Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Sharon Wildwind

My brother started this by e-mailing me that Pernell Roberts, the actor who played Adam Cartwright on the TV show, Bonanza, had passed away.

Then my husband found a recording of Lorne Greene, Pa Cartwright himself, singing the words to the Bonanza theme. Apparently this version was used only in the first episode, then they decided to use an instrumental version.

This was a totally new set of words for me, familiar as I was with the Johnny Cash version. I always loved that twangy guitar introduction and bridge.

A little time on YouTube this morning—okay, far too much time on YouTube—unearthed this German version. Not speaking German, I have no clue what the words are in this one, but my brother and I agree that this one captures the Bonanza spirit we remember. Apparently, Bonanza was and is hugely popular in Germany.

From time-to-time on this blog, I’ve confessed to being enamored of various television characters. I have to admit that Adam (played by Pernell Roberts) was my favorite Cartwright son. By the time Roberts left the show in 1965, I was old enough to understand what a contract dispute was, but I was also completely willing to accept Adam going east to college. I thought he’d make a fine engineer and architect. I imagined a full, interesting life for him, traveling around the world on engineering projects.

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

The plots on Bonanza were—let’s be kind—often not up to the rigorous discipline I aspire to in my own writing. It was a foregone conclusion that any woman who became involved with Cartwright pére or fils would, by the end of the show, either be dead or have urgent business on the other side of the world. While they did make a token attempt to present conflicts based on racial intolerance, the resolutions always rested too much on the come join our melting-pot and be just like the rest of us for my liking. I was glad that the family had prospered and accepted that they’d worked hard for what they had, that did not give them, in the words of one version of the theme song “the right to pick a little fight.” Might didn’t make right, even on the Ponderosa.

And yet, I get nostalgic for life on the ranch. Perhaps it was the gorgeous scenery. Or maybe the equally gorgeous scenery of sweaty men and horses. Or that comforting myth that no matter what happens in the rest of the world, family will always comfort you, and there will always be food on the table.

I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. About how we need that golden revery for things that we know darn well were made of baser materials. About how we get stuck in one time, in one place. There’s even a term for it, immobility of fragmentation. It means that when we move away from a place, what we expect to find when we return is that that place is just as it was when we left.

Is nostalgia a trap? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting idea to play with. I’m keen to write a mystery where nostalgia is the motive for murder. Maybe I’ll even find room in the story for a character name Adam. For old times sake.

Quotes for the week
Fortune smiled the day we filed the Ponderosa claim.
~Bonanza theme song, sung by Lorne Green

Our birthright is this Cartwright.
~Bonanza theme song, sung by Johnny Cash


Sheila Connolly said...

And don't forget the warm fuzzy family feeling shared by the Cartwrights. Oh, that's right--no women. Maybe Hop Sing was the mother surrogate? He did all the cooking and cleaning, and he didn't talk back much.

There was an interesting editorial in the Sunday Boston Globe this weekend. The author, Joe Keohane, started out talking about why people believe that crime is rampant and rising, when in fact the crime rate has been falling for a while. The highlighted quote was: "Humans appear to have a hard-wired tendency to compare contemporary life with largely fictitious good old days, in which all schools were top-notch, politicians had integrity, children behaved, and crime was nil." Ah, we remember it well (not).

Adam was my favorite--he always looked faintly contemptuous of his bumbling family.

ramona said...

Life came to a halt on Sunday evenings at my house, while we watched Bonanza as a family. It used to bug my mother that Little Joe always wore that ugly green jacket, while the other men wore vests.

Didn't each of the sons have a different mother, and each woman died? No wonder women never hung around. Pa Cartwright had some bad mojo.

Lonnie Cruse said...

I loved that show too, particularly since it was supposed to take place at Lake Tahoe, and Tahoe is one of my favorite places.

I guess Little Joe was my fave character. My hubby still watches Bonanza nearly every day on cable. A recent ep showed Hoss running back and forth between the barn and the house while a woman inside the house (no idea who she was, I was in the middle of something and just happened to pass by the TV) gave birth at the same time as a horse out in the barn. Hoss decided to spend most of his concern on the woman, but he worried about the horse too. It was hilarious to watch him running back and forth.

I had to point out to hubby that neither women NOR horses USUALLY give birth that fast. He didn't have much of a point of reference for that, given that I managed to give birth to all three of our boys in record time. I was lucky.

Susan D said...

You remember correctly, Ramona. That of course explained why the "boys" were all so different.

And yeah, way too many suspicious deaths of women in that neck of the woods. If it were on TV today, it would be CSI: Virginia City, or Survivor: Ponderosa

signlady217 said...

Oh, Little Joe. I had the biggest crush on Michael Landon for years. I was so saddened when he died. I guess they're all gone now, aren't they? And yeah, even as a kid I always got aggravated at the dumb women.

Anonymous said...

Ben married Adam's mother "back east." She was a widow with one son, so there was a stepson also. His wife died in childbirth. He left the stepson with his mother's relatives, took baby Adam and headed west.

Near as I can figure, he must have been dawdling a great deal in his western treck because Eric was born five years somewhere in mid-American—Oklahoma, I think. His mother was one of those sturdy pioneer women. I don't remember how she died, but it was somewhere on the trail.

Ben staked a claim in Nevada, started his ranch and raised his two boys. A few years later, he made a trip to New Orleans where he met Joe's mother. She was a widow also, who had been married to a man named "Big Joe." Ben brought her back to the Ponderosa, and when she had a son, they named him "Little Joe," There is a seven year gap between Eric and Little Joe.

Eric, was, of course, Hoss' real name.

Tina said...

Funny, my Mom (a widow ) and I were just talking about Bonanza the other day. Parnell Roberts worked at the local TV station in Baltimore with my dad, and mom always had a soft spot for him when he made it big time. I was helping her find re-runs of Bonanza on her local TV. I'll have to find the write-up about his death for her to read. Thanks for posting this.