In 1964, during the fifth season of the popular western show, Bonanza, one of the stars, actor Pernell Roberts, threatened to quit the show. It was not the first time Roberts had made such a threat.
The producers of the show, in an effort to try to force their star to tow the line by showing him how easily he could be replaced, hired Guy Williams to join the cast which consisted of Lorne Greene (father, Ben Cartwright), Roberts (oldest son, Adam Cartwright), Dan Blocker (son, Hoss Cartwright) and Michael Landon (son, “Little Joe” Cartwright). Guy, unaware of the producer’s ulterior motive, accepted the role of Will Cartwright, Ben’s nephew.
Will was introduced to the viewing audience in an episode titled, Return to Honor. He was presented as a man with a past, a rough-edged gunman with a fast draw and a chip on his shoulder, but who is, basically, an honest man. He comes to the Ponderosa to recover from a gunshot wound and ends up finding a family he isn’t sure he wants to join.
The last part of that premise for the first episode could also aptly describe Guy’s experience on the set of Bonanza.
While the five episodes in which he appeared represent some of his finest acting work and the character of Will Cartwright was one of the meatiest roles he ever played, the tension on the set and the lack of hospitality offered him by the other actors, made the experience extremely unpleasant. Guy quickly realized he was being used by the producers to coerce Pernell Roberts to stay on the show. The other actors felt Guy’s presence would diminish their own roles and didn’t want him there. And Michael Landon, in particular, felt his own female fan following was threatened by the six foot three, athletic, handsome Guy Williams, who had been wildly popular several years earlier as Disney’s Zorro.
All in all, Guy was made to feel less than welcome on the set and the situation became an bearable one for him. He asked to be written out of the show and so, after five episodes, the character of Will Cartwright vanished into the sunset.
Guy’s tenure on the show may have been short, but for his many fans, those five episodes are memorable ones. Not only was the character of Will an interesting one to watch develop, but the role offered Guy the rare chance to play a romantic lead as well, opposite actress Kathy Browne, and he made the most of it.
While Guy Williams was on Bonanza, it was our (the fans’) gain; when the talented actor left, it was show’s loss!
"Return to Honor"
Aired March 22, 1964
Aired April 5, 1964
Aired April 19, 1964
Aired May 10, 1964
Aired May 17, 1964