Who was Pernell Roberts?

The late American actor and singer Pernell Elven Roberts Jr. was born in Waycross, Georgia USA, on 18 May 1928, meaning that Taurus was his zodiac sign. He had 106 acting credits, but is probably remembered best for starring as Adam Cartwright in 202 episodes (1959-1965) of the hit western series “Bonanza”, which also starred Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon, and was created by David Dortort and Fred Hamilton. It follows Ben Cartwright and his sons as they’re defending their ranch in Nevada, and the series won nine of the 25 awards for which it was nominated; Pernell quit the series because he found its content to be ‘simple-minded’, and because he disliked the personality of the character that he was playing.

Pernell died from pancreatic cancer on 24 January 2010, aged 81.

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Education and early life

Pernell was raised in Waycross as an only child, by his mother Minnie ‘Betty’ Myrtle Morgan Roberts who was a housewife, and father Pernell Elven Roberts Sr. who was a Dr. Pepper salesman.

Pernell was mostly into music while growing up, and he learned to play the horn at a very early age; he then became interested in acting, appearing in a number of plays performed at his elementary school and the church. Pernell matriculated from a local high school in 1946 and then enrolled at Georgia Tech, however, he dropped out after only a couple of months and joined the US Marine Corps in the same year, serving for two years.

He was a member of the Marine Corps Band, playing both the horn and the tuba, although he was also a skilled percussion and sousaphone player. Upon his return from the Marine Corps, Pernell enrolled at the University of Maryland but once again didn’t graduate; he appeared in several plays performed at the university, including “Antigone” and “Othello”.

He moved to New York City in 1952, in pursuit of acting roles.

Roles in TV series

Pernell’s debut TV series role was playing Jacques in a 1956 episode of the drama “The Kaiser Aluminum Hour”, and the remainder of the ‘50s saw him appear in an episode of the drama “Kraft Theatre”, the drama “Climax!” and the western “Trackdown”.

He remained focused on shooting for “Bonanza” until leaving the cast in 1965, and some of his roles in the remainder of the ‘60s were in the action adventure comedy “The Girl from U. N. C. L. E.”, the drama “CBS Playhouse” and the western “The Big Valley”.

The first half of the ‘70s saw Pernell play Boomer in four episodes of the critically acclaimed action crime adventure “Mission: Impossible”, which starred Peter Graves and Barbara Bain, and was created by Bruce Geller. It follows the work of an elite covert operations unit, the series aired from 1967 through 1973 and won 20 of its 59 award nominations. The second half of the ‘70s saw Pernell appear in an episode of many series, including the drama “Medical Story”, the crime family drama “Ellery Queen” and the crime action “Cannon”.

From 1979 through 1986, Pernell starred as Trapper John McIntyre in all 151 episodes of the popular drama “Trapper John, M. D.”, which also starred Charles Siebert and Brian Stokes Mitchell, and was created by Frank Glicksman and Don Brinkley. It follows the life of a chief surgeon working at a major city hospital – the series was nominated for six awards.

Pernell retired from acting in 1997, and his three final TV series roles were in all three episodes of the 1989 action adventure comedy mini-series “Around the World in 80 Days”, the 1990 episode “Requiem for a Hero” of the romantic western drama “The Young Riders” and the 1997 episode “Hard-Boiled Murder” of the crime mystery “Diagnosis Murder”.

Roles in movies

Pernell’s debut movie role was playing Peter in the 1958 romantic drama “Desire Under the Elms”, which starred Anthony Perkins and Sophia Loren, and was directed by Delbert Mann. The movie follows a family working on their farm, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White. Some of Pernell’s following roles were in the 1958 western “The Sheepman”, the 1959 western “Ride Lonesome”, and the 1961 family comedy “The Errand Boy”.

In 1967, he played Jigger Craigin in the musical “Carousel”, which starred Mary Grover and Robert Goulet, and was directed by Paul Bogart. It follows carnival barker Billy Bigelow who’s fallen for millworker Julie Jordan, and has married her; the film was nominated for two awards. The remainder of the ‘60s saw Pernell appear in the 1969 western “Four Rode Out”, the 1969 western “The Silent Gun” and the 1970 adventure “Tibetana”.

The year 1975 saw him appear in three movies: the thriller “Dead Man on the Run”, the family drama “Paco” and the action thriller “The Deadly Tower”. In 1978, he played Jamison in the family musical “The Magic of Lassie”, which starred James Stewart and Mickey Rooney, and was directed by Don Chaffey. It follows the dog Lassie as it’s trying to find its way back home, and the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song.

Some of Pernell’s notable performances in the ‘80s were in the 1981 drama “Incident at Crestridge”, the 1987 western “Desperado”, and the 1988 romantic adventure fantasy “The Night Train to Kathmandu”.

His final role was playing Dr. Martingale in the 1990 horror mystery science fiction “Donor”, which starred Jack Scalia and Melissa Gilbert, and was directed by Larry Shaw. It follows two doctors and a boy suffering from progeria who’ve all become involved in a mysterious medical experiment. He was 66 when he retired from acting.


Other credits

Pernell sang various songs in four episodes of the series “Bonanza” between 1961 and 1964, and he the songs “A Real Nice Clambake” and “Blow High, Blow Low” in the 1967 movie “Carousel”.

He received special thanks for the 2004 romantic comedy movie “The Last Shot”.

Some of his final talk-show appearances were in “The Bing Crosby Show”, “The David Frost Show”, and “Bicentennial Minutes”.

Awards and nominations

Pernell won a 1969 Bambi Award for TV Series International, for “Bonanza”.

He was also nominated for a 1981 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, for “Trapper John, M. D.” and a 1982 Golden Apple Award (Sour Apple).

Love life and wife

Pernell was married four times. His first wife was American professor of theatre history Vera Mowry; they exchanged vows on 4 January 1951, Vera gave birth to their son Jonathan Christopher ‘Chris’ Roberts in October 1951, but they divorced on 14 October 1959. Vera worked at City University of New York, Hunter College and Washington State University; their son Chris died in a motorcycle crash in 1989.

Pernell’s second wife was American actress Judith Roberts, who’s still today active in the movie industry; they married on 19 October 1962 and divorced in 1971.

His third wife was non-celebrity American Kara Knack; they exchanged vows on 1 June 1972 and divorced in 1996.

From 1999 until his death, Pernell was married to his fourth wife, non-celebrity American Eleanor Criswell.

Interesting facts and hobbies

Prior to becoming a famous actor, Pernell taught at Sunday School in Waycross; he was also a railroad riveter, a forest ranger, and a butcher.

Famous American actors Jon Forsythe and Wayne Rogers also auditioned for the lead role in the series “Trapper John, M. D.”

Pernell was just 13 years younger than Lorne Greene, who portrayed his father in the series “Bonanza”.

He met American actor Lee Majors on the set of the 1965 series “The Big Valley”, and they remained close friends until Pernell’s death.

Pernell was an activist and took part in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches.

Pernell was passionate about martial arts.

Height, eyes and wealth

Pernell would’ve been 95 today. He had brown hair and eyes, was 6ft (1.83m) tall and weighed around 170lbs (76kgs).

Pernell’s net worth was estimated at over $10 million at the time of his passing.

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