'Bonanza: The Return': Why Dirk Blocker Didn't Play The Son Of "Hoss"

Bonanza: The Return: Why Dirk Blocker Didn't Play The Son Of "Hoss"
November 6, 2020 - 09:30 / Lucas Anderson

Legendary TV series Bonanza concluded in 1973 after 14 seasons. But the hit Western made a comeback, in TV movie form, three times between 1988 and 1995. They featured different casts, but descendants of the original Bonanza stars acted in the films. Things got complicated, however, with Dirk Blocker's casting in 1993's Bonanza: The Return. Here's how it went down.

If you were tuned in to NBC in the late 1980s and early '90s, you may have enjoyed watching the three TV movie sequels to Bonanza.

The films—titled Next Generation (1988), The Return (1993), and Under Attack (1995)—were met with mixed receptions from fans and critics alike. But at the time, and today, they were most famous for featuring descendants of the original cast members.

Bonanza: The Return cast: Dan Blocker's son Dirk

Michael Landon's son, Michael Jr., was a star of all three films, while Lorne Greene's daughter, Gillian, acted in Next Generation and Dan Blocker's son, Dirk, appeared in the latter two movies.

Bonanza: The Return cast Dirk Blocker and Michael Landon Jr. in 1993

The premise of the sequel films was, as the titles suggest, the next generation of "Cartwrights" encountering conflicts on the Ponderosa. Children, cousins, and siblings of "Ben," "Hoss," and "Little Joe" starred in the films, and the first sequel was especially notable for Michael Landon Jr. following in his father's footsteps as "Benj Cartwright."

But when The Return followed five years after Next Generation, it was made known that the late Dan Blocker's son would appear in the 1993 film. In previews for the "movie event of the year," Dirk Blocker was billed as the co-lead after Landon Jr. and introduced among the "new generation of Cartwrights" who "fight to save the Ponderosa." Blocker's lines also feature in the promos, with Bonanza diehards noting his visual and vocal resemblance to "Hoss" himself.

But when The Return aired, it wasn't Blocker filling the role of "Josh Cartwright," the son of "Hoss." Instead, actor Brian Leckner portrayed "Josh," while Blocker's role was only a minor one, as the reporter "Fenster."

Dirk Blocker joins Bonanza as... "Walter Fenster"?

The reason for the confusion, according to a 1993 review by EW, was that Bonanza creator Dan Dortort believed Blocker, 35, was "too old" to portray "Josh." So he cast 25-year-old Leckner instead. The promos, and film itself, were met with raised eyebrows, as this quote from a contextual Deseret News review indicates:

"How come Dirk Blocker (Dan's son) plays a character other than Hoss Cartwright's son, while another actor plays Hoss's kid? Your mind may wander to such important questions as Bonanza: The Return unfolds in what seems like extreme slow motion."

Bonanza: The Return: Dirk Blocker played "Walter Fenster"

While not necessarily an attack on Leckner's portrayal of "Hoss's" lineage, the cast story was a strange one, preceded by misleading previews. Nonetheless, Blocker returned two years later in Under Attack, as "Fenster" once more. The character was inspired by the reporter in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, according to EW.

For more on Dirk Blocker's career as an actor, click here.