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Adam, Little Joe, Ben and Hoss!

Dan Blocker~There's No Place To Hide
TV Guide~September 26, 1964

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     'There's No Place To Hide--Except Home For Dan Blocker--Who Finds Hoss Cartwright Too Large To Conceal'

     One evening last spring Dan Blocker, whose 300 pounds of prime Texas beef, packed on a 6-foot-4-inch frame, make him the most identifiable man in television, took his sons, David 9, and Dirk, 7, to see the Los Angeles Angels play the Baltimore Orioles.

     For most men the ballgame is a pleasant pastime in which the price of admission buys the traditionally American--and happily anonymous--privilege of eating peanuts and booing the umpire unmolested.  For Blocker, because of his size, his remarkably open personality, which seems to invite the whole world in, and the position he occupies in the hearts of 50,000,000-odd 'Bonanza' fans, it buys only misery.

     From the moment Blocker sat down, every eye in the ballpark was upon him.  For five minutes he was able to exist as any other man.  Then a kid screwed up the courage to come down the aisle, autograph book in hand.  Blocker saw him coming.  Should he follow the normal impulse--smile and sign--"What's your name, son?  ...Johnny?  Well, I'm glad you like the show, Johnny..."---and thereby bring the hordes down around his head?  Or should he concoct some lame excuse, thus branding himself as a child-hater and ingrate to everyone within looking distance, which in this case constituted of half the lower deck of Dodger Stadium?

     Being the kind of man he is, Blocker signed, flashing that broad grin which has become his trademark.  Before he knew it, there were 50 exuberent kids waving their ball points.  ("Hey, Hoss, sign mine!"), trampling the feet of the paying customers and making it impossible for Blocker to watch the game.  Then, at the height of the commotion, a voice bellowed from the rear, "Hey, cowboy, down in front!"  If yuh wanta to sign autographs, why doncha try Hollywood and Vine!"

     Some actors are able to accept this.  Some even enjoy it.  Blocker does not.  To be sure, he loves his work, and he is still human enough to be flattered by all the attention.  But he hates the "unfair and inequitable" infringement of his rights to function as a normal father and husband.

     It bothers him that his children are not known as Danna, Debra, David and Dirk Blocker, but only as "Dan Blocker's kids--you know, the TV star"; that he cannot so much as treat them to an ice-cream soda without a public spectacle; and that his presence at a school Halloween party results in a mob scene.

     The results have been that as his fame and affluence have grown, he has become increasingly reluctant to expose himself to publicity.  On more than one occasion, he has come to grips with NBC's publicists.  Accusations were privately hurled that the simple Texas schoolteacher, once so eager to please, had developed a severe case of Actoritis, had become eager only to be pleased.  Once, when a fan magazine writer, called his comfortable, but hardly lavish house in Northridge a "mansion", Blocker blew his top, held his press agents responsible for this affront to his Democratic principals (also important to him), and banned fan-book personnel from the premises.

     And yet, as fair as his bosses, his co-workers, or just idle visitors on the set are concerned, he is, "the best-all-around-cotton-pickin', catch-as-catch-can great guy on the lot" (a grip talking).  Of the four 'Bonanza' stars, he is considered the least actorish.  Unlike Pernell Roberts, he does not feel that TV demeans his acting talent.  He does not afffect the grand manner of a Lorne Greene, or attempt to disguise his abilities with a light quip, as does Michael Landon. 

     Blocker never leaves room for doubt for what's eating him.  "A man never appreciates his privacy until he's lost it", he said one day recently.  "And it bugs me--it really bugs me.  I try to keep the family normal, unaffected by Father's so-called celebrity.  It's a losing battle."

     "They keep telling me, 'It's the price you have to pay'.  The price I have to pay for what?  Fame?  I'm in this business for money.  So I really can't complain, But still, I do."

     At that moment a visitor, a child, came by.  Blocker lapsed into pure Texas.  "Li'l doll, how are you?" The child curtsied and ran.  Blocker smiled at the small figure in retreat. 
     "I still can't believe that people are that interested in me", he continued.  "If they don't have anything more to concern them than Hoss Cartwright, then what hope is there?  You know, if Dr. Salk walked down the street, nobody'd recognize him.  I find that terrifying.  But you get a tiger by the tail and you jus' can't turn loose."

     "Ten years ago, if I knew what I know now, I'd still be teaching school in Carlsbad, New Mexico for $4800 a year.  Hell, man, three years ago I tried to go back.  Then a friend of mine, the principal, told me, 'Man, forget it!  There's no place to hide in a classroom.  You're not Dan Blocker anymore.  You're Hoss Cartwright.'"

     Yet old friends doubt that wild horses could drag him out of the acting profession.  They say he was an "actor" from the day he was born in DeKalb, Texas, the son of a Texas farmer who later got bumped into the grocery business by the Depression.  He weighed 14 pounds at birth and had a yell to match.  At 13, he weighed 200, and wore a size 12 shoe, and boasted the most gregarious disposition in the Texas school system. 

