Thursday, January 28, 2010

Old friends from days gone by.

Pernell Roberts
May 18, 1928 - January 25, 2010

Pernell Roberts, noted actor, singer and civil rights supporter has passed away. Born in Georgia, Pernell sang in USO shows as a teenager and wasm for a time, a US Marine before casting his lot as a performer. The New York stage gave him the opportunity to play Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and Hollywood, on the look out for new faces, called him west in 1957. And it was indeed the west as westerns were the most popular entertainments of the day. Director John Rich was most impressed with Roberts' audition for the series Gunsmoke and he got the part (episode: How to Kill a Woman) after quickly learning to ride a horse.

Pernell Roberts was cast as Adam Cartwright in the soon to be phenomally successful Bonanza, but after a few years became discontented with the program, playing the eldest and smartest of the three Cartwright brothers. Although the role gave him a chance to do comedy, romance and action, it wasn't enough for the restless star. Actors like to spread their wings and Pernell became discontented with the storylines. The producers attempted a change to keep their star happy in casting Kathie Browne as a character Adam would marry, but the itchy footed troubadour took off for hopefully greener pastures. While guest roles on other series provided character changes and albums and musical theatre roles gave outlet to his glorious baritone, movie success was not to be a part of Pernell's career.

My favourite of his movie roles is in 1959's Ride Lonesome which is available on dvd as part of the Budd Boetticher box set. His Sam Boone is a thoughtful, likable and garrulous "bad guy". You almost root for him in his battle with star Randolph Scott. No. You do root for Sam Boone. It's a well-done role in a fine film and it's a shame more of the kind didn't come Pernell Robert's way.

It was television that would give Pernell Roberts another starring role and success in the series Trapper John (1979-1986). I recall a TV Guide article at the time where his co-star, the late and lovely Madge Sinclair, remarked that Pernell was a "grumpy Taurus" and she understood him because she was one too. As a certified GT as well I feel a kinship with the stars.

Johnny Seven
February 23, 1926 - January 22, 2010

If Johnny Seven's face isn't a familiar one to you then you didn't watch any television between 1950 and 1990! John Antony Fetto was born in New York City, the only brother among six sisters. A boy soprano in his younger days and a soldier as a young man, he was bit by the acting bug when he appeared in USO shows. He spent his life as an actor, a writer, a director (Navajo Run, 1964) and a husband to Estelle Piselli whom he married in 1949, and a father of two. His son John Jr. would become his manager. I think that speaks of a fine relationship.

Johnny Seven made his movie debut as one of the longshoreman in On the Waterfront and appeared in The Apartment as Karl Matuschka, Fran's brother-in-law. Television gave him a variety of roles as he appeared in hundreds of programs from Peter Gunn to Murder, She Wrote. After a couple of guest appearances on Ironside, he had a recurring role on that series as Lt. Carl Reese.

Television. I used to watch a lot of television. My shows were special to me and the cast members became like family. Bonanza was a Sunday night tradition for generations. I'm sure there are some among us who would rather spend holidays with the Cartwrights then with some relatives. Ironside was one of my shows. Cleveland Amory once wrote that while every episode of Ironside might not be the best episode of Ironside, it doesn't matter. It's the Chief and Ed and Mark and Eve/Fran and Lt. Reese that we want to see. These fellows, Pernell Roberts and Johnny Seven, were welcome in homes for years and will continue to be old friends from days gone by.

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