Pernell Roberts - Desideratum

Pernell Roberts - Desideratum

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 Post subject: The Missing Dan Blocker Article: His feelings about Bonanza
PostPosted: Thu Nov 12, 2009 7:05 am 
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Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2007 2:21 pm
Posts: 12978
Location: Indiana
Okay, so maybe it wasn't missing to anyone but me. :doh I'd read it at the old Bonanza1 site, and when that went down, I never could find it again. A forum friend knew I was looking and located it. I'm not sure she wants her name mentioned, so I'll just give a general thanks. If she wishes to have me acknowledge her or to post on this thread, that's fine.

This was fan-typed from the source and not scanned, so I can't guarantee there are no errors. I'm sure most Bonanza fans would want to take great care with such things, though.


Dan Blocker: Gentle Giant Of Bonanza

By Lloyd Shearer
Parade Magazine, January 23, 1966

Television in America, as almost everyone recognizes, is basically an advertising medium. Its job is to sell merchandise. Each night in prime time when the audience approaches maximum— 7 pm to 10 pm—it integrates its repetitious commercials into a series of entertainment programs designed to interest and amuse the viewers. For the most part these series are childish, formulaic based and immediately forgettable. One of their major by products, however, is the development of folk heroes, an apparent and indiscriminate necessity for the American culture.

A primary example of a folk hero created by constant video exposure is Dan Blocker, 37, of DeKalb, Texas. Blocker for the past seven years has played the role of Hoss Cartwright in Bonanza, the country's most successful TV show. In those seven years Blocker has developed into one of the most popular and identifiable personalities in the nation and has lost his true identity if ever he had one. He has become instead the clumsy, lovable, kindhearted, reliable, friendly, jest-folks big brother of the nation, much the same character he depicts on TV Sunday after Sunday at $10,000 per week.

As such he is approached, stopped, phoned, solicited, consulted, talked and written to each week by at least 5000 people. They feel at home with him, "You're one of us, Hoss." They identify with him, "You remind me of my older brother, Luke. Maybe you saw him when he was fighting in Korea. I know you were a soldier in that war." They are convinced that Blocker is down to earth, easily accessible, made of common clay. "Don't let those Hollywood queers get to you, Dan. Remember! You're Texas born and Texas bred."

They urge him to run for governor of Texas, congressman of California, U. S. Senator from both states. They feel safe in his presence. His height, bulk, and homespun warmth engender the security so many people lack. For him, best of all, he arouses love and trust in all age groups, in both sexes, on all echelons of society. Mike North, an agent who books casts from such top TV shows as Red Skelton, Gunsmoke, The Beverly Hillbillies into state fairs, rodeos, and conventions, declares: "Dan Blocker and his partners from Bonanza constitute today the number one TV attraction people want to see in person.”

Insofar as Blocker is concerned, his rapport with an audience is instantaneous. They like him because they know instinctively; he's a kind man, a gentle giant who would help, but never hurt them. You ought to see the way crowds react to him. When he played Lubbock, Texas, which admittedly is only 38 miles away from his hometown of O'Donnell people mobbed him, just wanted to shake his hand or touch his shoulder or slap his back. He's the kind of man they feel related to. Everyone’s brother, Everyone's cousin.

This popularity, this ability of Blocker's to equate a consciousness of kind in his audience, is worth an expanding fortune to him. Next month he and Lorne Greene are booked into the Houston Livestock Show. They will play four nights and together take out $50,000. This year Blocker's income should approach $750,000. Last year his income totaled a bit less but was large enough for his federal income tax bill to reach $185,000. To a man who not to long ago picked cotton at 50 cents an hour and taught school in Carlsbad, for $4,800 a year, such sums are ridiculously astronomical, but only in relation to what other men are worth.

"Compared to someone like Dr Jonas Salk,"
Blocker says, and Salk is his favorite personalized comparative, "I'm not worth anything. I mean in terms of achievement that will benefit society. But the truth is that I'm now a prostitute, and a prostitute is worth anything the market is willing to pay. The reason I'm a prostitute," Blocker explains, "is that I'm doing Bonanza for money. I like the show, and I like the Hoss Cartwright character, but I'm tired of him. I'm bored. You can't play the same character week after week, year after year and not get bored, not if you're a sensitive, creative, intelligent human being, which I like to think I am. When I first started with Hoss, he was a one-dimensional character, a big nothing. He was written in for comic relief. I went to David Dortort, the Bonanza producer, and I asked him to let me change the character. People will laugh at this guy for one or two weeks, I said, but after that they'll tire of him. Dortort agreed, and that first year it was a challenge to play Hoss Cartwright. I made him a multidimensional man with understanding and a gruff tenderness, wit, compassion and honest emotions. I made him a little naive in his relationships with women, because after all, he's a big, ungraceful, not particularly handsome man. But I also emphasized his total masculinity and his innate gentleness. I breathed much of my own personality into him. And the result is that I don't know where Hoss Cartwright begins and Dan Blocker ends. We're sort of integrated. But now playing the part has become a workaday job. That and nothing more. "What the job has brought me," Dan continues, " is money. That's what I'm doing it for—money not love. And the money is providing me with creature comforts, with physical and psychological comforts, so I figure I can put up with a little boredom. Let's face it; it's in the nature of the medium. Any actor who works in a successful TV series becomes atrophied and ceases to grow.

