Dan Blocker is one of the true television immortals, having played Hoss Cartwright -- the heart and soul of _"Bonzanza" (1959) -- for 13 seasons before his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 43. "Bonanza" was the most popular TV series of the 1960s, ranked #1 for three straight seasons (1964-65 through 1966-67) and spending a then-unprecedented nine seasons in the Top 5. After Blocker's death, "Bonanza" -- still in the Top 20 with Hoss after being #8 the previous year -- didn't last another entire season.
The character of Hoss was conceived as a stereotype: The Gentle Giant. The 6'4", 300 lbs. Blocker filled Hoss's cowboy boots and ten-gallon hat admirably but brought something extra to the role, a warmth and empathy that helped ground the show. Personal accounts of Blocker testify to the fact that the man was gregarious and friendly to everyone. He brought that upbeat personality to the character of Hoss.
Hoss originally had been conceived as dull-witted, but ironically, Dan Blocker's professional acting career was assured after he moved his family to California so he could pursue a PhD at U.C.L.A. A native of West Texas, he reportedly was discovered while making a call in a phone booth while outfitted in Western garb, including a straw cowboy hat, his standard dress being a native son of Texas, soon after arriving in California. Even after being cast in "Bonanza", he intended to complete his PhD, but the great success of the series made that impossible, due to the work load of 30+ episodes per year necessitating a 7AM-9PM work schedule five days a week.
Donny Dany Blocker made his debut on December 10, 1928 in De Kalb, Texas, weighing in at 14 lbs. He reportedly was the biggest baby ever born in Bowie County. By the age of 12, he already was 6" tall and weighed 200 lbs. (Towards the end of "Bonanza", he reportedly had ballooned past his stated weight of 300 to as much as 365 lbs.) A "TV Guide" story after his death reported that back in Texas, the young Dan once lifted a car off of a man after it slid off a jack and pinned him under the auto.
"My daddy used to say that I was too big to ride and too little to hitch a wagon to," Blocker said, "no good for a damn thing."
His father Ora Blocker was hurt by the Great Depression that began the year after his son Dan's birth. He moved his family to O'Donnell, which is just south of Lubbock, where he ran a grocery store. His "no good" son went to the Texas Military Institute, and in 1946 started his undergraduate work at Hardin-Simmons University (Abilene, Texas), where he played football. It was there he fell in love with acting when he was recruited by a girlfriend to play a role in campus production of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) as they needed a strong man to lift the bodies that the spinster aunts had dispatched up from the cellar.
After graduating in 1950 with a degree in English, Blocker went east where he did repertory work in Boston. A 1960 "TV Guide" article says that he appeared on Broadway in the 1950-51 production of King Lear (1983) (TV), which starred Louis Calhern. The draft soon ended his apprenticeship, and he served in the Army in the Korean War, making sergeant.
After being demobilized in 1952, he attended attended Sul Ross State Teacher's College (Alpine, Texas), earning a master's degree in dramatic arts. He taught English and drama at a Sonora, Texas high school before moving to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where he taught sixth grade. He then moved his family to California, where he again taught school while preparing for his PhD studies.
Blocker picked up bit parts in television, making his debut as a bartender in _"Sheriff of Cochise" (1957). His career rise was steady and rapid, and he appeared on many Westerns, including "Gunsmoke" (1955), "Have Gun - Will Travel" (1957), "The Rifleman" (1958), and "Maverick" (1957). He claimed his turn as Hognose Hughes on "Maverick", the comic Western starring James Garner, was the seminal role of his career. As Hoss, Blocker would often star in light-hearted episodes on "Bonanza".
He was cast in the recurring role of "Tiny" Carl Budinger in the short lived Western series _"Cimarron City" (1957). Its cancellation after one season made him available for "Bonanza", which was "Cimarron City" creator David Dortort's next project. He had previously appeared on Dortort's Western series "The Restless Gun" (1957).
"Bonanza" debuted in September 1959 on Saturdays at 7:30PM on N.B.C., which was owned by R.C.A., opposite the popular "Perry Mason" (1957), the #10 rated show for the 1959-60 season. The new Western was shot in color, and R.C.A. made color TV sets and saw the program as a good advertisement for its wares. The company sponsored the first two seasons of the show, and the sponsorship and R.C.A.'s ownership of N.B.C. was likely why it wasn't canceled after its shaky first season, when it placed #45 in the ratings for the 1959-60 season. The following year, it cracked the top 20 at #17, but it wasn't until it was shifted to Sundays at 9PM in the 1961-62 season that it became a ratings phenomenon, coming in at #2. It was the first of nine straight seasons in the top 5.
Once "Bonanza" was ensconced as America's favorite Western, Blocker and his three co-stars, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts and Michael Landon were paid an extremely handsome salary that eventually rose to approximately $10,000 per episode each by the time Roberts quit after the sixth season, its first at #1. Commenting on Roberts' departure, Landon said, "After he left we took one leaf out of the dining room table and we all made more money because we split the take three ways instead of four." Salary, royalties from Bonanza-related merchandise and business ventures (Blocker started the Bonanza Steak House chain in 1963), and an eventual $1-million payout from N.B.C. to buy out the residual rights of each of the three remaining stars made them all rich.
