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