'Bonanza': Why Did "Adam Cartwright" Leave The Show?

Why Did "Adam Cartwright" Leave Bonanza?
September 19, 2020 - 08:45 / Lucas Anderson

Bonanza fans will of course remember original cast member "Adam Cartwright." Pernell Roberts played the architectural engineer "Cartwright" brother from season 1 until his abrupt exit in season 6. But why did the star leave the hit Western at the height of its popularity? Let's look back at why Roberts quit Bonanza

"The Cartwrights" lost one of their own when Pernell Roberts quit Bonanza in 1965.

On the show, Roberts portrayed "Adam Cartwright," an architectural engineer and the eldest brother of the family. With Bonanza since season 1, Roberts was along for the ride as the NBC Western quickly rose to superstar status and became TV's #1 show in season 6. But all was not well off-screen. Here's why "Adam Cartwright" left after season 6.

Why Did "Adam Cartwright" Leave Bonanza?

Roberts, in his early 30s while on Bonanza, was actually trained as a classical stage actor. The "Adam Cartwright" role was a transition to TV for the actor, who never adapted to the routines of a network-television series.

Bonanza cast: Lorne Green, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts

Roberts disliked the treatment of "Adam," a grown man kept under the thumb of his father (Lorne Green), and felt constricted by the lack of range in his character. He was famously quoted as having said, "I feel I am an aristocrat in my field of endeavor. My being part of Bonanza was like [violinist] Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk." What's more, he expressed disdain for the NBC show's "assembly-line mindset," all in spite of Bonanza's huge fanbase and healthy salaries.

The actor quit the show in the middle of season 6, with his final appearance coming on April 18, 1965. The exit was written into Bonanza, and the "Cartwrights" mentioned that "Adam" had moved away and was at sea, possibly in Europe. The later films then added that he was in Australia.

Bonanza: Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts

Bonanza: "Adam Cartwright" actor Pernell Roberts

After Roberts exited Bonanza, he stayed true to himself and returned to the stage. However, he still made many appearances in films and TV roles, notably including the title role on Trapper John, M.D.

Pressed to reflect on Bonanza years later, the actor expressed no regret about his decision, offering a harsh impression of his time on the series. "All I cared about was my emotional well-being. That job was very unpleasant, and I never regretted leaving. 

"If you're locked into a philosophy of nickels and dimes, then you have a pretty limited approach to life," he told People, referencing the Bonanza money he left on the table. "I don't need a lot of money to live with dignity."

Bonanza continued as Top-10 series for six more seasons after Roberts quit the show, which finally concluded in 1972. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 81.