Happy Trails, Sweet Crush Pernell

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]
I was an Adam girl. Still am. Always will be, even though Pernell Roberts isn’t with us any more. He died this week of pancreatic cancer at 81.
Anna Quindlen famously wrote how her fellow teenagers, circa 1964, were divided among “Paul girls,” “John girls,” “George girls,” or “Ringo girls.” The four “Bonanza” stars didn’t define and consume my adolescence the way the Beatles did hers, not least because by the time I discovered the show, it was already just in endless re-runs. But among its loyal fans in any year – and I suspect there are fresh ones hatching — there’s one Cartwright for whom your heart beats faster during the rotating horseback cameos in the opening credits. You’re an Adam girl, a Little Joe girl, a Hoss girl, or a Pa girl.
Joe girls – the biggest group – are the ones who like ‘em cute and flirtatious, usually because they’re cute and flirtatious themselves. Hoss girls tend to be bold renegades making a statement (it’s the equivalent of the “Ringo” pick). Pa girls are mostly grandmothers (mine, for instance).
We Adam girls are different. We long for…

…intelligence and knowing sideways glances. We know a black hat doesn’t always mean a bad guy; you have to check closely under the brim. It’s a quiet, confident girl – at once old-fashioned and very modern — who’s attracted to Adam’s broody looks, courtly manners, and unfussy but swooningly sexy Johnny Cash wardrobe. We want that elusive combo, a thinker and a doer. We’re not in need of rescue, thank you sir, but you can steal a looong kiss and build us a house any day. (Just don’t fall off a ladder and get temporarily crippled so we have to marry your cousin Will instead.)
While other girls pined for Bobby Sherman and Shaun Cassidy, I only had eyes – and ears – for Pernell. That smooth, deep voice! Forget the Beatles. My first record album ever was “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” — his rendition of “The Water Is Wide” beats Bob Dylan’s, Sheryl Crow’s, James Taylor’s, Charlotte Church’s or anybody else who’s ever tried to sing this classic. (It was my youngest child’s favorite lullaby, the most surefire tune to lull her to sleep, and I learned it from Pernell — a whole other reason he holds an eternal place in my heart.) At one point, Pernell was a pitchman for Folonari Soave wine, a name that stays with me only because I trilled inside every time I heard the commercials: “If you like Chablis, you’ll love Folonari Soave.” Oh yes, Adam, I’m sure I will!
Once, I even made a pilgrimage to Waycross, Georgia, his hometown at the edge of the Okefenokee swamp, about as far from Virginia City as you could imagine. Hot, flat…no wonder he headed West. I once hired a woman from Waycross – though I swear her Pernell connection wasn’t the reason, even though her dad was in the same high school class as him!  She got a big promotion the day she brought me the cover of the Waycross phone book featuring their class reunion photo. (Just kidding on the last part; she was one of the more talented people I worked with and became a dear friend!)
“Bonanza” depicted a ranch, not a farm, I realize – and an idealized, cushy (and remarkably well lit for the 1860s!) ranch at that. But the outdoorsy scenery spoke to suburban teen me, writing my angry poems about sidewalks that went nowhere in a ‘burb that had been carved out of farmland barely a decade before I got there. “Bonanza” was also my corny introduction to not-at-all-corny cowboy culture, the code of honor of the West, which attracted me like a fly to a horsetail. Rugged individualism. Manifest destiny. Your handshake is your word. For a high school misfit, an independent, romantic life Out West – even the TV Land version – looked like heaven.
Of course, each of us – Adam girls, Joe girls, Hoss girls, and Pa girls alike – was also spinning her own fantasy of being the lone exception there on the Ponderosa, the love who didn’t move on with a passing wagon train, die of mysterious disease or arrow, or find a credulity-defying “better” man. Escapism at its finest.
It’s such a delight and relief when your fantasy-from-afar turns out to be exactly the sort of fellow you’d hoped. Roberts, a serious actor, abandoned “Bonanza” at its Sierra-high peak because the character development he’d been promised had come to naught. They said it would kill his career but he seems to have stayed awfully busy taking guest-star and stage roles, and then of course starring in another TV hit, the sitcom “Trapper John, MD.” He also fought for Civil Rights and cooked a legendary cioppino. He skipped the cheesy reunion shows. He was his own man.
So rest in peace, Pernell Roberts, o my first deep crush. (As I confided in my first Suburban Farmgirl post!)
And fellow Adam girls, I leave you with this little song.

  1. Jeanine says:

    I must admit, I was a Little Joe girl but I was a little young in the 60s. I was only two in 1964 so I probably watched the reruns in the 70s and thought they were happening right now! Great song of Pernell’s.

  2. TJ Kear says:

    I am a Hoss girl. I cried when he died. He was a gentle giant with a big heart.

  3. Patty Schultz says:

    That was such a sweet and tender tribute. Thanks Paula

  4. Brenda says:

    I am an Adam girl too. I always thought I was the only one in the world! Thanks for sharing this. I didn’t know he had passed. Adam was such the strong, quiet, composed, intelligent one. He displayed a broad and vigorous education. He usually led in integrity and sacrifice. We are lessened. Even though I did not hear anything of him of late, it was nice to pat the place where he was and feel comforted by his presence. Now he is legend – at least to me (and you). Never knew he was from Waycross! Never liked Waycross.

  5. Marie says:

    I love the show Bonanza! All of the guys were great.
    However, after the show was in reruns and the actors were going on to other things, I was able to see Pernell Roberts in a play in Austin, Texas – and of all things, part of the same cast as Dawn Wells (Mary Ann of Gilligan’s Island).

