Pernell Roberts and Kathie Browne~A Petticoat For The Ponderosa
TV Guide~January 18, 1964
'The story behind the unusual developments on 'Bonanza' which may
signal the end of a man's world'
Will pretty little Kathie Browne bring peace and tranquility to the
Ponderosa? Tune in about February and find out.
Kathie has already met up with Adam Cartwright of the 'Bonanza'
Cartwrights. Her mission now is to bring conjungal love to the outpost of
male self-sufficency, the Ponderosa, and perhaps provide an escape from
the ranch for one restless son.
The romance began on December 8 in an emotion-packed episode in which
Kathie played a new and very nervous widow, afraid to acknowledge that
she really hated her husband and wished him dead. Adam Cartwright lent a
calm and pyschiatric-like hand, and by show's end, a romance had begun.
However, only four episodes with Kathie have been planned so far, no
definite date for a wedding has been set, and David Dortort, the show's
producer, is carefully assessing public reaction to the encounter before
proceeding with many more scripts. After all, four years for the four
Cartwrights have presided over their 600,000-acre domain in the Comstock
Lode country, near Virginia City, Nevada, without meddling
females, beautiful or otherwise.
Since the show has been just what the title implies, a bonanza--for
the sponsor, the network and the actors--why are they tampering with it?
"For greater range and freedom", an NBC press release artfully puts
"It was Pernell (Adam) Roberts' constant agitation about wanting out
of the show", producer David Dortort puts it bluntly. "We weren't sure
what would happen, and had to protect ourselves". By "protecting", Dortort
means that if Roberts had left the show, a marriage would have been a
logical way to shuffle him off into the sunset. On the other hand, the new
dimension in his role might make him happier about staying. "Now", says
Dortort, "the network has definitely said they will not let him out of
his contract. So he'll be with us until `65."
It is no secret that Roberts has not been happy in the series. During
the fourth season he threatened to break his contract with the
network--a sort of "brinkmanship" policy (as Roberts puts it), to call
attention to his complaints and suggestions. He feels that the scripts
are often banal and inconsistent, and that he is stagnating as an actor
in limited characterizations and restricted rehearsal conditions. "And I
don't like being one-fourth of a part".
The stage was Roberts' training ground (Dortort last fall released
him for a two-week appearance in the East in "Night of the Iguana"), and
he is no lover of much that appears on the big glass eye. He once
remarked, "Everything on TV is that monster, compromise...Let's face
it, 'Bonanza' could really be good if the powers-that-be cared enough to
make it that way". Such a remark does not endear you to
sponsors, producers, networks or actors who are making a good living from
Dortort lays it on the line: "Pernell has a hate for Hollywood. I don't
think he really belongs in the acting business. A very good actor, yes, but
his performances are erratic. An actor may not be enthralled with a
part, but it is his responsibility to do his best".
'Roberts a loner'
Outspoken, difficult, and something of a "loner" Roberts may be. It also
may be while 'Bonanza's' ratings soar, it is uncomfortable for others to
hear a not-so-still voice suggest that success is not necessarily
Yet Roberts is anxious to overcome a reputation for being a "bad
guy". He admits, "I'm resigned to staying another year and a half. I'll go
to rehearsal and give an intelligent reading, but that's all. No more
suggestions for script changes. I'll wait it out. And after all, the money
It remains to be seen if a man like Roberts, with strong
convictions, will remain quiet. His last suggestion, made in the middle of
the fourth year, was the biggest bombshell of them all. He wrote to NBC:
Let the network cast the part of his bride as an Indian girl, and get a
Negro girl to play the part.
Roberts' reasons, as in the letter, were straight to the point: "Recent
events in the South have done tremendous damage to our national prestige
and have clearly indicated the grievous wrong that has been perpetrated
upon American Negros. I have found this to be tremendously
distressing, embarrassing and humiliating, as a man, as an American, and as
a Southerner. (Birthplace: Waycross, Georgia)....It seems to me that
the forthcoming addition to the format of 'Bonanza', the impending
marriage of Adam Cartwright, offers an unparalleled opportunity which
might help towards the rebuilding of our national image and
integrity...(This) would be one of the most progressive and
constructive statements in television drama , as both the Negro and the
American Indian have been constantly been exploited 'second class
NBC's reply to Roberts was brief and courteous. It thanked him for his
suggestion. It said that the part would be cast in consideration of all
the requirements necessary for the role.
'The Official Reason'
Official reason for rejection, as Dortort expresses it, is that the
suggestion "came much too late to put into effect, even if the network
wanted to. The scripts were planned."
Replies Roberts, "There is still time to write another girl into this
years' episodes if they really want to. I'm still hoping they will."
When queried futher, Dortort maintains the "suggestion was well
meaning, but confused". He credits Roberts with "kindly intentions", but
says, "To ask a Negro to play an Indian doesn't solve anything. It is an
empty gesture towards civil rights."
At the same time, it may be more than coincidence that this season
will feature Sammy Davis, Jr. as a guest star on 'Bonanza'. "I've been
kidding with Sammy about guesting for a long time", says Dortort, "and we
hope to have the show sometime in March."
Another script that is being based on an authentic character, Thomas
Bowers, a Negro concert artist who traveled and performed in the 1860's
and 70's. Dortort discovered his existance while doing research into the
history of the time. Negro actor William Marshall will do the part.
And just to add what Dortort calls "further dimension", which might as
well be read "further insurance", actor Guy Williams of 'Zorro' fame will
be added as a regular member of the cast. Originally, he was scheduled to
play Ben Cartwright's younger brother, but because of his age, it made
more sense to cast him as Ben's nephew.
How will the problems of the Ponderosa turn out? A lot will depend on
slender, blonde Kathie Browne. She considers that she has been officially
been an actress for two years: "The year before that I wasn't working
enough to qualify. "Blonde, but not the sexpot type, Kathie says, "I'm
rather strange looking. "Actually, her face has a striking and unusual
The lead in a little-theater production, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" some
three years ago was Kathie's first break, and she has appeared often on
such shows as 'Wagon Train', '77 Sunset Strip', 'Perry Mason', 'Temple
Does she take lots of lessons--dancing, singing, judo, --all those
things aspiring actresses say they're doing? "No", says candid Kathie, "I
think actresses do those things when they aren't finding work".
Kathie's previous appearances on 'Bonanza' impressed producer David
Dortort. "Her serious attitude toward acting and her versatility were
wonderful. She is intelligent and sensitive," he says. Dortort has faith
that Kathie's three or four appearances will stretch into a continuing
performance, and that her presence and acting may give Roberts a reason
Does the Roberts reputation scare Kathie? "I have found him a bit
moody, but interesting to work with. The whole cast is wonderful. I love to
work with them", she says tactfully. "Perhaps I can help Pernell with a
new dimension and variation for his role. After all, the character of the
girl is just not a little kid next door. She's a widow with a child, and
a strong mind of her own."
Just how these two strong minds--Adam's and the widow's--will
combine, remains to be seen. There may be a great romance--and there may
not. Who says you can always predict a 'Bonanza' ending?