‘Bonanza’: Dan Blocker Nearly Portrayed a Lead Role in Original ‘M*A*S*H’ Movie

by Matthew Memrick

When the “M*A*S*H” movie’s producers called for “Bonanza” star Dan Blocker for a role, they left empty-handed.

Film director Robert Altman had Blocker as a top choice for his Oscar-winning film’s lead. But “Bonanza” producers put the kibosh on that idea, according to one website and a book.

According to Dale Sherman’s book, “MASH FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Best Care Anywhere,” Blocker had to back out of the film in February 1969 because NBC wouldn’t let the actor out of his contract for a few weeks for film work.

Blocker played Eric “Hoss” Cartwright for 415 episodes until his death at age 43. He died from complications after gallbladder surgery in 1972.

Directors, Actors Wanted ‘Bonanza’ Star For Films

Altman and Blocker developed a friendship after the director worked with the star over several “Bonanza” episodes.

Altman, who died in 2006, directed eight show episodes from 1960 to 1961. The two men reunited for the 1973 film “The Long Goodbye,” but Blocker died during the film production. Altman dedicated the work to Blocker.

Another iconic director named Stanley Kubrick wanted Blocker for “Dr. Strangelove,” but film co-writer Terry Southern said the actor’s agent didn’t like the script.

Legendary crooner Frank Sinatra worked with Blocker in two films, “Come Blow Your Horn” (1963) and “Lady in Cement” (1968).

Blocker ‘Discovered’ At A Phone Booth

Ah, remember phone booths from years ago. Those were the days.

There’s some legend to Blocker’s discovery as an actor. According to IMDB, Blocker wore a straw cowboy hat and Western attire when making a call in a phone booth. Reportedly, he made the call on a family vacation trip from Texas. 

Another interesting fact about Blocker is that he tried to complete a doctoral degree at UCLA when he landed his role.

Blocker attempted to complete that degree when “Bonanza” became a hit early on, but the show’s demanding schedule made that impossible. He worked 30-plus episodes a year on a 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule. By 1965, he abandoned work on that degree.

“Bonanza” Star A Korean War Vet

Fans don’t know what role Blocker would have played, but the actor had some real-like war experience and war wounds. He was drafted during the Korean War and served as an infantry sergeant from Dec. 1951 to Aug. 1952. 

During his service, he suffered war wounds and became a Purple Heart Medal recipient. He also received several other significant awards for his time.

‘Bonanza’ Star Family Found Entertainment Success

In a strange twist, Blocker’s son, Dirk, starred had “Bonanza” and “M*A*S*H” roles.

Dirk Blocker had a supporting role in “Bonanza: The Return” where he played a reporter named Fenster. In the television war drama, the actor starred as soldier James Mathes and worked with Alan Alda’s “Hawkeye Pierce” throughout the whole episode. 

Another son, David, also has some success in the entertainment industry. He produced the Matthew McConaughey film “Frailty,” among several other movies. In 1998, his work as a producer on “Don King: Only in America” earned him an Emmy.