I represent the first generation whom, when we were born, the television was now a permanent fixture in our homes. When I was born people had breakfast with Barbara Walters, dinner with Walter Cronkite, and slept with Johnny Carson.
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Monday, January 25, 2010
Pernell Roberts died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Malibu, California at the age of 81. Born Pernell Elvin Roberts on May 18, 1928 was best known for his roles as Ben Cartwright's eldest son, Adam Cartwright, on Bonanza from 1959 to 1965, and as chief surgeon, Dr. John MacIntyre, the title character on Trapper John, M.D. (1979-1986). He was also known for his activism, which included participation in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, and pressuring NBC to refrain from hiring whites to portray minority characters.
In 1958, Roberts guest-starred as Captain Jacques Chavez on the NBC adventure series Northwest Passage based on the life of Major Robert Rogers in the French and Indian War. He appeared with fellow guest star Fay Spain in the 1958 episode "Pick up the Gun" of Tombstone Territory. In 1958 he played the lead villain in the 31st episode of Have Gun - Will Travel, portraying a killer boss exploiter of Chinese Coolie laborers entitled "Hey Boy's Revenge." The episode drew critical acclaim for shedding some light on the contribution of indentured Chinese workers in building the U.S. west and for also carrying a socially conscious message "white man's laws can deliver justice for a minority" a "Paladin Parable" so typical of the series. In 1959, he co-starred in the film Ride Lonesome.
He came to prominence playing Ben Cartwright's urbane eldest son, Adam, in the Western television series Bonanza. Despite the show’s success, he left after the sixth season in 1965 due to disagreements with the writers and a desire to return to legitimate theatre. Among other complaints, Roberts argued that a 34-year-old, educated, Eastern-born man would not be calling his father "Pa". The writers tacitly agreed not to exceed three "Pa" references per episode.
I had six seasons of playing the eldest son on Bonanza. Six seasons of feeling like a damned idiot, going around -- me, like a middle-aged teenager, saying, "Yes, Pa," "No, Pa" on cue. It was downright disgusting -- such dialogue for a grown man. I felt I wasn't being taken seriously as an actor, and that's like death to one's talent...Stuck as Adam Cartwright, I was only able to use about one-tenth of my ability.
He regained star status in the early 1980s while starring in the television series Trapper John, M.D. (1979-86). Roberts played the character almost twice as long as Wayne Rogers did (1972–1975) on the CBSM*A*S*H series.
Roberts married four times. His first marriage was in 1951 to Vera Mowry, a professor at Washington State University, with whom he had his only child (Jonathan Christopher Roberts); they later divorced. He married Judith Anna LeBreque on October 15, 1962; they divorced in 1971. His third marriage was to Kara Knack, whom he married in 1972; they divorced in 1996. He was married to Eleanor Criswell at the time of his death. Jonathan Roberts died in a motorcycle accident in 1989 at age 38.