by Marianne Rittner-Holmes
Marianne at the Old Tucson High Chaparral Ranch house set
(Marianne shared an article in the second volume of The High Chaparral Newsletter in January about why she was attending her first HC Reunion. This contribution is the sequel to that decision. She and her husband, Dave, live in the desert outside Belen, New Mexico.)
I was facing a significant emotional event, one of those moments that occurs in our journeys so as to be life-altering. In fact, it was the third one of my life, falling closely on the heels of the second one last September. That one was very hurtful and was the impetus for attending the March reunion. So off I drove to see if visiting my High Chaparral family would help reinforce in me purpose, direction and belief again in my God and fellow beings.
The drive over began before dawn from the Land of Enchantment and brought with it solitude—good solitude—the kind you need when you’re contemplating important decisions, or when you’re collecting yourself in anticipation of something long-desired. The plan to attend the reunion had been formulated in January, and now the day in March was finally here.
Up and down the canyons, crossing through Hatch, the green chili capital of the world, and then finally seeing Arizona’s beautiful state-flag sign of the copper star with rays of red and yellow emanating from it with the bluest of blues beneath. Upon hitting Tucson where I lived long ago for 10 years, it was obvious how the place had grown. I was home again, and it felt good.
Settling in at the beautiful casino resort was flawless. What a gorgeous backdrop for what I hoped would be a joyful visit with all those who had participated in making The High Chaparral what it was, be they cast, crew or fans. Friday morning would tell me all I needed to know.
Meeting Henry Darrow and Don Collier
Who can rest when there’s so much to be happily anxious about? Thursday night was very short on sleep and long on anticipation. Heading down to the conference room early Friday morning to help set up the registration table, I finally got to meet Penny McQueen, grande dame of our function. What a powerhouse she is! I met Kathy and Sandi and Ginny and Tammy and Susan and Ann and Nieves and Vickie and so many others…and then Henry Darrow walked in with wife Lauren. Did you hear me? Henry Darrow walked in with Lauren. He sat about ten feet from me. OMG!*
I mustered the courage to abandon my post at the registration table to sneak over and say to him, “Boricua, con mucho gusto.” Henry Darrow was the reason I studied Spanish in school for seven years.
Of course, after I got that out, I was tongue-tied and could hardly gaze at the man who held my hand and gave me a hug. He is so gentle, so dear. I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home.
Poor Lauren, my attempts to talk to her turned into apologies for babbling. She was so kind and understanding. (Thank you, Lauren! You have great patience and tact.)
Back to the table I went to do my duty, until Kathy pulled me over saying, “Henry, Marianne wants a picture with you.” OMG! Over I went. I posed. I beamed.
Kent and Susan McCray arrive
Running errands inside the meeting room, I saw that Henry had joined forces with Don Collier. Between them was an empty chair and fans were popping in and out for photos with the two. Henry saw me and said, “Would you like a picture?” Really? Henry Darrow is asking me if I would like a picture between Manolito Montoya and Sam Butler? I didn’t think I could move that fast. Arms around both, the bulbs flashed. OMG. I beamed.
Not too long after that, a camera crew arrived. I assumed they were local media shooting for that night’s news. Arlene, the director, came over and asked if I would do an interview with her and Harry, the production manager. Me, an interview? OMG. Absolutely! I was beaming.
We shot the piece and then I asked what channel it would be airing so I could call some local friends to watch. “We’re shooting a documentary,” they said. Really? A documentary? And I just got interviewed? OMG. I beamed.
Quick phone call to the husband: “Dave, I met and hugged Henry Darrow and Don Collier already and I was just interviewed for a documentary they’re doing on the show and…IT’S NOT EVEN NOON! How can this visit get any better?”
Back to the table. Rudy Ramos entered. I followed him and got a hug. He’s a keeper—so quiet and sincere. Then Kent and Susan McCray came to the registration table. I asked Kent a question and he gave me a wonderful answer rich in story and fun-behind-the-scenes insight. I want to do a Vulcan mind-meld on that man. He’s brilliant and so open to sharing his knowledge.
Susan is a beautiful, gracious lady with wonderful stories as well. She later shared with me how much her dad, Oscar-winning composer Harry Sukman (who also did a lot of the music on HC), loved his musical vocation so much, he practiced every moment he could. She said her children’s book, Harry’s Piano, was really about his young life. OMG. How long can endorphins last?
