I used to know Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza. He was a wise and kind man, and there are tens of dozens of people I would much rather see dead than Dan. One time, around lunch-break at Paramount, when I was goofing off writing a treatment for a Joe Levine film that never got made, and Dan was resting his ass from some dumb horsey number he'd been reshooting all morning, we sat on the steps of the weathered that probably in no way resembled any saloon that had ever existed in Virginia City, Nevada, and we talked about reality versus fantasy. The reality of getting up at five in the morning to get to the studio in time for makeup call and the reality of how bloody much FICA tax they took out of our paychecks and the reality of one of his kids being down with something or other...and the fantasy of not being Dan Blocker, but of being Hoss Cartwright.
And he told me a scary story. He laughed about it, but it was the laugh of butchers in a slaughterhouse who have to swing the mauls that brain the beeves; who then go home to wash the stink out of their hair from the spattering.
He told me—and he said this happened all the time, not just in isolated cases—that he had been approached by a little old woman during one of his personal appearances at a rodeo, and the woman had said to him, dead seriously, "Now listen to me, Hoss: when you get home tonight, I want you to tell your daddy, Ben, to get rid of that Chinese fella who cooks for you all. What you need is to get yourself a good woman there can cook up some decent food for you and your family."
So Dan said to her, very politely (because he was one of the most courteous people I've ever met),"Excuse me, ma'am, but my name is Dan Blocker. Hoss is just the character I play. When I go home I'll be going to my house in Los Angeles and my wife and children will be waiting."
And she went right on, just a bit affronted because she knew all that, what was the matter with him, did he think she was simple or something, "Yes, I know...but when you go back to the Ponderosa, you just tell your daddy Ben that I said..."
—Harlan Ellison, "Revealed At Last! What Killed The Dinosaurs! And You Don't Look So Good Yourself." Introduction to Strange Wine, 1978
This depressing bit came back to me as I was reading a thumbsucker by Frank Bruni in the Times's "Sunday Styles" section, about how some yo-yos got upset that some Glee stars struck hotsy-totsy poses for an issue of GQ, and what it all means. And how that little old lady never died, but actually multiplied, and got younger, and stupider, and more self-righteous. Not that I'm particularly sympathetic to Bruni and the Times' perspective on it: "'Glee' Photo Flap Is Latest In Image Spin Cycle," oh do tell. Bruni displays a thoroughly uncanny ability to overthink on topics that no individual in his or her actual right mind ought even begin to bother with. Natalie Portman playing a stripper to counter the squeaky-clean image she earned from acting in some Star Wars movies? To propose that is also to presuppose that she made any kind of impression in those Star Wars movies (not that I'm saying it's her fault that she didn't). And apparently Jodie Foster took that part in Taxi Driver to "counter Freaky Friday." Um, sorry, Frank, you're maybe a little too young to remember this, but that isn't quite how they did it in L.A. back in the mid-'70s, trust me. For one thing, people didn't pay quite such fucking obsessive attention to child performers; nobody in the media was parsing Foster's career moves or whatnot. Oy.
Did I say "depressing?" Yes, it all is, indeed. Let's cheer up with the inner gatefold of the first Hatfield and the North LP, featuring Robert Wyatt and Hoss and the whole gang.
UPDATE: Adding a much-needed note of hilarity to the depressing proceedings, commenter Ratzkywatzky reveals Bruni's entire premise is built on something less than sand, as the original Freaky Friday came after the supposedly notorious and career-redefining Taxi Driver. "The fact that Disney didn't think twice about hiring her should indicate some difference in public attitudes from today." Indeed. And there's also the fact that being in Taxi Driver is slightly different than posing for Terry Richardson; Bruni seems to believe they're equivalent. Foster's early filmography is pretty interesting; she really mixed it up. It includes Napoleon and Samantha on the one hand and Kansas City Bomber on the other; and of course Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, in which Scorsese "discovered" her, as it were. I'm reminded somehow of a conversation I had with Bill Mumy in 1993, wherein he reflected on the fact that he and Foster came out of the child-actor gig relatively healthy and well-adjusted, and why many younger performers of the subsequent generation and beyond didn't: "We were supervised professionals," he shrugged.