It struck Dortort that television was
also ignoring one of the common afflictions of today's society -- the generation
gap. "What about families -- like mine -- where father and sons have
trouble communicating?" he theorized. "I thought this might be
interesting in terms of Chaparral."
Following months of auditions,
Dortort had tentatively decided on another actor for the part of Billy
Blue. The day before rehearsals were scheduled to commence, he reluctantly
agreed to meet Slade.
Slade had worked on only one Western
in eight years as an actor, a Rawhide segment in which he played a
bellhop. He had recently concluded a season as Hollis, the seasick seabee
on The Wackiest Ship in the Army.
"I'm just not the Western
type," he told his agent. "Let's try for something else."
"This is your part," the
agent pleaded. "They describe him as a young Jimmy Dean."
Slade waited impatiently outside of
Dortort's office for 45 minutes. He was already late for a fishing
trip. When he was finally called, he pushed open Dortort's door and
shouted, "Jimmy Dean is still alive!"
Nonplussed, Dortort handed him a
script. "I started reading," says Slade, "and I thought:
'Man, this part is really something, like everything I've worked for since the
American Academy in New York.'"
The key scene in his audition was an
explosive exchange between father and son. Dortort read the part of
Cannon. "You can leave this ranch any time you want to," he said
mechanically. "No one's stoppin' you."
"I ain't about to leave,"
Slade snarled. "This is as much my place as it is yours."
Without missing a beat, he grabbed Dortort's lapels and yanked him up out of his
Dortort phoned him at home eight
hours later. "You know, this is absolute insanity," he said, "but
you've got the part." Slade celebrated at the Raincheck Room, a West
Hollywood saloon frequented mainly by out-of-work actors. He ordered a
magnum of champagne, finished half of it and used the remainder to douse himself
over the head and squirt friends at the bar.
When Henry Darrow learned that he had
won one of the five recurring Latin roles in the series, his champagne
celebration was somewhat more subdued. "After all these years in
Hollywood -- 13 years I've been here," he mused, toasting his manager,
"all of a sudden I'm discovered."
Dortort has spotted the craggy-faced
actor two years before, performing as a lighthearted Mexican peasant in
"The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit," a one-act play. He then
proceeded to write the part of Manolito -- the son of a powerful hacendado
who renounces his father's wealth -- with Darrow in mind.
When it came time to cast Manolito,
Darrow had disappeared. "I had been type cast as a Mexican for eight
years," explains Darrow, who played a Mexican lawyer on General Hospital,
dubbed Mexican films into English, and toiled in Spanish-language soap operas
during that time. "My new image was a hair and name change. I
had lost a couple of interviews because of my real name -- Henry Thomas
Delgado. I played around with some substitutes: Del Thomas, Henry
Dell, Del Henry. Darrow just came out of left field."
Dortort had been vainly searching for
him under his former name, Delgado. "As soon as he finally showed
up," the producer recalls, 'I said to myself: 'Boy, is he ever right for
On the Vasquez Rocks location, Darrow
occupied himself between scenes by squeezing a hand exerciser. The slender
actor had recently experienced difficulty lugging a saddle through a scene that
lasted 17 takes. Eventually, the saddle had to be propped up on a
fence. Now he was building up his strength in anticipation of future
He was no more proficient sitting in
the saddle than carrying it. "The first time we were gonna do some
riding," he recalled, brushing away a horsefly, "I did a quick mount
and raced through a courtyard. In come 20 soldiers on horseback.
They are being attacked by 70 Apaches, firing rifles. All of a sudden I
saw Leif Erickson, on foot, out of the corner of my eye. I thought: 'My
God, I'm gonna run over him.' I swerved away from him, but my horse in passing
him flipped him around."
Erickson, who plays the indomitable
Big John Cannon, fell on his wrist and broke it. This was not the first
setback for the Chaparral troupe in its pursuit of realism. Cameron
Mitchell, Big John's lusty younger brother, hobbled around for three months with
an infected leg, the result of a smack from a rifle butt. Several
directors became dizzy and fainted during the early filming in Arizona.
Slade suffered powder burns when he
was shot in the arm with a blank. The horse he was riding in another
episode spooked and galloped off the set. The inexperienced Slade kicked
his spurs into the runaway animal's flanks, rather than reining him to a
halt. He was thrown off the horse, landing on a rock pile. The
.45-caliber pistol on Slade's hip jammed into his leg socket. It required
a whiff of smelling salts and two days of hospitalization to return him to
After that incident, the
principals were forbidden to wear spurs for a time. As a further
precaution, the pistols currently employed in close-up fighting and falling
scenes are made of rubber.
Such compromises have failed to
affect the show's look of reality, the principle which underlies all of
Dortort's thinking. "Another theory in Hollywood is that anyone with
dark hair or dark eyes can plan an Indian," he says. "I won't
use Greeks or Filipinos. I want Indians to play Indians."
coups was uncovering the ideal Indian for Cochise, the legendary Apache
leader. Director Bill Claxton screened dozens of prospects at a Tucson
motel. Among them was a blue-eyed, 94-year-old man, hobbled by a wooden
"Name, please," said
"Cochise," the man
"No, no," Claxton
explained. "You're up for the part of Cochise. Don't you
"Dammit," the Indian
replied, "I am Nino Cochise. I am the grandson of Cochise."
Dortort remained skeptical, but
a pedigree authenticated by the Arizona Historical Society proved that the
original Cochise died two months after his grandson was born and christened
Nino, literally: "The Little" Cochise. Comparisons made with daguerreo-types of the old chief reveal an uncanny facial resemblance.
"High Chaparral's effect
on the tourism, publicity and economy is bound to be historic," predicted a
bullish representative of the Old Tucson Development Company, anticipating a
migration similar to the Nevada Ponderosa influx.
The show's impact on the economy of
Dortort's Xanadu Productions quite likely will be just as significant.
Some 22 nations purchased the series for television airing months before the
first episode reached American viewers. The pilot will be released as a
feature film for Western-happy overseas markets, another portent of sizable
"We don't have to concoct these
ridiculous, phony, fictional stories that you see on the air all the time,"
said Dortort, sipping a gin and tonic at a restaurant near the Paramount
studios. "The Virginian, for example, is a disgrace.
It's sloppily done. It's dull. It's completely
undistinguished. My shows have the look of authenticity. Maybe a
little bit more entertainment, too, if you like Indians."