"Bonanza" made Dan Blocker a very wealthy man, but more importantly, it made him a television immortal. The series continues to be re-run in syndication 40 years after Hoss exited the stage.
|Dolphia Lee Parker||(25 August 1952 - 13 May 1972) (his death) 4 children|
O'Donnell is located in the panhandle of West Texas, about 40 miles south of Lubbock, Texas. There is a museum located in O'Donnell dedicated to Mr. Blocker.
Father of identical twin daughters, Danna and Debra.
Interred at DeKalb Cemetery, DeKalb, Texas, USA.
Started and owned the Bonanza steak house restaurant chain.
The Long Goodbye (1973) is dedicated to him. Robert Altman, who had directed many early episodes of "Bonanza" (1959), and had become friends with him, had originally cast him in the role of Roger Wade. However, Blocker died before filming commenced, so the role was subsequently filled by Sterling Hayden.
Attended and played football for Sul Ross State College, Alpine, Texas, graduating in 1950.
All of his children studied karate under Chuck Norris.
Blocker was approached to play Major "King" Kong in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) after Peter Sellers was injured. However, according to Terry Southern (co-writer), Blocker's agent rejected the script as being "too pinko".
Best remembered by the public for his role as Hoss on "Bonanza" (1959).
Taught high school in West Texas before becoming an actor.
With some repertory theater experience at the time, the Korean War interrupted his fledgling career. He instead returned to teaching school after his military discharge and went to work on his Ph.D at the University of Calfornia in Los Angeles. Finances were a problem at the time and it was then that he fell back into acting and found TV work.
Received his first taste of theater life at college when the drama club was performing "Arsenic and Old Lace", and needed someone to pack up the bodies from the cellar for the play's curtain call.
Once was considered for a lead role in the movie MASH (1970).
Served in the Korean War, a first sergeant with the 45th Oklahoma Division.
Attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and played football. After that he entered Sul-Ross State College on a football scholarship, and was an amateur boxer. While at Sul-Ross he not only won the 1949 Best College Acting award for his portrayal of De Lawd in a production of "Green Pastures," but met his future wife, Dolphia Lee Parker, originally from Alpine, Texas.
Was enrolled at the Texas Military Institute in San Antonio when he was 13 years old and weighed 200 lbs.
Father was a poor Texas farmer who lost the farm after the Depression. His father later went into the grocery business.
His weight was 14 lbs, at birth, on Monday, December 10th, 1928.
He was an activist liberal Democrat and a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War.
Taught history in Sonora (TX) High School from 1953~58, appeared in a school play there where he played a bride at the altar. Sonora is located on I-10 in west Texas with a population of about 2000.
Took his family on a summer vacation by car from Sonora, TX, to Hollywood and was discovered while making phone calls in a sidewalk phone booth and dressed in western garb, wearing heeled cowboy boots with spurs, a gaudy western shirt and a big straw cowboy hat. His wife and kids were sitting in the station wagon parked at the curb when he was noticed by an agent.
Campaigned for Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential campaign but later supported Eugene McCarthy, who ran against LBJ for the 1968 Democratic nomination due to McCarthy's opposition to the Vietnam War.
Dan Blocker Beach is a one-mile stretch of the coastline in north Malibu, California, located at 26000 Pacific Coast Highway. It is maintained by the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.
A 1960 "TV Guide" profile said that Blocker still wanted to finish his Ph.D., but in a 1965 interview with Austin, Texas talk show host Richard 'Cactus' Pryor, he said that he longer intended to complete his degree. At the time, "Bonanza" (1959) was coming off its first season as the #1 show in America, a title it would hold for the next two years as part of a then-unprecedented nine straight years in the Top 5. Blocker told Pryor that he worked five days a week from 7AM to 9PM. Since there were 34 episodes in the sixth season (1964-1965), there would have been little time to pursue his studies.
Weighing in at 14 lbs. at birth, Dan was the largest baby ever born in Bowie County, Texas.
His great grandfather Michael Patrick Blocker (1829-1897) was a private soldier in Phelan's Company, Alabama Light Artillery during the War Between the States, as were two other Blocker boys. The Blocker family lived in the Tuscaloosa, AL area at the time.
[advice his father gave him] "Son, the rate you're growing you're going to be one helluva big fella. If you use your size and strength properly it can be a wonderful thing for you. If you don't, Heaven help you. One day you'll start pushing some little guy around and he'll pull a gun and blow your brains out."
Being big has its advantages, especially when you're doing the rounds of the agents' offices. They don't forget you in a hurry. But it has its disadvantages, too. You've got to have a bed special made . . . mine is 7 feet long. You've got to be careful when you sit down. I used to wreck a couple of chairs a week in the studio. Weight is a problem with me. If I don't watch it, it shoots up to around 300 pounds. It bugs me having to go on a diet but there isn't any alternative. I remember breakfast when I ate a dozen eggs, two loaves of bread and drank two quarts of milk. Now I eat like a normal guy and I'm always hungry. If I had been a little guy I'd probably still be teaching school in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Fame frightens me; it truly does, perhaps because I wasn't expecting it. I feel like I have a tiger by the tail. I'm in this business for the money. I need money, like anyone else, because I want to give to my wife and kids a good home and a good life. It's what any man wants to do for his family. Hell, man, I'm just an ordinary guy.
My daddy used to say that I was too big to ride and too little to hitch a wagon - no good for a damn thing.
I can lose five pounds by walking to the corner store.
|"Bonanza" (1959)||$11,000/week (1966)|
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