Mark Slade and Cameron
Mitchell on Soapy and Rebel.
The High Chaparral, one of
television's newer Westerns, originally arrived on the air, it emphasized
authentic presentation. Creator David Dortort has continued this emphasis
on realism by filming 80 percent on location in Arizona's "Old
Tucson," (often in 110=degree weather), by using Indians for Indian roles,
and by demanding scripts backed by research and knowledge. As a result,
the series has become a favorite.
The southwest is an area rich in
history and varying cultures, with some of its country little changed in the
past 100 years. Therefore, it is ideally suited as the site for a Western
with a different look. The series takes place in the early1870's, which
was a violent and interesting time --- one which brought drastic change to the
history of the area. Apaches, Mexicans, and Americans were fighting each
other for survival and the land they felt was theirs.
Dortort, long a student of western
history, felt when creating the series that Indians have received unjust
treatment in many Hollywood Westerns. He tries rectifying this in High
Chaparral by presenting his Indians with more than the usual one-sided
Also realizing the strongly-evident
Mexican presence and cultural contributions, Dortort created the Montoya
family. Two members of this family exert strong influence on the series.
Henry Darrow (born Delgado), a native
of New York who matured and attended college in Puerto Rico (his parents' native
home), portrays Manolito Montoya with understandable authenticity.
Although his speech is accent free, Henry dons his Mexican accent easily when he
slips into his role. Dashing and carefree as Manolito, Hank is personally
more serious-minded, yet relaxed and candid. The dark-eyed, dark-haired
actor attacks his role and career with intelligent concentration. This
includes his riding, which he has learned during the series.
Henry Darrow on Macadoo
"When the series began,"
Hank recalled, "I thought I knew how to ride. I had taken some
lessons a few years earlier doing a Wagon Train segment. I got so I could
do the ride-in and ride-out-of-town scenes. However, with all the riding
Chaparral requires, I found I had a lot more to learn. So I spent a
couple of months taking lessons from Stevie Myers.
"Then I spent the first year
just worrying about getting the horse where he belonged. It was all
mechanical. I had to think about each thing I had to do. I spent a
lot of time practicing and working up to things gradually. I had to gain
confidence in myself and in handling the horse. The stunt men and
wranglers are a big help. They give me suggestions about what I can do to
make things easier and more natural.
"During the first year, I rode a
black horse named Diablo. But he was too excitable, so I changed to a
ten-year-old sorrel I call Macadoo. I liked the sound of that. Mac
is a much better filming horse.
"Now riding is becoming second
nature for me. Mac knows me and my reactions and I know what he is going
to do. So I think I'm improving, at least I feel better. I'm more
relaxed and more comfortable in handling Mac. Also I'm more concerned
about how I look when I'm doing something. In my role as Manolito, I'm
supposed to be a horseman and I want to look as well as feel the part.
"I'm learning how to rope and to
handle a whip on horseback. Mac doesn't like the idea too well, but we are
going slowly and he's getting used to it. Mac is a great horse, but there
are two things he doesn't like. One is a mike coming at him from the side,
and the other is a wagon. He absolutely won't go near a wagon. We've
worked with him and he's much better about the mike. We've also spent a
lot of time with him around wagons, but he still won't go near one. So, in
a wagon scene we automatically use his double -- a horse named Flax.
"I ride Mac all the time and my
double usually rides Flax. In this way neither horse gets too tired and
each horse is used to one rider. I'm getting so I do more of my own
riding. But if I can't feel relaxed when doing a scene, like when I have
to race down a steep hill dodging boulders, I let my double do it. I hurt
my back when I was a kid and if I get up tight when riding, I'm laid up for a
few days and can't ride at all. It slows up production.
"Mac is a great dialogue
horse. He's kind of funny if you watch him. He comes into a scene
with his ears up, all ready to go. As we begin talking, his eyes slowly
close and his head begins to slowly droop, until he's asleep. Watch
him. A couple of times we've worked this into a comedy routine.
"I enjoy working with horses and
filming on location. I would rather work in Arizona than on the sound
stage. You have to be patient when filming with horses because they can do
things which will ruin a scene.