  6. CathieG says:

    I loved the show! I don’t know if I had a favorite…they all were so cool in their own way…I saw Loren Green at a stock show when I was a youngin and just swooned…Hoss was so gentle…LiL Joe was a great crier(and was the reason I sat thru Little House on the Prairie) but Adam had that oh so wonderful something about him. I had forgotten about Trapper John MD!

  7. Meme says:

    I was raised infront of weatern shows and movies but Bonanza is still a fav. I love Barbara Stanwick and I have to say I favored Hoss. I didn’t know Pernell Roberts was involved in Civil Rights…very interesting.

  8. emily says:

    Now I feel old…I watched the show when it aired originally!

  9. carol branum says:

    hi Paula,yes,I read that in the Sunday paper,so sad.I almost cryed.We watched the show religiously in our home."Hoss" is my momma,s third cousin,she even had a split in her teeth just like his.All of her brothers kinda have that look,and all the men cousins too.So,we watched every week…My grama had that record alumb of Pernell Roberts also.Bonanza was a big part of our lives.All of the men were handsome,I did,nt really have a favorite.Little Joe kind of stole the spotlight from Roberts,and I think that hurt him…He will be missed.blessed be,Carol Branum,Lamar Mo.themofarmersdaughter@blogspot.com

  10. Patsy Robertson says:

    Thanks for sharing this Paula. I did not know he could sing. He was so handsome and he and Little Joe were my favorites. I am so sorry he is gone.

  11. Denise says:

    Gorgeous tribute, so true born in the 70’s and no tv until 17 well, I missed all this so will have to go and watch them no – they’re on dvd i believe.
    loved the humour too.
    keep on keeping on.
    Cheers Paula.

  12. Carmen says:

    I watched the show from the start. I was a Hoss girl although I was only twelve when the show started. He certainly wasn’t my type, I liked skinny guys with long hair, but I had such a crush on Dan Blocker for years. He he was such a nice guy in real life also. He was famous but still took time to teach when he wasn’t filming. I cried when I heard he had died. Once in a while I watch reruns and think of what a waste that he died at 44.

  13. Mary says:

    OHHHHHH! Hadn’t heard that Pernell had passed on. He was a great actor, and YES! I was hooked, too! yes, I was. he was so handsome, and so mature and so intelligent!

  14. KimberlyD says:

    I really wasn’t for any of them on Ponderosa even though I did watch the reruns in the 70’s. I do think that was a nice tribute to Pernell Roberts though. I was a huge Shaun Cassidy fan, I had his posters on my wall and owned his 8 tracks. Now don’t that date me…lol!

  15. Paula says:

    I think we’re about evenly split on our favorite Cartwright….

  16. Tana says:

    I,too, was an "Adam Girl" and his qualities followed my search for the right man to spend my life with. However I never realized how much he was like Adam until now. Pernell Robert’s was a man who stood for what was right and tried to do what he could to make the situation better for all involved.
    Thank you for taking the time to write about his life. He will be long remembered by many.

  17. susan arkles says:

    Paula, As a young girl I was a die hard Joe girl. Now that I’m 61 I find myself favoring Pa.,of course having a Hop Sing around woulden’t be bad either!

  18. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Oh no, can’t forget Hop Sing. He and Sheriff Coffey and the other sheriff (deputy? the one played by Kurt Russell’s dad Bing) all deserved more character development, too!

  19. carolj says:

    Pernell grew up in Waycross next door to my grandmother. Her memory of him was the bad little boy who tore up her flowers. Although I was a Joe girl, I must say I would pick Adam today. I guess pretty faces don’t mean as much as they used to now that I am 50 plus. Loved your take on things.

  20. Deborah M. says:

    Paula thanks for the info on "Adam". Yes, even though all my friends were "Joe’s girls" (and I tried to fit in for awhile) I was an Adam’s girl. I like the streghtn of the character he played.

  21. Thanks for the sweet remembrances of Pernell. My tribute to him is at http://circlemending.blogspot.com/2010/01/memorial-for-my-friend-pernell-roberts.html

    Best wishes, Jean

  22. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Jean, thanks for writing so we could all see your lovely tribute! I loved your observation: "I believe that who we are is largely a result of the people we have connected with in our lives."

  23. Erin says:

    Your book touched me when it first came out and I learned then that you were an Adam girl. I wrote you then and commented on my own Adam crush. It brings a smile to my face to be remembering that again now. Thanks again for sharing his loss. Now I feel old!

  24. Mountain Laurel says:

    I loved Bonanza and my favorite was Pernell Roberts, although Little Joe was cute.

  25. Faith says:

    I am a Hoss girl, and an Adam girl….I loved the gentleness and bear like quality of Hoss, and the quiet,manly man of Adam. It was danger to fall in love with any of the Cartwrights, for surely something would befall either the lady or the relationship.

  26. Mamakat says:

    I watched "Bonanza" reruns as a child in the ’70s, but I didn’t notice Pernell until I started watching "Trapper John, M.D." I liked him as an older, balding-and-graying-a-bit man with a beard. It was only years later watching "Bonanza" reruns again that I realized who he was on that show.

  27. Megan says:

    I was born in the mid-eighties, but I got into Bonanza when they started airing on MeTV. I am totally an Adam girl! Strong, intelligent, and beautiful…"sigh".

    Edward Cullen, eat your heart out! 🙂

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