accord – which sparked lots of controversy back then.
The eldest of the Cartwright brothers, Adam had a degree in architectural engineering and built the ranch house. Pernell Roberts, who was mainly a stage actor before landing this role, had a hard time with the schedule. Bonanza had 34 episode seasons, which is grueling in any generation of television.
In fact, Roberts wasn’t shy to his co-stars about his dislike of working on the show, saying, “I feel I am an aristocrat in my field of endeavor,” Roberts said around the time of his departure. “My being part of Bonanza was like Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk.”
This didn’t go over well with his co-stars.
“Pernell didn’t like the show and would let you know it, but he rarely cared to do much about improving it,” Landon once told People, but admitted he didn’t mind seeing as the remaining Cartwright’s split his salary.
Roberts’ TV dad also tried to give him some advice over the years.
“He felt time was rushing by,” Greene said in 1980.
I said, ‘Look, Pernell, if you stay with Bonanza you’ll make so much money you’ll be able to build your own theater and get Tennessee Williams to write a play for you.’”
But Roberts didn’t care about the money.
“Okay, so I threw away a million bucks,”
he said in 1980. “So what? All I cared about was my emotional well being. That job was very unpleasant, and I never regretted leaving.”
Roberts also didn’t enjoy his character
Roberts also didn’t enjoy his character,
who was in his 30s,
to always seek approval and direction from his father and called this part of the storyline “silly.”
An activist who participated in the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965,
he also didn’t like that the show wasn’t diverse in casting.
Roberts left the show after 202 episodes and was written out by saying he moved away.
At different points in the series it was mentioned
that he was out at sea and implied he went to Europe.
In the two TV movies following the series finale,
it was revealed that Adam was living in Australia and had matched his father’s success.
Roberts went back to the stage and toured with the musicals The King and I
, Kiss me Kate, Camelot, and The Music Man.
14 years after leaving the show,
he returned to television to play the titular character in Trapper John, M.D. until 1986.
In 1980, he said he took the role to “financially cover my ass,”
which is ironic seeing as he didn’t care about the money on Bonanza.