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post All Music is Sound, But Not All Sound is Music

July 25th, 2008

Filed under: Interviews & Articles — admin @ 8:42 pm

by Penny McQueen
April 23, 2007

What happened to music scores? On The Office or Boston Legal, the hand-held camera giggles and zooms for close-ups of coffee mugs and cigars, if we’re lucky an ironic blast of music before the actors raise an eyebrow and we’re off to the next scene.

Some time in the 90’s we overdosed on Very Special Episodes that ended with a once-upon-a-time hit single. If I had to listen to Green Day’s Time of Your Life yet again while the camera lingered on tear-stained faces, I planned to feed my remote to the dog. But these days I hear chair scrapes, keyboard clicks, and rustling paper on my surround-sound system, the same background noise I work in 10-plus hours a day.

The pendulum has swung, folks. Gritty realism is in.

But here’s the problem. Music – good music – has the ability to transcend reality. With the right score, our emotions are engaged at a level we don’t intellectually parse. Enter the genius of Harry Sukman. In The High Chaparral, his music combined with rattling windmills, boot heels scuffling through sand, and redeye whiskey sloshing in bottles to add a layer of emotional richness that tied us to the hearts of every character in a way that flat realism could not.

  • It’s a composer’s job to know when to help a scene. You can make a suggestion, you can strengthen a character with a strong theme, you can soften a character with a beautiful melody. The real question is: Is it valid? If it intrudes, or if it’s obtrusive, even as a composer, I’d rather that the music not be there at all. Sometimes I disagree with a producer or director about where music should go. To prove my point I say, But silence is music too – it really is. ­–Harry Sukman
Harry Sukman at his piano with his Oscar

Harry Sukman at his piano with his Oscar

“My father gave each character his or her own theme, thereby identifying them,” Susan Sukman McCray said, discussing Harry Sukman’s famous score for The High Chaparral . “All the actors loved having their own theme. Even the guest stars had one. Greg Walcott (No Bugles, No Drums, and Auld Lang Syne) had a special theme and he recalls a story about my father coming to him about it. You should ask Greg about it at the reunion.”

One of the most recognizable western themes of all time, David Rose’s energetic All For You introduced each week’s show, while Sukman’s interpretive themes scored the episodes. “My father’s old, dear friend Joe Lubin wrote the lyrics for the title theme, Johnny Rondo, as well as any other music where lyrics were added. He also was responsible for having the only LP album recorded with music from the show. It was done in London and Joe went there to oversee, and Joe was responsible for the songbook that was published.”

  • To know when to help a scene is the composer’s job, but to know why is the step beyond because then music is created to become an integral part of the character. –Harry Sukman

Until The High Chaparral is released on DVD, we can’t hear these themes in all their restored glory. But even on worn out tapes, the craftsmanship of each piece is clear. If you’re lucky enough to have a many-times watched tape, close your eyes and listen to Victoria’s Theme. Could this music be for anyone except a heartbreakingly beautiful woman? The rollicking Latino rhythms of Manlito’s Theme so perfectly capture an exuberant caballero, it sounds like a traditional Mexican folk song. Sukman’s work in Chaparral’s

The Champion of the Western World garnered an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Composition; find out why by turning off the video and concentrating on the audio. The evocative music brings the action to life without pictures.

Although we know him best for his work on the story of our favorite Arizona ranch, Harry Sukman’s remarkable life reached far beyond Chaparral. A child music prodigy, he debuted as a concert pianist at the age of 12. While still a pre-teen he attended the Metropolitan College of Music. Do yourself a favor and rent a copy of Song Without End: The Story of Franz Liszt (Columbia, 1960), the Academy Award winner for best musical score. While you’re at it, pick up copies of Fanny (Warner Bros., 1961) and The Singing Nun (MGM, 1966); both received Oscar nominations for Sukman’s musical score.

  • I have found no contradiction whatsoever between my background as a classical concert pianist and my writing music. In composing music for many westerns, I believe the folklore of America and its music are our precious heritage and are no less important than anything we have inherited from European culture. The American people sense this, and that is why they so avidly patronize historic western entertainment, even in fictional form. –Harry Sukman

One CD of his work is readily available. Harry’s Piano ( www.harryspiano.com), the book about his early childhood written by daughter Susan McCray, includes a CD with two of his compositions performed by him. Be sure to bring your copy to the reunion, as Susan offered, “If anyone has or will be purchasing Harry’s Piano, I’ll be delighted to autograph the book while at the reunion.”

Sukman albums are still available, and will soon be joined by another. “I am producing with Vincent Falcone (Sinatra’s musical director and my father’s dear friend) a CD of Harry Sukman music for piano and trio. I plan on having some of The High Chaparral themes performed,” Susan said, adding she promises to alert HC fans when the CD is released. Fans can also hear her father’s music on her weekly radio show, Getting to Know You With Susan McCray. “My theme on KSAV is the theme from the MGM series The Eleventh Hour played by Vinnie and trio at the dedication of The Harry Sukman Foyer at the University of Hartford.” Listen to the cool, jazzy introduction every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time and 9:30 p.m. Eastern with a repeat performance on Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. Pacific and 6:30 p.m. Eastern on KSAV.org. Previously aired shows (including interviews with Henry Darrow, Manolito Montoya, and Don Collier, Sam Butler, from The High Chaparral) can be heard in the show’s archives on the KSAV.org site.

