Dan Blocker wasn't just acting – he said he became Hoss Cartwright for nearly three years
"I got wrapped up in him."
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When a woman walks into Virginia City with her face covered in a black veil, Hoss Cartwright jokes to Little Joe, "Probably uglier than a mud fence." Soon, however, Hoss falls deeply in love with the stranger, played by the indeed very lovely Gena Rowlands.
But in "She Walks in Beauty," Gunsmoke's fifth season premiere, we don't see Hoss just smitten. Because the lady he chooses to court has a bad reputation, the episode finds Hoss wrestling a wide range of emotions — fumbling bachelor, jealous lover, and even the brawling enemy of his brother!
It's quite possibly the episode where Dan Blocker, the actor who famously played Hoss Cartwright, shows off all his acting chops in one episode. Bonanza cinematographer Haskell Boggs once described the joy of working with a fine, versatile actor like Blocker:
"I liked Dan very much," Boggs told the Television Academy. "He could make you cry, and he was funny, and he was, to me, a wonderful person."
But according to Blocker, he wasn't always acting, so much as being himself. He said for the first two or three years of Bonanza, he had completely transformed into Hoss Cartwright, his real personality completely indistinguishable.
Take a minute and realize what this means: for three years, Hoss Cartwright really did exist in the world. This complete personality overlap came up in a 1965 interview when Cactus Pryor asked Blocker, "Do you have much trouble separating Dan Blocker from Hoss Cartwright?"
Blocker responded, "Well, not anymore."
"There was a time, of course, that I did," he went on. "I think after the second or third year, I started finally to divorce myself from him. But in the early days of the series, when I was trying to find this character, when I was really working at it, then of course I got wrapped up in him, to the extent that I was Hoss Cartwright practically all the time."
In the interview, when Pryor pushes further to find out how similar Blocker really is to the character he plays, Pryor points out, "Obviously you're a pleasant fellow, as is Hoss Cartwright," but Blocker cuts him off to clarify that he and Hoss weren't just pleasant.
"Well," Blocker said, breaking into that goofy Hoss grin of his. "We're both happy men."
By the fifth season of the show, Blocker said he finally felt that he understood the character well enough to step out of being Hoss from time to time, and back into his own skin.
"Once I knew the fella, he was indelibly stamped, then I could leave him alone and go get him when I wanted him," Blocker said. "And that's every morning at 7 until 8 or 9 o'clock at night, and then I can leave him at the studio and pick him up the next morning."
Of course, it's no coincidence that Blocker seems like he was born to play Hoss Cartwright. Bonanza series creator David Dotort told EmmyTVLegends that he wrote the role for Blocker.
"When it came to writing the part of Hoss Cartwright, I wrote it with Blocker in mind," Dotort said. "That was a great advantage, because I knew his qualities as an actor."
In "She Walks in Beauty," Blocker's qualities as an actor are on full display, and throughout his time on Bonanza, Blocker gifted us with one of Western TV's most relatable leading men. That's why we cherish every episode with Hoss, but especially those that put a spotlight on the character, where Blocker gets a little more time to show us exactly what Hoss is made of — and this gives us a better look at this incredible actor, too!
Pryor perhaps described the phenomenon that was Hoss Cartwright best in his interview with Blocker: "I don't believe that there’s a TV character with whom the public identifies more than this Hoss character that you play."