THE HIGH CHAPARRAL: Henry Darrow, one of the show's stars, has written an autobiography, HENRY DARROW: LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE.
This book from Bear Manor Media was cowritten by Jan Pippens. I learned about it from a wonderful article on Darrow by Susan King which just appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
Darrow is in Southern California this weekend; yesterday he appeared at the Autry Museum. I wish I'd been able to attend! Tonight he'll be honored with the Ricardo Montalban Lifetime Achievement Award at the ALMA Awards, which celebrate Latino actors.
Yesterday I had the chance to watch some of the HIGH CHAPARRAL marathon on the Inspiration Network, and -- combined with some recent viewing of the show on YouTube -- I was struck anew by what a good series it is, and how different it was from other TV Westerns of its era.
I hadn't seen the show for years but have always considered it my second-favorite TV Western, after MAVERICK and just ahead of THE VIRGINIAN. I've always especially remembered how "real" the show seemed, thanks to its extensive location shooting in Tucson. The characters are hot, sweaty, and dirty, and for the most part it's not faked in a soundstage. Occasionally exterior closeups are obviously done on a soundstage, but a huge percentage of the show's exteriors were actually filmed in Arizona. It's hard to believe this rugged series, with characters whose relationships change over time, was created by the same producer who was behind the much more phony and static BONANZA.
THE HIGH CHAPARRAL is considered a groundbreaker for its leading Latino characters and respectful treatment of Indians; the Apaches are often the enemy yet they are approached in a complex way, as people also simply trying to survive in a harsh land. I like that, when appropriate, characters often speak in Spanish or in Indian dialects. Siblings Victoria (Linda Cristal) and Manolito (Darrow) often break into Spanish when communicating directly with one another, and the audience simply infers the meaning. In one of my favorite episodes, a Thanksgiving story, the exasperated Victoria begins yelling about her bullheaded husband (Leif Erickson) in Spanish, and he calls back "I can understand every word you're saying!" to which she huffily replies "I am glad!" Love that, especially as the characters in question seemed to enjoy their often fiery relationship.
Watching anew, I appreciated other details of the depiction of frontier life in 1870s Arizona, such as the outdoor kitchen and eating area as a way to deal with the heat. The ranch is under constant threat of attack from Indians, banditos, or the elements, and there's usually a lookout on patrol on the roof of the main house -- note the ladder inside the house, next to the front door -- or on a tower; there's also often an armed man stationed as the first line of defense at the ranch entrance.
Another aspect I like is that the "bunkhouse boys" aren't extras, but appear in every episode and occasionally get a real chance to shine. A couple of the actors, including Bob Hoy, doubled as stuntmen on the show. I especially enjoy Don Collier, who plays the ranch foreman Sam, older brother to Hoy's Joe.
One of my favorite descriptions of the show says it's about a "a mixed ethnicity step-family with relationship challenges." The characters are all flawed, fully rounded human beings who grow and change over time. The weathered, indomitable Big John Cannon (Erickson) is a powerful force of nature, an honorable man tough enough to build a successful ranch in an unforgiving land, but he's also perpetually cranky and has a rocky relationship with his sensitive son, Billy Blue (Mark Slade).
John's temperament on the show is balanced out by his devilish, charming brother-in-law Manolito (Darrow), who has a permanent twinkle in his eye, as well as by John's own rascally, sometimes immature brother, Buck (the irrepressible Cameron Mitchell). Uncle Buck also provides Blue with the understanding he often doesn't get from his own father.
It has been common in Hollywood to pair leading men with younger actresses, occasionally with uncomfortable results, but it works beautifully on HIGH CHAPARRAL because it's actually a believable part of the story. After his first wife Annalee (Joan Caulfield) dies, John enters into a mutual defense pact with Don Sebastian Montoya (Frank Silvera) which is cemented by the arranged marriage of John with Montoya's much younger daughter, Victoria (Cristal).
John and Victoria's relationship is awkward for some time, with John formally calling his wife "Mrs. Cannon" and Victoria battling John's memories of his late wife for her rightful place in his life; Victoria must also deal with the resentment of her stepson, Blue. Initially unknown by John, Victoria had agreed to the marriage because she truly admired him and believed she would have an exciting life as his wife. As time passes, John and Victoria's relationship turns to deep love, despite the marriage's inauspicious beginning and their differences in background and age.
themes; the evocative opening credits certainly rank up there with THE VIRGINIAN, HAWAII FIVE-0, THE ROCKFORD FILES, and a handful of other shows as TV's finest.
The High Chaparral website is perhaps the best site devoted to a TV series I've yet come across. Its detailed episode descriptions are just the tip of the iceberg; there's info on the show's stuntmen, costumes, publicity stills, cast reunions, and much, much more.
Speaking of reunions, a High Chaparral Reunion is scheduled for March 2013 in Tucson. Around the early '80s I had the pleasure of visiting the original ranch set of the High Chaparral at Old Tucson, as well as visiting Mission San Xavier del Bac, which doubled as the exterior of Don Sebastian Montoya's estate.
I wish I could say the Inspiration Network is airing the show as it deserves; while I'm glad to have it available on cable and willing to accept commercials for the privilege of seeing it again, the amount of onscreen clutter during the show itself, advertising upcoming shows, is ridiculously distracting. The network also cut out the end credits, at least for the marathon, printing them in unreadable white over each episode's final scene. This show cries out for a complete series DVD release, but in the meantime, I think the viewing experience is probably better online. Either way, I hope this fine Western series will find new audiences to appreciate it.
Update: Here's a few more thoughts on the series from Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, with my thanks for both the link and the very nice compliment!