But who's got the will power or integrity, if you wish, to give up all this money, especially when he looks back on a past, not very far removed from the present, when he had very little? I'm a true prostitute in that I love what I'm doing. But still I understand its dangers. I understand very well that I may have typed myself for all time as Hoss Cartwright. There's a very good chance the pubic will never accept me as anyone else. One of the few advantages I have is that I'm not the leading man type. I'm a character actor. I've had people tell me to get my teeth capped, my face fixed, wear a wig and become a leading man. But that's not my route. When the public gets tired of Bonanza, and eventually it will, I'll have to start all the creative juices again, and who knows whether I'll be able to make the transition to some other medium? Right now because of Bonanza I've had several film offers. They wanted me to play the stage driver in the remake of Stagecoach and I was offered a good job in The Great Race, but I just couldn't squeeze them into my schedule."

A scholarly intellectual who looks anything but, Dan Blocker possesses a master's degree from Sul Ross college in Alpine, Texas. He taught high school in Sonora, Texas, the sixth grade in Carlsbad, New Mexico and English in Glendale, California. He was working toward his PhD at the University of California when in 1956 he was sidetracked into an episode of Gunsmoke and "made more money in four days of acting than I did in a month of teaching." Perceptive, sensitive and dutiful, a genuine lover of the downtrodden, depressed and discouraged, his conscience seeming to twinge periodically like an aching tooth. Blocker suffers from a guilt complex of sorts for having left the field of education. A consequence is that he is always planning to return.

"Three years ago,"
he confides, "I actually planned to quit TV and go back to Carlsbad and renew my teaching career. It's a wonderful little place, perfect for raising our four children, a city with real people and sound values. I spoke to the principal there, a friend of mine, and he told me the sad truth--the kids wouldn't acknowledge me as Mr. Blocker, the teacher; they'd treat me as Hoss Cartwright of Bonanza. I also spoke to the people at NBC. They were most understanding, but pointed out that Pernell Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright, also planned to quit. If I quit, too, the show would have to close down. That would deprive 200 families of the breadwinners. So that's what I was faced with. I decided against the move, but eventually I plan to teach and go into politics."

Blocker is a liberal Democrat who believes strongly in civil rights and Lyndon Johnson and has stumped for both. At one time he was convinced "our posture in Vietnam was right but now I'm not so sure." Blocker fought in the Korean War. His squad was ambushed near Hill 255 on Christmas Eve of 1951. "Our tanks were cut off. My squad was pinned down for 10 hours. Up until then I thought I was indestructible. I realized then that I wasn't, that I'd probably never get out alive. I tasted real fear. I thought about war and what it did to men and for what purpose, and I can tell you there is one helluva difference between intellectualizing about war and fighting it. Only those who've never ever been shot at, who've never crawled in the filthy, stinking mud or who've witnessed firsthand the political corruption in the Far East—only those are quick to send the flower of our manhood to their death. Like I say, I am a Lyndon Johnson supporter. To my way of thinking he is a great and humane president, but still I question in my own mind whether we can in the name of political justification submit young men involuntarily to a war which so many of them don't understand. I just don't know about this thing."

The only child of Ora and Mary Blocker, Dan and his size and strength have always been legendary. "They used to call me the big 'n," he recalls, "and the thing I always had to avoid was becoming the town bully. My juvenile pastime was fighting, but as I grew older my dad used to emphasize the importance of being kind to everyone. Today I make a special effort to have everyone like me. You ask me to sum up my philosophy, and I can do it in two words, Be Kind."

After a childhood in Bowie County, Texas, in 1934, where the Depression changed his father's occupation from farmer to grocer, Dan attended school at Texas Military Institute in San Antonio, Hardin Simmons University in Abilene and Sul Ross State College at Alpine. Originally Blocker majored in physical education and the social sciences at college, but in his senior year switched to drama and was graduated in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in that subject. A friend of his says, "He was always open, garrulous, an extrovert, so that acting, giving expression to emotion and beliefs, came natural to him. That same graduation year he was drafted and shipped of to Korea. He was lucky to survive the war as a first sergeant with the 45th Oklahoma Division and came out of it a thinking, soul searching, mildly introspective man. Upon discharge in 1952, he returned to marry his college sweetheart, a petite, short haired, attractive young woman named Dolphia Parker with who he has subsequently had a pair of twin girls, Danna and Debra, and two sons David and Dennis.

After teaching stints in Texas and New Mexico, Blocker and his family moved to LA where the giant took courses at UCLA, worked as a substitute teacher at Glendale High School, moonlighted in his spare time as an actor. David Dortort, possibly the best TV producer in the business, caught Blocker on several TV shows, recommended him for a leading role in the Cimarron City series, then signed him when he created Bonanza. Blocker lives today in the same San Fernando Valley house he moved into in 1956. Success as yet has not corrupted him. He is far and away the best-liked actor in Hollywood. He believes in pleasing people rather than in hiring people to please him.

His one extravagance is speed racing. His one regret is that fame has cost him his privacy. "I can no longer," he says with meaningful sorrow, "take my boys to a ball game without being mobbed. If I take my daughters for an ice cream cone, it becomes a public spectacle. I can't take my wife out to dinner in any public restaurant. I can't really function as a normal father and husband, and I regret that very much. The trouble with being a prostitute is that it's a pleasurable job in which you make a lot of money. But when you're exposed on TV an awful lot of people recognize you, about 50 million a week, and they somehow believe you belong to them. And in a way you do. I just wish I belonged a little more to myself and those I love the most. But I'm not complaining. I'm taking the money and I'm willing to pay for value received. I just don't know for how much longer."


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