Wednesday, June 19, 2019

How Guy Williams Almost Joined the Cast of Bonanza

Today when most people think of the Cartwrights on the classic Western TV show Bonanza, they are inclined to think of Ben (Lorne Greene) and his three sons: Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker), and Little Joe (Michael Landon). What they often forget is that in the show's fifth season viewers were introduced to yet another Cartwright, Ben's nephew Will. Played by Guy Williams, Will was meant to be a replacement for eldest son Adam should Pernell Roberts decide to leave the show.

It has never been a secret that Pernell Roberts was not particularly happy starring on Bonanza. He was a stage actor who had played everything from Shakespeare to Eugene O'Neill. As a stage actor he was also accustomed to going from role to role, never remaining with one for too long. Not only did Mr. Roberts think Bonanza was beneath him, but he didn't particularly care for being stuck in the same role year after year. There was then a strong possibility that Pernell Roberts might leave in the show's fifth season.

It was then in the fifth season that a possible exit for Pernell Roberts and the character of Will was created. It was in the episode "The Waiting Game" that Adam met widow Laura Drayton (Kathie Browne), who had a young daughter. Over a few episodes love would blossom between Laura and Adam.  Quite simply, if Pernell Roberts decided to leave Bonanza, Adam could simply marry Laura and they would move away.

Of course, this would leave only three Cartwrights. It was then decided that another Cartwright should be introduced to the show should Pernell Roberts decide to leave. This was not the first time another "Cartwright" had been considered. The fourth season episode "The First Born" introduced Little Joe's older half brother Clay Stafford, the son of Ben's third wife Marie. Clay was played by Barry Coe, who had previously been the star of the short-lived show Follow the Sun. As it turned out, the character did not work out and only appeared for only one episode. As to Adam's possible replacement in the fifth season, Will Cartwright would last a little longer.

Will Cartwight was played by Guy Williams, then as now known for playing the title role in the Walt Disney TV series Zorro. Will was the son of Ben's brother John and hence Ben's nephew. He was introduced in the episode "Return to Honour" and would spend three more episodes becoming a part of the Cartwright family on the Ponderosa. Unfortunately for both actor Guy Williams and the character of Will, Pernell Roberts would decide to stay on Bonanza. The character of Will then became redundant.

What was meant to be Adam's exit from the series then became Will's exit from the series. In the episode "Triangle" Will and Laura fell in love and in the end the two of them left for San Francisco. Will was never seen again, or even referred to. As to Adam, in the sixth season Pernell Roberts finally decided to leave Bonanza. This time around no effort was made to introduce a replacement for Adam. In the seventh season it was simply mentioned that Adam had gone off to sea. Ultimately the seventh season would be remarkable as the only time that Bonanza only had three characters. It was in the eighth season that Candy (David Canary), the new foreman of the Ponderosa, was introduced as a lead character.

Of course, if Pernell Roberts had departed from Bonanza in its fifth season and Guy Williams had replaced him, it would have had a far-reaching impact on American television history. With regards to Bonanza, not only would Adam have been gone from the show a season earlier, but it seems likely that David Canary would never have joined the show as Candy. Those familiar with television history will also realise that it would have had impact beyond Bonanza. Quite simply, Guy Williams's very next role was that of Prof. John Robinson on Lost in Space. If Guy Williams had replaced Pernell Roberts on Bonanza as Will Cartwright, then Lost in Space would have had an entirely different lead actor.

I understand that many fans at the time of Bonanza's fifth season resented the character of Will. Quite simply, many fans did not like the idea of someone replacing Adam. As I was a baby at the time I don't remember this at all, but having seen the entire run of Bonanza I have to confess that I always liked the character of Will. I think he would have been a fine addition to the cast of Bonanza. Of course, here I have to point out that I was always a fan of Guy Williams (to this day I watch the old TV show Zorro) and I was never particularly a fan of the character of Adam. I think even if I had been older at the time, I would have been fine with Will Cartwright taking the place of Adam. That having been said, it would have changed American television history.


Caftan Woman said...

I remember those episodes and don't understand why they felt the character didn't work in the setting. It's like John Dehner as the rancher in The Virginian. It isn't that eventual characters didn't make their mark. It is just that some characters weren't given a full opportunity to do so.

James B said...

Agreed. It also amazed me that people thought that Pernell Roberts was a good fit for "Bonanza" in the first place. His mannerisms and costumes were preposterous in relation to the primary story, setting and characters.

Gerry Dooley said...

Michael Landon threw a fit when Williams joined the show and after Guy's five episodes were finished Landon stated that if Guy was ever brought back he, Landon would leave the show. The other two actors backed Landon. The cast knew that if Roberts left they would split the pie three ways . However if he was replaced it would be a four way split. It was simply about ego and money.