Over the three days, I met Marc, Cameron Mitchell’s “blooded-nephew,” as Uncle Buck would say. What a delightful man who shared some fun stories of a young Uncle Cam. I met Steve, a stuntman/extra who worked on 52 episodes and who talked about how they shot some of the action scenes. I met Jan Pippins, co-author of Henry’s autobiography. Her work on the book is tremendous. Then there was Bob Shelton, owner of Old Tucson Studios, who just turned 92. We posed for a picture together and he gave me a hug and a kiss. Kiva Hoy, Bobby’s wife, was there and she shared with me wonderful insights about her husband, the chess master and avid reader.
Fans at The High Chaparral ranch house at Old Tucson Studios
Then there was Sondra from Texas who does the Cam Mitchell Facebook page, and Rene from Tucson who actually tried out to be one of the children in the episode “Ten Little Indians,” and Ginger, our stealth photographer, and Chris from Washington who works on a guest ranch. There were the two sisters from Boston and Lorrie from Rochester and Katrin from Germany and Gemma and Christine from Great Britain, one of whom was on a water-rescue EMT team. There was MJ with the braids and a big smile.
Oh, I know I’m missing so many people and I do apologize. It’s just that I didn’t realize my family was that large, that interesting and that nice. Every one of them. All of them. All of us!
On to Old Tucson…The Buffalo Soldiers, and Sourdough Slim, the yodeling cowboy singer. Henry, Don and Rudy were signing everything people brought them, and trust me, there was a long line. We walked the inside and outside of the High Chaparral hacienda as it appears on our beloved show. Some even went horseback riding earlier in the day on the very soil ridden by the Cannons, Montoyas, and the Bunkhouse Boys. We saw gunfight plays put on by the Old Tucson cast. There was a Gatling gun demonstration and Native American dancers, and a trick roper who lassoed anyone who snapped his picture.
Sunday morning was autographs and photos day. Prior to coming to the meeting, Penny had asked if I would compile the emails fans were sending the cast and crew from all over the world. I included a note from me to each one in the event I wasn’t able to remember everything I wanted to say. As it were, I had only managed babbling with Lauren, so I’m glad my thoughts were on paper. Penny told me I could personally deliver them to each celebrity—and today was the day!
Photos inside The High Chaparral ranch house at Old Tucson Studios
I approached Henry and presented his. Lord knows what came out of my mouth, but he was very pleased. He had signed a copy of his book, Lightning in the Bottle, for me earlier, and I moved on so others could meet with him. I heard this will be his last reunion, but he really must come again next year. Will you, Henry? Please? You really MUST!
Then to Don Collier. I honestly think in his case, the name “Sam” is short for Samson. He is one huge cowboy with a heart and down-to-earth personality to match, and whose vocal cords are deep magical pipes. He could swear at me and I would still swoon. I gave him his email booklet, (he was truly thrilled), he autographed some things, and then we took a picture with me on his lap. I got a kiss, too. Wow! OMG. I was beaming.
In meeting with Rudy Ramos, I must say he is so genteel and soft-spoken. Earlier in the program, he had done a first-time presentation of a project he’s developing called, Geronimo. It was incredibly well-done. Now, here I was presenting him with his emails. OMG. Again, a smile of thanks said it all.
Unfortunately, Kent, Susan and Kiva had to leave early, and they were sorely missed. The morning was winding down, and with it, would come the end of our great reunion. I realized I must be part of those packing and leaving.
As I stood in the ballroom entryway one last time, Henry and Lauren made their way out, too. Henry walked up to me and kissed me on the lips. Wow! OMG. I beamed.
I headed for my truck and loaded up. Good bye, everyone. I drove away quietly. Sad? No, not sad. Not hurt. Not lost. Not any of those feelings that spurred me to attend.
Alive. I felt alive.
This significant emotional event showed me my roots are truly in the sands of The High Chaparral, and now I know those roots are spread literally all over the world. God opened a window to show me that there are many people of good character who do live lives of principle, loyalty, honesty, respect, justice and love just like the show’s characters who influenced me and whom I grew up to emulate.
My global family members are kind, smart, fun and simply good-natured. They’re people you want to be around. We exchanged internet addresses and will stay in touch. It’s already happening. Facebook, emails, photos, snail mail. My hope is that these friendships will last the rest of my life.
I continued driving toward the New Mexico border trying to wrap my mental arms around all that I had just lived through at the reunion. Then it struck me: Hey, there’s only 51 weeks until the next one. There’s so much to do to get ready. OMG. I’m beaming!
*OMG: Texting abbreviation for Oh my God!