Although successful in a tough business, Sukman remained gracious, often sharing screen credit. “He was, indeed, kind & generous and my mother was exceptionally beautiful & talented as well,” Susan said. In addition to The High Chaparral, you’ll hear his Golden Globe and Emmy nominated work in over two hundred episodes of classic television series such as Bonanza, Dr. Kildare, The Eleventh Hour, Laramie, Wagon Train, The Cowboys, The Virginian, Tales of Wells Fargo, Owen Marshall, Gentle Ben and many more. Of special interest is his Emmy nominated work in the original Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. For a generation, Sukman’s music provided a common cultural backdrop.

When David Dortort asked Harry Sukman to help craft the world of Cannons and Montoyas, he was bringing not only the best talent, but also a man he respected as a dear friend. Susan McCray recalled, “David and Rose Dortort are family to me – they were best friends with my parents Harry and Francesca. When I speak with either David or Rose, I feel like my mom and dad are with me. The love between David and Harry was not only for their mutual admiration of talent, it was for their feelings for each other as special people. When visiting our house for a gathering or a social visit, my father would sit down at his Steinway Grand Piano and the first thing David would say was, ‘Harry you know what I want to hear,’ and my father would play his beautiful Montoya Theme from High Chaparral. David would tear up and come over to give my dad a hug and he’d say, “Harry, that’s beautiful’.”

  • The music had to become part of the actor’s face, the writer’s words, the director’s staging, the cameraman’s lighting, the character’s wardrobe, the dressing of the set, the sound man’s magic fingers. –Harry Sukman

Harry Sukman, during a recording session for The High Chaparral

Harry Sukman during a recording session for The High Chaparral

Harry Sukman during a recording session for The High Chaparral

Victoria’s Theme contains an interesting bit of trivia. The original music in the pilot was replaced by the melodious one we typically associate with Victoria Montoya de Cannon. As he continued to compose for each episode, Harry Sukman built much of the emotional depth of the characters we love. Susan recalled, “He was very proud of that show and David Dortort loved his music, as did the entire cast and crew. One of my fondest memories was during a party at our home. Of course there was always music playing. My mother on the organ or piano, my father on the piano. This one particular New Year’s party, Leif Erickson got up to sing, my father accompanied him. It was the greatest rendition of Old Man River I’ve ever heard. Very moving and quite dramatic. Wish I had a recording of it.”

So do we all.

post Henry Darrow’s Reunion Memories

July 25th, 2008

Filed under: Interviews & Articles — admin @ 8:10 pm
Henry Darrow (Manolito Montoya) shares his High Chaparral Reunion memories

Henry Darrow (Manolito Montoya) shares his High Chaparral Reunion memories

From Henry: It was great to see David Dortort. At first when I saw him he was having breakfast with his wife, Rose. He looked very tired. Kent McCray talked about the show and then introduced David, I believe, and David got up. And from that sort of low key energy level he stared to tell about Chaparral, remembering when he hired me and Linda and the rest of the cast, and the concept of the show. He just came to life. It was really thrilling. It was wonderful to see the energy just surge, and suddenly he was David Dortort, the Producer of Chaparral. There he was. And it was great. That I remember very clearly, almost as if it was yesterday.

post Kent McCray, Destination Tucson

July 25th, 2008

Filed under: Interviews & Articles — admin @ 8:04 pm

by Penny McQueen
April 7, 2007

The saga of John Cannon’s struggle to build an empire in the harsh Arizona territory was an abstract idea when Kent McCray, producer, was introduced to The High Chaparral. Still deep in production for Bonanza, Kent was asked to consider a new pilot, one that would become the most authentic western series on television. Kent explained, “The pilot script was being written by Denne Petticlerc at the same time we were shooting Bonanza.”

There was a three-part episode in the works for the venerable Bonanza, with a possible location at the historic Parker Ranch on Hawaii’s Big Island. As the home of the Hawaiian cowboy and covering 150,000 acres, the location promised impressive scenery including rugged volcanic ranges and lush green pastures. A scouting team of Bonanza creative talent prepared to leave Los Angeles for Hawaii: Bill Claxton, Director; David Dortort, Producer; Haskell Boggs, Cinematographer; Fenton Coe, representing NBC, and Kent McCray, Producer. Kent recalls, “Denne said he would have the pilot script for me on a given date, that was the day before we were to fly out to Hawaii. I finally got the pilot script at midnight. At five in the morning I was up getting ready to go to the airport. David Dortort called and said he wasn’t feeling well and was not going to go to Hawaii, but the rest of us should go as planned.”