     "There was something heroic about him, even then", a friend remembers.  "With that bulk, he was someone you didn't forget that easily.  Later he loomed so large that it was never possible to cast him in anything but a major part. 

     To Blocker, life was a nonstop romp, to whih Blocker cut a wide swath, "I was the meathead of the beer-drinking type.  At times something close to a moron, " he thinks now.  "I liked to bull people".  He "bulled" his way through the Texas Military Institute in San Antonio, through a semester at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene (he told them he could play football, and he could), and Sul Ross State in Alpine (where he played football and boxed). 

     At Sul Ross he got his first taste of theater, but only because the drama department needed someone strong enough to drag the bodies out of the cellar in the curtain call in "Arsenic and Old Lace".  To his surprise, he took to it--he still isn't sure whether it was the social life or the sweet smell of ham that did it.  That despite the horselaughs of his fellow footballers who considered "the theater" dangerously effete.  Later he recruited the team for "Mr.  Roberts".  Blocker switched his major from physical education to drama, specialized in Shakespeare, later went on to take his Master's on it. 

     Indeed, Sul Ross will soon not forget Blocker as Othello and King Lear.  According to Dennis Read, Blocker's old roommate now teaching drama at San Gabriel High School, in California: "There was something about that towering figure (of Lear), that was entirely unforgettable.  People still talk about it."

     'Narrow Escape In Korea'

     After graduation, Blocker and Read made a light-hearted run at Eastern stock before the draft caught up with Blocker.  In Korea, something happened which drastically altered his attitude.  On Christmas Eve 1951, he was on patrol near Hill 255 when his squad was ambushed.  "Our squad leader was killed, our tanks cut off, we were pinned 10 hours, and it looked like it was all over.  I tasted real mortal fear and realized for the first time I was not indestructable."

     He needed time to think so he went into teaching.  He came to Los Angeles in 1956 ostensibly to work on his doctrate at UCLA; but knew his wife, Dolphia (whom he had met at Sul Ross), knew, and all his friends knew the real reason was that he wanted to act--in television.  He employed an agent and was soon successful playing dimwitted heavies.  'Bonanza' producer David Dortort must be credited with the acumen to see his possibilities as a hero.

     Today Blocker's life is described by one of his auto-racing cronies as "readin' the lines, gettin' in that Maserati and barreling home to the wife and kids."  Dolphia is a small, attractive, sandy-haired woman, devoted to Dan, who is far more accepting of the conditions of stardom than he is.  The Blockers live with their 11-year old twins and two younger sons in 3600 square feet of tract-style Early American house in the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley.  To accomodate the man of the house, the swimming pool is 12-feet deep.  They have a "waving relationship" with their neighbors, who include a pyschiatrist, a furniture manufacturer, an engineer, a plumbing contractor, and a pilot.  Recently Blocker's business manager tried to get him to move to Beverly Hills.  "Better schools", the business manager suggested.  "Better snobbery", suggested Blocker. 

     Two other passions rule his offscreen life.  The first is race cars.  He is partner in a firm known as Vinegaroon Racing Associates.  "Our goal", says Dan, "is Indianapolis."  They came a cropper with a $20, 000 Elva-Maserati which, unfortunately, would do everything except corner.  (Expenses and mechanics wages ran the total investment to $60, 000).  Currently, they have an order for an $18,000 Cobra.

     Dan himself does not drive professionally; he leaves that to his driver (who is also an actor), Bob Harris.  But he likes race drivers and racing talk, and shows up in the pits at Indianapolis every year.  "Race drivers", he says, "aren't interested in TV.  All they want to talk about is racing."  A friend has suggested that competition between man and man, man and animal (as in deer hunting), or animal and animal (as in horse racing), does not interest Dan.  "But man's creation vs.  man's creation--ah, that's the thing with Blocker."

     'Interested In Politics'

     His other love is politics.  An avid Democrat, liberal, and Civil Rights proponent, he plans to stump for President Johnson in Texas this fall, despite his old Texas segregationist friends and critics who insist actors ought to stay out of politics. 

     This is not to say he has no passion left over for acting.  Other actors are constantly surprised of the intensity of feeling the big man is capable of generating.  Gena Rowlands, with whom he played love scenes with last season, was amazed at "the sensitivity, the enormous natural talent, and the ease of which it flowed out."  And young Marlo Thomas once told Dortort, "I have never had an actor give me so much in a scene."

      Meantime the battle of Blocker vs. fame rages on.  Has fame changed the man?  His wife thinks not.  "Dan is the same.  Only the conditions have changed", she says.  His fellow actors think not.  "He has his moods--we all do", says Lorne Greene.  "But Dan is not a man you change easily."  His old buddies think not.  Only Dennis Read, still his best friend, adds a rider to that proposition.  "Some of the folks back home think he's changed", he says.  "Half the state asks him over.  He can't fulfill all those commitments.  Then they say, 'Aw, he ain't the same'.  That bugs him.  He can't be just Dan--he has to be a superhuman being."



     ~By Dwight Whitney

 
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