Kitty Felde

I was a Pernell Roberts groupie

It's true. In college, I had a 2' by 3' headshot of him circa 1965 mounted on my wall. I even named my first car after him. It sported a vanity plate that read 'pernel' (I think you could only have six letters at the time.)

I was too young to remember much about him on "Bonanza" during its initial run. I vaguely remember going to my grandparents' house on Sundays and staying up late to watch the show on their color TV. But years later, they started re-running the early episodes. And I was hooked. There was something incredibly sexy about a man who acted with his bottom teeth.

I started scouting TV Guide for his guest star roles. He usually turned up as a mustachioed South American dictator - sans toupe. I was hooked.

I decided that every balding, middle aged actor should have a groupie. And that would be me.

It all came to a head when the Music Center announced Pernell Roberts would be starring as Rhett Butler in their musical production of "Gone With The Wind." I started stalking rehearsals, sending notes, even chicken soup when I heard he had a cold. I made a purple crepe halter gown to wear opening night and attended solo, clutching a red rose, trying to get up the courage to go backstage.

And I did. He was incredibly gracious, introducing me to his wife, his son, his co-stars, even the horse that crossed the stage during the burning of Atlanta. (Did I mention how truly awful this show was? I saw it six times.)

Decades later, I can only imagine what he must have thought.

After he got the "Trapper John" series, my obsession waned. He didn't really need a groupie now that the rest of the world saw him as successful, returning to series television after abandoning what could have been a long run on "Bonanza."

I always hoped I'd have the opportunity to interview him in my second career as a journalist. Or perhaps write him a wonderful role for the stage. It never happened.

When news of his death hit the air, friends from that era started calling. They all had stories to share about the era of Pernell.

I am sad.

But then I discovered more than 15 hundred tributes to him on YouTube. Many in Spanish. So perhaps I wasn't his only groupie. Who knew?

Vaya con Dios, Pernell.

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