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Pernell Roberts
Screenshot 2015-04-23-14-34-58 kindlephoto-5357552
Pernell Roberts as Adam Cartwright in a "Bonanza" publicity shot from the 1960s.
Biographical information
Full Name: See below:
Birthname Pernell Elven Roberts, Jr.
Occupation: Actor
Years active: 1949-2001
Gender: Male
Race/Ethnicity: American/Caucasian
Born: May 16, 1928
Birthplace: Waycross, Georgia, U.S.
Died: January 24, 2010(2010-01-24) (aged 81)
Place of Death: Malibu, California, U.S.
Family/Relatives: Jonathan Christopher Roberts (son, 1951-1989)[1]
Spouse(s): Dr. Vera Mowry (1951–1959)
Judith LeBrecque (1962–1971)
Kara Knack (1972–1996)
Dr. Eleanor Criswell
(other languages)(1997–2010; his death
Series: Bonanza
No. of appearances: 200 episodes in series
First Appeared in: "A Rose for Lotta" (series pilot)
Last Episode Appearance: "Patchwork Man" (Season 6)
Character played: Adam Cartwright

Pernell Elven Roberts Jr. (May 18, 1928 – January 24, 2010) was an American stage, film and television actor, as well as a singer. In addition to guest starring in over 60 television series, he was best known for his roles as Ben Cartwright's eldest son, Adam Cartwright, on the Western TV series Bonanza (1959–1965), and as chief surgeon Dr. John McIntyre, the title character on the hit CBS-TV series Trapper John, M.D. (1979–1986).[2][3]

He was also known for his lifelong activism, which included participation in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 and pressuring NBC to refrain from hiring whites to portray minority characters.


Role as Adam Cartwright on "Bonanza"[]

Roberts played Ben Cartwright's urbane eldest son Adam. Unlike his brothers, Adam was a university educated architectural engineer.

Roberts had had high hopes for what he could contribute to Bonanza, and was disappointed with the direction of the show, the limitations imposed on his Bonanza character, and on his acting range. In a newspaper interview he said, "I haven't grown at all since the series began...I have an impotent role. Wherever I turn there's the father image," [4] In addition,Roberts was disgusted by the paucity of minority characters in the series despite the historical fact that Virginia City, Nevada had a significant African-American population during the historical period depicted.

Roberts fulfilled but did not extend his six-year contract for Bonanza, and when he left the series, his character was eliminated with the explanation that Adam had "moved away." Later episodes suggested variously that Adam was "at sea", had moved to Europe, or was on the East Coast, running that end of the family business. The last episode Pernell Roberts worked on was "Dead and Gone", air date April 4, 1965. He appeared in the next two that aired which were filmed prior to "Dead and Gone" — "A Good Night's Rest", air date April 11, 1965 and "To Own The World", air date April 18, 1965. Adam Cartwright was mentioned on occasion in the series (including a 1967 episode which did not air until April 4, 1971 ("Kingdom of Fear").

Other acting roles[]

Pernell also guest-starred in TV shows such as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., The Virginian, The Big Valley, Lancer, Mission: Impossible, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Wild Wild West, Ironside, The Rockford Files, Gunsmoke, Mannix, Vega$, The Odd Couple, Hawaii Five-O, The Love Boat, Hotel, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, San Francisco International Airport, Nakia, Night Gallery, The Bold Ones, The Quest, Police Story, Most Wanted, Westside Medical, Man From Atlantis, Jigsaw John, Sixth Sense, Quincy, M.E. The Feather and Father Gang, Hawkins, Men from Shiloh, Perry Mason, Wide World of Mystery, and The Six Million Dollar Man, and appeared in miniseries, including Captains and the Kings, Centennial, The Immigrants and Around the World in 80 Days. He starred in two cult films, Four Rode Out (1971) and Kashmiri Run (1970), directed by the veteran TV director John Peyser, and other feature films, including The Magic of Lassie (1978). He co-starred or was featured in several TV movies, including, The Adventures of Nick Carter, Dead Man on the Run, Assignment: Munich, The Night Rider, The Silent Gun, The Lives of Jenny Dolan, The Deadly Tower, Hot Rod, Desperado, The Bravos, and High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane.

In 1979, Roberts again achieved "superstar" status [5] as the lead in Trapper John, M.D. (1979–1986), receiving an Emmy Award nomination in 1981; and playing the character twice as long as Wayne Rogers had (1972–1975) on CBS's M*A*S*H series. Roberts told TV Guide (1979) that he chose to return to weekly television after watching his father age and realizing that it was a vulnerable time to be without financial security. "The show allowed Roberts to both use his dramatic range and address issues," wrote The Independent.

Of the period between series, Roberts said he enjoyed moving around and playing different characters. During that time, he also toured university campuses conducting seminars on play production, acting, and poetry.[6]

In 1980, Roberts reunited with his former Bonanza co-star Lorne Greene, for 2 episodes of ABC-TV series Vega$.

In 1988, Roberts co-starred with Milla Jovovich in the TV movie The Night Train to Kathmandu.

Personal life and death[]

Pernell married four times, first in 1951 to Vera Mowry — a professor of theatre history at Washington State University and subsequently Hunter College, as well as professor emerita of the Ph.D. program in theatre at City University of New York (CCNY)[7] — with whom he had his only child (Jonathan Christopher "Chris" Roberts, b. October 1951).[8] Pernell and his first wife later divorced.[9] Chris Roberts, who lived variously in California and New York, attended Franconia College.[10]

Roberts married Judith Anna LeBrecque on October 15, 1962;[11] they divorced in 1971. He subsequently married Kara Knack in 1972, divorcing in 1996.

At the time of his death from pancreatic cancer on January 24, 2010,[12] Roberts was married to Eleanor Criswell.

Shortly after his death, his friend and former Trapper John, M.D. series co-star, Gregory Harrison, released a statement: "Pernell was a wonderful man, a good friend, and a big part of my life, especially when I was just beginning as an actor. He was a true inspiration to me, as he was to many actors over the years. I was so lucky to have shared the screen with him for nearly eight seasons, and am deeply saddened at his passing. Fortunately, he lives on in the memories of his fans, and in the hearts of the lucky people, like you and me, that he touched personally. I'll be forever grateful to him."


  1. Pernell Roberts Obituary, published by The (UK) Guardian, January 26, 2010. accessed 5/23/2017.
  2. Dobuzinskis, Alex. ""Bonanza" Star Pernell Roberts Dies At 81", Reuters, January 25, 2010. Retrieved on 2014-01-04. 
  3. "Pernell Roberts, 'Bonanza' and 'Trapper John' star, dies", CNN, Alan Duke, January 26, 2010. Retrieved on May 22, 2010. 
  4. Laurent, Lawrence. ""This Time Pernell Won't Need a Tuba"", Washington Post, May 1, 1963. 
  5. TV Guide, 1982
  6. Dan Lewis. "Monday", September 17, 1979. 
  7. Vera Mowry Roberts Chair in American Theatre Announced at 90th Birthday Celebration. City University of New York, December 2003.
  8. Pernell Roberts. Archived from the original on 2010-01-29.
  9. Pernell Roberts FAQ. Archived from the original on October 28, 2009. Retrieved on 2007-05-05.
  10. Franconia College The Big List of Names.
  11. Johnson, Milt. TV Radio Mirror 1963
  12. Woo, Elaine. "Pernell Roberts, Adam Cartwright on "Bonanza," dead at 81", Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2010. Retrieved on 2010-01-25. 

External links[]