[Since none of the major news outlets ever saw fit to publish my memoir of Pernell Roberts …]
Pernell Roberts’ survival to the ripe old age of 81 is, like the continued existence of Keith Richards, a testimonial to the vivifying properties of a totally debauched life. More than six decades of continual amphetamine abuse failed to dull either his mordant wit or his deeply resonant violence. When I last saw him at his Malibu home in 2008 he drooled and twitched like a constipated macaw, but was just as viciously paranoid as the already infamous Marine assassin I first met in 1965 when Roberts caused an international uproar by deciding not to extend his six-year contract with NBC for Bonanza.
Weekly Reader had arranged an exclusive interview with Roberts in recognition of my prize-winning 4th grade essay “Hop Sing: Opium Baron of The Old West?” Upon my arrival at his trailer overlooking the Paramount back-lot set of Virginia City, Roberts though courtly, immediately struck me as remote and weird to the point of schizotypal. His obsessive ruminations on “Pa Ben’s” anal-aggressive domination and the public’s obvious approval of the Cartwrights’ implausible relationships frequently left him incoherent one moment and threatening his fellow cast members with bizarre acts of genital mutilation the next. While his beautiful second wife, Judith Ann Roberts (who would, tellingly, appear in David Lynch’s Eraserhead), butchered a live goat in the living room, Roberts plunged into a vague and metaphorical monologue which culminated in his ultimate dream of delaminating Michael Landon’s phallus with a length of barbed wire. Throughout this truly disturbing over-elaboration he would frequently rise from his chair to glare apprehensively out of the rifle slits he’d bolted over trailer’s windows. ”Sheriff Coffee’s operatives are all over my ass again,” he muttered. ”No mistaking their Klan stench in this heat. That goddamn pig J. Edgar Hoover sicced them on me because I’ve been complaining about the network hiring whites to play Indians and blacks.”
Even then, I did not believe that particular observation was necessarily a product of his Benzedrine-fueled hallucinations, and I do not now. Although elements of his deranged magical thinking certainly originated in an extended phenotype breakdown, the reality of Roberts’s greatest fears would be revealed amidst the lurid tales of CIA experiments with psychoactive drugs, the FBI’s persecution of the civil rights movement, and, later, Nixon’s own tortured homoerotic quest to obtain the toupee Roberts so loathed and wear it as a merkin. When Roberts accused me of being one of three Secret Service midgets that walked around in Dan Blocker’s body, he believed this form of surveillance to be common agency practice with every fiber of his being.
Once I returned to Iowa City, shaken to the core by Pernell’s damning accusations and a rare parasitic infestation caused by ingesting undercooked goat, I realized Weekly Reader would never print my interview. The publisher was just as heavily invested in the arcane Bonanza family dynamic as NBC and, besides, not even my freakishly extensive 9 year-old’s vocabulary contained sufficient descriptors for Roberts’s aberrant fixations and paranoia. Despite his seeming happiness with an acting career on Broadway and Trapper John M.D., not to mention his rueful pimping for Ecotrin (which he claimed prevented Nancy Reagan’s negative psychic broadcasts from shattering his skull), his wild accusations and frequent naked rampages through the Ponderosa Ranch House in Incline Village, Nevada, mark him as the most substantial and paradigmatic failed French horn player since Chester Allen Arthur. We are, as a culture, impoverished by his passing as all that remain are career imposters.
Iron Chef Gein says he’s the most prolific composer of bad music in the history of mankind, but he also claims to be the lovechild of his namesake and Veronica Lake, so who knows? Since he’s OCD about trace evidence, his writing in venues such as MicroHorror, A Twist of Noir and Powder Burn Flash appears under aliases. Gein is also the cook at Gunga’s Drive-in, where the chili dog sauce never stops running down your leg. Ed hopes for a raise next season so he can afford a web site.