"My wife and I have enjoyed
riding. Since the series, my interest has increased. Now my daughter
wants a horse. I want a couple of horses, but I want to keep them
myself. We're looking for a place now which has room for horses."
Leif Erickson on Billy
Leif Erickson, as John Cannon and
head of the High Chaparral, portrays a man of vision around whom history
is often made. Cannon feels the intrinsic rights of all and strives toward
an alliance where all can live in peace, each in their own way. Therefore
his marriage into the Montoya family was not surprising.
As John Cannon, Leif is a stern,
imposing figure. But in reality, the tall, broad-shouldered actor is
openly enthusiastic and outgoing. "I've done a lot of Westerns before
this came along," he states. "My first was in '34 when I did a
film, Wanderers of the Wasteland, based on a Zane Grey book.
"That was when I learned to
ride. Strangely enough, it was Stevie Myers' father who taught me.
"I enjoy riding for the
series. I have a good horse, a bay named Billy, that's about 14-years
old. I like doing the series, and I don't mind the long hours or the heat
when on location. You get used to it. You have to! It's harder
to film on location, though, because you can't control the climate and it's
harder to concentrate. It's a good series to be with, though."
Cameron Mitchell, who portrays Buck
Cannon, the incorrigible younger brother, has been riding in Westerns for some
time. "I guess Gallant Bess in 1949 was my first
Western. The horse in that film was remarkable. She knew a couple
hundred verbal commands."
"I ride Prince, an 11-year-old
bay. He's a smart horse --- smart enough to occasionally get impatient
with all the fooling around required when filming. He can steal a scene,
too. I'll be doing dialogue and he'll come up and nibble my sleeve or rub
"I kind of spoil him, giving him
sugar and things. His special favorite is watermelon. He really
loves that. He's a great horse and I enjoy riding him."
Cameron Mitchell with Rebel
Mark Slade on Soapy
"I've been riding since I was a
kid," states husky, blue-eyed Mark Slade, known as Billy Blue Cannon on the
series. "However, it was English. My aunt had show horses back
east and I used to ride them. I had to learn Western for the series.
Henry Wills taught me.
"I ride a palomino named
Soapy. He's about nine and he's a good horse to ride --- real smooth.
"I've enjoyed doing the series,
especially since they have let my character grow up. It is more
Linda Cristal, a dark-eyed native of
Argentina, portrays Victoria Montoya Cannon. Although the actress had
ridden before, she had to learn sidesaddle for her role. She seldom rides
in the series, thus has no special horse.
Starring horses for the series come
from the Myers and Wills stable in California which is owned by Stevie
Myers. About 14 horses travel between California and Arizona
locations. This includes the starring horses and their doubles, plus
several stunt horses. Extra horses needed in Arizona are acquired through
High Chaparral, we
take pride in doing things correctly, states producer Jim Schmerer.
"That's why we film mostly on location. This gives a realistic
flavor. We use Apache Indians from the San Carlos Reservation. They
are cowhands and can ride. Our cowboys are cowhands from nearby
ranches. The cattle or horses they're handling may be from their
ranches. Things look authentic because they are.
"We don't have the soundstage
look. When we want to work 100 horses, we go out and work 100
horses. When the actors sweat, it's because it's 100 degrees
outside. This is how we're different."
Director Phil Rawlins is a horseman,
former stuntman, and current rodeo competitor in the calf roping and team roping
events. He helps High Chaparral retain its realism. Although
different episodes are directed by different men, Phil is called to direct those
which require involved battle scenes or complex riding. His knowledge and
experience come in handy. These types of scenes can only be done by
someone familiar with horses and their use.
Henry Wills, stunt coordinator and
second unit director, also keeps things authentic. Making sure the right
saddle is used in a cavalry scene, correcting dialogue, and adjusting horses and
riders to suit their personalities are but a few of his duties. Henry also
performs stunts. More than once he and his son have battled each other
before the cameras while stunting for actors.
"It takes more time, trouble,
and money to film the way we do," states Schmerer, "but no other
Western show on television has the look of High Chaparral."
And therein lies one reason for the
success of the series.