July 30, 2021

Revisit ‘The High Chaparral’

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outlaws_pickens-collierBy David Yankus, Eloy Enterprise From Tri Valley Dispatch

Classic NBC series with ties to Arizona will be subject of reunion in March

TUCSON — There once was a time when the western film and book genre was pretty much a given.
Movies, television shows, radio programs, novels and comic books that focused on the cowboy lifestyle were almost always successful.
That time may have passed for the younger generations, but in the minds and hearts of many, it lives on.
Not as well known as some of the John Wayne classics or the hugely popular “Bonanza” TV show, “The High Chaparral” held its own with the best for four seasons on NBC from 1967-1971, featuring an Arizona theme.
More than 40 years later, the show’s message, beloved characters and syndication omnipresence have given it a following that reaches around the globe.

This following has spawned a series of bi-annual, and now annual, reunions featuring the cast and crew that continues to grow each year.
This year’s High Chaparral Reunion takes place near Tucson from March 19-22 at the Casino del Sol Resort. Activities include a meet and greet with the cast and crew, panel discussions, a Friday night sponsor dinner featuring the Tucson Boys Choir, one-man shows by two of the actors, a silent auction, autographed mementos and memorabilia purchasing, and a Saturday, March 21, visit to the High Chaparral ranch house, which still stands as built at Old Tucson Studios.
“What NBC attempted to do was have a real western on TV,” said actor Don Collier, who played working cowboy and ranch foreman Sam Butler, “with a cattle ranch, working cowboys and problems with Indians, neighbors, robbers, cattle, horses, bad guys and nature. All the problems real ranchers would cope with.”
In the show, Buck Cannon hires Sam Butler and his brother Joe to work the ranch after a bar fight in the pilot episode, which actually first aired as a two-hour movie of the week.
The Cannon family runs the High Chaparral Ranch in the Arizona Territory in the 1870s. Big John wants to establish his cattle empire despite Indian hostility. John’s brother Buck and son Billy Blue aid him in his quest.
When Blue’s mother is killed, in the first episode, John unites his family with the powerful Montoyas by marrying their daughter Victoria, whose brother, Manolito, now lives with them as well.
David Dortort, the man behind Bonanza, created “The High Chaparral,” a show that still garners thousands of fans who regularly discuss the actors, characters and the episodes.
Their presence is all the more evident online, where the High Chaparral Reunion and the High Chaparral Facebook pages have more than 15,000 fans, plus more than 5,000 newsletter subscribers around the world.
According to Penny McQueen, producer of the High Chaparral Reunion and CEO of A Penny for your Thoughts Productions, the High Chaparral’s message was far ahead of its time — a belief that all people, no matter their race, background or beliefs — could learn to live together with mutual respect.
With groundbreaking innovations in casting, it put Latinos in some of the first aristocratic roles in cinema, and it had a policy of casting Latinos and Native Americans in the appropriate ethnic parts. High Chaparral broke new ground for minorities in television and set a standard for the industry.
“I think we had a good cast and a variety of characters. There’s a character to please almost everyone, to please a bunch of different personalities,” Collier said. “The fans have expressed that they enjoyed all the cast members and the various personalities and the fact that we were working a cattle ranch.”
Bobby Hoy, who played Joe Butler, was instrumental in starting and organizing the first High Chaparral Reunion in Los Angeles in 2003, but it was a small event and attracted only about 30 people. McQueen took it over in 2007 because she thought it would be a shame to see the experience end, as appeared likely.
After fans asked Hoy to bring the reunion to Tucson, where it all started, McQueen did just that. In 2009 she brought it to Tucson, highlighted each year with a trip to the ranch house at Old Tucson Studios, which is still in use to this day.
“The fans want to come to Tucson because that’s where it was filmed, the ranch house is still there,” McQueen said. “For fans, it’s like a pilgrimage, they want to see the set where the scenes took place for the show they’ve watched all these years. Instead of this little tiny group, we have people that come from all over the world. It gets bigger every year.”
In fact, the show means so much that one fan from Greece held a year-round auction on eBay to finance her trip to Tucson. Fans from England and Pitcairn Island also attend the reunions.
Another group of fans from South America traveled to the U.S. for the first time to meet Henry Darrow, who played heart-throb Manolito Montoya. They arrived speaking practically no English except “High Chaparral.”
