A Woman in the House

Writer: Joel Murcott  Director: Gerd Oswald
Guest Stars: Diane Baker (Mary Wharton), Paul Richards (Russ Wharton), Dennis Cross (Monk), Raymond Guth (Goliath), Robert Brubaker (Lassiter), Victor Sen Yung (Hop Sing)
Air Date: 19 February 1967

It’s roundup time and the Cartwrights are hiring.  This time, the would-be cattle hands are heading to the Ponderosa to sign-up.  One of them is a man named Russ Wharton, whom Ben immediately notices is slightly inebriated.  Ben decides not to give the man a job but Wharton mentions that he is the husband of Mary Farnum.  Reluctantly Ben changes his mind and gives the man a job.

Mary is another girl who grew up on the Ponderosa while her father worked for the Cartwrights and considered part of the family.  She and her father moved away at least nine years ago (it isn’t stated how long she lived on the ranch for) and shortly after marrying Russ, her father passed away.  She tells Ben that things were going well for a while but then trouble struck and things went downhill.

When Russ asks Ben for an advance to buy supplies, Mary is clearly upset.  Ben tells Russ that isn’t necessary as all the supplies they need is on the ranch.  Russ tries again by asking for money to buy Mary a birthday present but Ben reminds him that he never forgot her birthday.  Later on, $6 and a bottle of whisky is stolen from the bunkhouse and when Ben goes to investigate, he finds Russ beating Mary (the cabin for married couples is behind the bunkhouse).  He fires Russ and takes the injured Mary back to the main house.

A few days later, Mary has recovered from her injuries and is helping Hop Sing, who is very happy that she is there.  During this time, Mary has developed romantic feelings towards Ben.  In fact, all three Cartwright are happy that she is there.  Just after a dinner (made by Mary), Ben, Hoss and Joe are waiting on dessert when Russ comes barging in looking for his wife.

Russ, who is drunk again has heard the rumours going around town about the Cartwright’s new housekeeper and he thinks he has an idea of what is going on.  He tries to make Mary leave with him and even though she feels she must, Ben stops her.  Russ then pulls out his gun but Ben disarms him.  Ben asks Joe and Hoss to take Russ back into town and to the sheriff’s office.  Just as he is leaving, Russ threatens to kill Ben and Ben says that unless he cleans himself up he will have to do it.

The next morning, Ben is waiting for Russ as he leaves the sheriff’s office.  They have a discussion about Mary and Ben gives Russ his back wages.  Russ thinks that Ben is buying him off and he tells Ben that Mary is going with him when he leaves.  Ben tells Russ now that he is sober, that if he hurts Mary again he will really have deal him.

After his encounter with Ben, Russ heads over to The Silver Dollar Saloon, where he finds out that he has been marked bad.  He approaches Ed Lassiter, another large ranch owner and asks if he is looking for any good ranch hands.  Lassiter remarks that all the good ones are working but he tells Russ that if wants a job he has to make one by rounding up any lost calves and steers in order to collect a bounty.  Russ decides to take the job on but not before he gets ridiculed.

Meanwhile, Mary has made the decision to divorce Russ and Ben tries to talk her out of it.  Ben asks her wait and she reluctantly agrees.  Some time later, Joe tells Ben that Russ has been working hard and finding lots of strays (in this scene we also get to see another one of Hop Sing’s cousins working as a cook at the chuck waggon).  Ben hopes that Russ is getting some sense.  Joe hopes that Russ doesn’t start drinking again and come gunning for Ben.

Ben finds out that Mary has gone to see Howard Thurber (a lawyer) about the divorce and he confronts her.  He tells her about how Ed Lassiter has told him that Russ has been doing a good job rounding up strays.  Mary believes that it is just part of the same old pattern of where Russ cleans up for a few days but it ends up in nothing.

After a visit to Russ, Ben tells Mary that he is cleaning himself up and hasn’t taken a drink.  He once again asks her not to take things so far that she can’t change her mind.  Mary tells Ben that she doesn’t want to change her mind and that it is too late.  Ben realises what has happened and tells her what every young woman who has romantic feelings towards an older man doesn’t want to hear – that he wants everything for her that he would want for his own daughter.

At the end of the roundup, Russ is in Virginia City where he gets served with the divorce papers.  He heads over to the Ponderosa to confront Ben in the concluding scenes of this episode.

Ben is the main character in this episode and has to deal with another young woman falling in love with him.  Hoss and Joe are minor characters and are only used to drive the plot along or as scene fillers.

A Woman in the House deals with the issues of alcoholism and domestic violence.  Filmed in 1967, social issues such as these were becoming more prevalent in TV shows.  Bonanza, like other TV shows, was changing with the times and the episodes in season eight reflected this resulting in more adult, than family orientated storylines.

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