Don Daves, left, David Dortort, center, Kent McCray, right

Don Daves, left, David Dortort, center, Kent McCray, right

The early morning flight and little sleep didn’t distract him. “I opened up my briefcase and took out the pilot script for Chaparral . I started to read it and was very excited about it. And as I finished a few pages I would pass it over to Bill Claxton. He would read it and pass it on to Haskell (Buzzy) Boggs, Buzzy in turn would pass it on to Fenton Coe. And by the time we arrived in Hawaii, we all said, what are we doing here? We should be preparing this wonderful script of High Chaparral!”
(Don Daves was an assistant director on The High Chaparral. David Dortort was the executive producer and creator of The High Chaparral. Kent McCray was the producer of The High Chaparral. Meet them at The High Chaparral Reunion 2007! )

After surveying the Parker ranch and other island locations, filming the Cartwrights in Hawaii was judged to be too costly. They returned to Los Angeles, anxious to work on the new pilot. Kent remembers, “The High Chaparral was a great script to begin with, there were very little changes we had to make, the big decision was to decide what would work for locations.” After scouting locations in and around Arizona the decision was made. Kent recalls, “During the trip to Tucson, I made an agreement with Bob Shelton, to erect the exterior of the Chaparral set at Old Tucson.” Always practical, the location appealed to him for two reasons. Cast and crew would shoot between Los Angeles and Arizona; the entire town set was convenient for production, as they could travel back and forth easily. But his second reason is reminiscent of the ranch itself, guards standing on the roof and around the fence line. “By having it on the Old Tucson location site, I knew it would be protected from any vandalism when we were not in and around Tucson.”

Traveling by way of the Hawaiian islands, Kent McCray found the perfect spot for The High Chaparral .

David Dortort, left, and Kent McCray, right, on location for The High Chaparral

David Dortort, left, and Kent McCray, right, on location for The High Chaparral

post I’m Reno’s Dad

July 25th, 2008

Filed under: Interviews & Articles — admin @ 7:58 pm

by Penny McQueen
March 24, 2007

Ted Markland as Reno

Ted Markland as Reno

Flip through your cable guide for a blast from the past listing of the shows that defined a generation’s cultural psyche. From Bonanza to Hill Street Blues , Wild Wild West to TJ Hooker, a parade of journeymen character actors inhabited Cagney and Lacey one week, Father Murphy the next. With over 80 TV and movie roles to his credit, Ted Markland’s considerable talents contributed to those and many more, including Dallas, Murder, She Wrote, Baywatch, and The High Chaparral.

“I told David Dortort, give me something to say besides, ‘Riders coming!’ Ted said in a recent phone interview from his home in California. “Then Dortort yelled for someone to get him more silent actors because here was another one wanting a bigger part.”

Despite his long career, Ted’s affection for his role as Reno in The High Chaparral is evident. “I still get fan mail. All from women,” he joked in a deep voice. “But it’s a crime no one at the network or studio is interested in a reunion movie or releasing the show on DVD. I talked to Dortort years ago about an idea for a movie, but now half of us are gone.”

Ted Markland today

Ted Markland today

The first reunion in 2003 was a time for many of the cast and crew to see each other after a long absence. Markland had kept busy guest starring in TV shows after his tenure as Reno, such as Rockford Files, The Fall Guy, The A-Team. “I’d seen Bobby (Bob Hoy, Joe Butler from The High Chaparral), but the reunions are a great time to talk to people. Just talk, that’s important. To everyone on the show, to fans. At the first one, people came up to me, said, ‘I thought you were dead’,” he laughed. “Reno’s not dead. But at my age, I’m Reno’s dad.”

Ted missed the 2005 reunion because of heart surgery. “You wouldn’t believe all the cards I got from fans, it was wonderful.” Thankfully, these days he’s healthy and busy with his life and career. “I’m feeling great and looking forward to seeing everyone. I go to every show I can. Seeing people, talking to people, it’s important.”

post Jack Williams recovering from surgery

July 25th, 2008

Filed under: Cast & Crew News — admin @ 7:52 pm

March 24, 2007

Stuntman Jack Williams then

Stuntman Jack Williams then

Veteran stuntman Jack Williams, who regularly contributed death-defying falls and spills to The High Chaparral, is home recovering from major surgery. Please send your good thoughts and prayers to Jack at this time. We want to see him at the 2007 High Chaparral Reunion!

Jack, who is one of the most revered stunt men in the business, received the Golden Boot Award in 1999 – the same year as David Dortort.

“There is a marvelous fellow who is no longer with us by the name of Henry Wills (stunt coordinator on The High Chaparral). Henry used to have me down there quite a bit. Every time he would call (to do stunts on the show) my arm would start aching. He loved to have me do what they call A Drag. This Drag was kind of a silly thing – you’re riding along on a horse and instead of dragging by your foot you’re dragged by your shoulder. You get “shot” and you pitch right straight back and the horse catches you by one shoulder and you go down. So the horse is going 90 miles an hour one way and all of a sudden you’re going 90 miles the other way. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If you miss the strap it’s like falling out of an airplane.” Jack Williams, 2005 The High Chaparral Reunion.

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