Reunion attendees can expect to see Collier, Darrow and Rudy Ramos, who portrayed Wind. Darrow also has a biography available, “Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle.”
Ramos, who currently stars at the Whitefire Theatre in Los Angeles, brings his one-man show, “Geronimo: Life on the Reservation,” to High Chaparral fans in Tucson Saturday night during the reunion festivities.
Collier, 86, still travels the country to various celebrity events and will perform his one-man show, “Confessions of a Working Cowboy,” the final night of the reunion, Sunday.
During his performance, Collier will talk about how he first broke into the picture business in 1948 as an extra, then took it more seriously in 1956 and landed his first major TV role in 1959 with “Outlaws,” where he played a marshal for two seasons.
Kent McCray, production manager on “Outlaws,” recommended Collier for the ranch foreman Sam Butler on “High Chaparral” in 1966 during casting.
“The show (High Chaparral) helped me quite a bit, personally and professionally,” Collier said. “Of course, steady work for four years is great news in the acting business. There’s usually 1,000 actors trying to get two jobs.”
Collier also loves to speak about the great people he worked with, including Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Hoy, Jack Elam and Slim Pickens. Collier starred with Wayne in “War Wagon” (1967) and “The Undefeated” (1969). He also appeared in “Five Card Stud” (1968) with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.
“John (Wayne) would drink with you and gamble with you if he had the time, but he had most of the lines in his movies so he was usually busy at night going over his dialogue,” Collier said. “The John Wayne school of acting is show up on time, know your dialogue and hang around the camera. Do that and you’ll work with John Wayne.
“If you’re late, if you’re confused about your dialogue or the director says cut and you run away to do something else, you ain’t going to last with him,” Collier continued. “Every inch the professional guy. A good man, it was a pleasure to work with him.”
The longtime actor isn’t afraid to discuss the controversial movie “Flap,” which he starred in alongside Quinn, either.
Filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the 1970 film had an original title of “Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian.” After droves of Native Americans protested that title, Warner Bros. changed it to “Flap” after Quinn’s character, Flapping Eagle.
Additionally, reunion-goers will be able to see and meet McCray, who managed production on “High Chaparral,” “Bonanza,” “Outlaws” and more. McCray’s wife, Susan, a casting director, also will be on hand to offer the added touch of what went on behind the scenes.
The McCrays also partnered with Michael Landon to do “Little House on the Prairie,” “Father Murphy” and “Highway to Heaven” as well as several award-winning movies of the week.
“Our cast and crew keeps dwindling as years go by,” Collier added. “We keep getting older, but we hope we can continue for another few years.”
While it aired, “The High Chaparral” was ranked in the top 10, and thousands of fans hiked through the Tucson desert to visit the location set. For years it was the most widely syndicated show in the world.
Today, the Inspiration Network (INSP) airs all 98 original episodes as part of its regular, family-friendly television package, attracting an entirely new generation of fans.
Even the title has become an iconic part of popular culture with many businesses named after it and references to it around the world, such as a theme park in Sweden, a restaurant named Pizzeria Manolito and a small village in Malaysia that raises cattle.
“I was 9 when the show premiered,” McQueen said. “It was my favorite show and I never dreamed I would be doing something like this. I never thought I would meet any of them or let alone become good friends with them. Sometimes things happen in life and you end up doing things you never imagined.”
The cast of “The High Chaparral” stands outside the ranch house at Old Tucson Studios in 1967. Back row from left are: Mark Slade as Blue Cannon, Linda Cristal as Victoria Montoya Cannon, Leif Erickson as Big John Cannon, Cameron Mitchell as Buck Cannon and Henry Darrow as Manolito Montoya. Front row from left: Rudolpho Acosta as Vaquero, Bob Hoy as Joe Butler, Roberto Contreras as Pedro, Ted Markland as Reno, Don Collier as Sam Butler and Jerry Summers as Ira.
Penny McQueen, producer of the High Chaparral Reunion and CEO of A Penny for your Thoughts Productions, and Jeff McCarroll, fan, stuntman and actor, embrace at the 2014 reunion.
A panel discussion at last year’s High Chaparral Reunion included, from left, moderator Boyd Magers, stuntman and actor Neil Summers, Rudy Ramos, Henry Darrow, Don Collier, producer Kent McCray, Susan McCray and actor Stan Ivar.
Don Collier blog.highchaparralnewsletter.com & www.chronicleoftheoldwest.com
For more on this story go to: http://www.trivalleycentral.com/trivalley_dispatch/recreation/revisit-the-high-chaparral/article_f7bd0728-9b76-11e4-af30-83acbd539bcb.html

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