‘Gunsmoke’: How Many Times Did ‘Bonanza’ Star Dan Blocker Appear on the Iconic Western Series?

by Joe Rutland
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Everyone knows Dan Blocker from his time on “Bonanza,” but he was working on television before that show on CBS’s western “Gunsmoke.”

Yet how many episodes did the tall Texan appear on during his all-too-brief career? Blocker, who died on May 13, 1972, notched two appearances on “Gunsmoke.” His first one was in “Alarm at Pleasant Valley” in 1956, while Blocker’s second one was “Thoroughbreds” in 1958. This is according to an article from the Bonanza Fandom website.

Blocker plays a lieutenant in “Alarm at Pleasant Valley.” Homesteaders, facing a challenge from Indians, get help from Marshal Matt Dillon, played by James Arness, and Chester, played by Dennis Weaver.

‘Gunsmoke’ Gives Future ‘Bonanza’ Star Two Appearances Before NBC Show

In “Thoroughbreds,” Blocker plays a character named Keller. The episode revolves around Matt and Chester crossing a man who isn’t too friendly to them at first. Later, though, when they run into the man in Dodge City, he’s friendly and spending money like it’s going out of style.

One year after his second appearance on “Gunsmoke,” Blocker would start playing “Hoss” Cartwright on the NBC western standout from 1959 until his death.

“Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” are forever, though, intertwined in the historical annals of television. “Gunsmoke” holds the record for the longest-running western series on TV with 20 seasons. What’s No. 2? “Bonanza,” of course, with its 14-season run on NBC.

CBS Western Stayed In Lineup Through 1975 But Faced Cancellation In 1960s

The show, which also starred Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, would have run longer had it not been for Blocker’s untimely death. “Gunsmoke” itself almost was tossed off CBS a few seasons before it ended in 1975. Ratings were so-so in the mid-1960s and the network considered taking Dodge City off of its must-see TV spots. Fans spoke up and CBS kept “Gunsmoke” running until the mid-1970s.

Besides Arness and Weaver, who left before the series ended, other stars on “Gunsmoke” included Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty, Milburn Stone as Doc, and Ken Curtis as Festus. Burt Reynolds and Buck Taylor also were part of the cast during the show’s run.

The show was set in Dodge City, Kan. Dillon kept crime in check throughout the city. Arness received a shot of support from one of his good friends, movie legend John Wayne. The story goes that Wayne suggested Arness to the show’s producers. They called him in for an audition and saw that he fit the image of Matt Dillon perfectly.

“Gunsmoke” proved to be a strong show for CBS and made stars out of its cast. Originally, the show started out on the radio with actor William Conrad providing Dillon’s voice. Conrad would go on, though, to play private detective Frank Conrad in CBS’s “Conrad.”

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