The World Comes Home to the High Chaparral Reunion
By Jane Rodgers
Tucson—Eyes shining, Liverpool, UK, resident John Fitzpatrick summed up his experience at the High Chaparral Reunion simply: “It’s brilliant.”
“I’ve come to the High Chaparral ranch house. I’ve had me picture taken there. I’ve been inside and I met and have shaken hands with Henry Darrow, and he greeted me as Manolito,” said Fitzpatrick of his Saturday at Old Tucson, a “dream come true” which prompted him to fly to Arizona from the UK with his adult daughter Joanne Wallace.
John and Joanne, profiled in depth in this issue by W.J. St. Germain, typify the dozens of international fans who flocked to Tucson in March 2015. We caught up with some of them at Old Tucson and the Casino del Sol.
For Katrin D., a librarian from Leipzig, Germany, her second trip “home” to the High Chaparral Reunion started with a detour by Los Angeles and the Autry Center, where she conducted research on the show’s history, examining original David Dortort scripts and outlines, including Dortort’s description of the characters and back story of “Saguaro.”
“’High Chaparral’ was first called ‘Saguaro,’ and then they found nobody could pronounce it,” Katrin explained. “I like to dig things up.”
A member of the next generation of THC enthusiasts, Katrin became a fan as a young teen in the 1990s when the series was rerun on German TV. “The translators did a really, really great job. I waited for years for the DVDs to come out and when I finally found them in the store in 2011, I bought them right away.”
“I came [to the HC Reunion] in 2013, and I came back to see Henry Darrow smile again,” Katrin added.
Like Katrin, Patricia Griffiths of Australia’s Central Coast also made her second trip to the High Chaparral Reunion in 2015.
Griffiths said she watched “The High Chaparral” as a kid in the UK. “I absolutely loved it.”
Griffiths’s trip to Tucson last year was last minute, booked only three weeks before the HC Reunion.
“I’d been through a particularly traumatic time a couple of years before and I saw it on line. It sounds funny, but I burst into tears, left work and went and booked my trip straightaway. It did my soul a world of good.”
Last year’s pilgrimage to Tucson did Griffiths so much good that the office and project administrator determined to return in 2015, this time rooming with new buddy Patricia Jacoby at the Casino del Sol.
“Everybody is just great. To walk back in and have people recognize you, it’s definitely coming home. It’s like family. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
Brenda Greenwood of Southampton, UK, echoed Patricia Griffiths’s sentiments. “It’s the third time I’ve come, and each time it’s different. It’s exciting. It’s a family. I like being with people I know and meeting new friends, too. Each time I’ve come I’ve extended my stay.”
Extending her stay this year meant a visit to the Alamo. She met up with HC Reunion friend Ginger Kullman in San Diego and they drove in together.
Greenwood has been a “High Chaparral” fan since her teens. “I watched it as a kid in the UK and I used to say to my mum that one day I wanted to go to America and see these people. She used to say to me, ‘Don’t be so stupid. These people wouldn’t want to see you.’ Travel to America mostly wasn’t happening back then. Little did she know!”
When Brenda was a teen, her favorite was Blue. Now it’s Buck. “I like Buck’s sense of humor. It suits me. I like Sam and Wind. I guess I like them all. ‘Ride the Savage Land,’ where Buck and Mano go off, is my favorite episode.”
Greenwood works for a UK charity which operates in the Ukraine. She first heard rumors of an impending HC reunion in 1993 when she visited a Navajo Indian school in Sun Valley in Holbrook, Arizona. “I told them this was always my favorite show as a youngster. They thought someone was putting together a reunion.”
Greenwood kept checking and the reunions did begin in 2003; she came in 2009. “I brought my daughter. It was the first one here in Arizona. I came in 2011 and here I am again a third time.”
At Sunday’s cowboy church, Greenwood explained her work in the UK and its ties to Britain’s best loved hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” whose English lyricist, Stuart K. Kline, was a missionary in the Ukraine. Royalties from Kline’s hymn benefit ministries in the Ukraine to this day.
Blanca Gonzalez Cantu and her husband, Mariano, journeyed north from Cuernavaca, Mexico, for the Chaparral event. Blanca explained that she had been “fanatica” regarding “The High Chaparral” as a girl and while she originally adored Blue, she loves John Cannon, Buck, and Manolito as well. Like so many others, Blanca ran across news of the HC Reunion while searching the Internet.
Plinio Orellana Romero and his wife, Luisa, hail from Chile and came to Tucson for “many reasons.” Most notably, Plinio recalls watching “The High Chaparral” as a child with his family. He treasures the memory of his father whistling the theme song. The values of the show resonated with Plinio as well, especially its emphasis on the worth of all people. However distinct their cultures, they could live together in harmony. “It is an excellent and beautiful way of life.”
This year’s reunion marks the third for Plinio, who also attended in 2009 and 2011. [Author’s note: my interviews with Blanca, Plinio, and Luisa were hampered by my sub-par Spanish. Lo siento, Blanca, Plinio y Luisa. Gracias por sus paciencia!]
One HC Reunion guest who has no trouble translating from Spanish to English is Lars-Erik Wikberg of Haparanda in northern Sweden, one hour south of the Arctic Circle. Wikberg combined a business trip to the U.S. with a holiday in Arizona, fulfilling a long-time dream and also serving as a translator for Penny McQueen and crew.
Wikberg watched westerns on television in his youth and remembers “very well” when Swedish television executives dropped “Bonanza” from the line up in favor of “High Chaparral” during its original run in the 1960s.
“During the 60s when I was young, I watched ‘High Chaparral’ and I liked it very much. I fell asleep many times and missed the end.” That problem has been remedied as Lars-Erik owns all four seasons of THC on DVD. In fact, he is at least partly responsible for the fact that the DVDs have been released by a Swedish distributor.
“I emailed all the Swedish distribution companies to ask about ‘High Chaparral.’ I was told, ‘Impossible, impossible!’ I bought the German version. Then the Dutch version came out. I contacted a Swedish company and told them that the Germans had released it and the Netherlands had released it. It cannot be impossible. Two weeks after my email, the Swedish version came out!”
For Sally McKegg of Auckland, New Zealand, who attended the HC Reunion with her husband, Donald, “The High Chaparral” evokes memories of a childhood spent riding horses and pretending to be Buck Cannon.
“When I was young, I always had ponies. I was mad about riding. I cannot remember when ‘High Chaparral’ was first shown in New Zealand, but I think it was about 1968 or 69. It immediately became my favorite, that and ‘Mr. Ed.’ We’d reenact scenes on our ponies. I was always Buck. My friends were Blue and the others. The Apaches would come and we’d race across the paddocks. All my friends loved Blue, but I was in love with Buck.”
Unlike Sally McKegg, Isje Bos-Dalijati is a more recent convert to “The High Chaparral,” although her husband, Fred, remembers it fondly from his teens. Isje and Fred live in Papendrecht, Netherlands. Fred found season one of THC on DVD in the nearby town of Dordrecht and immediately bought it so Isje could see it, too.
“I was fascinated by the story that [involves] every walk of life. With every episode, I was getting into the story,” Isje recalled. “I was curious to find out more. I searched in Google. I found it on Facebook. I posted a friends request and about two weeks later, Jan Pippins welcomed me as a member [of Henry Darrow Friends]. Jan told me about the reunions. So Fred and I registered.
“The show captivated us so that we were interested about the actors behind the characters. We said to each other that we really did not want to miss meeting the actors and fans. This is a nice way to get to know them.” Isje’s favorite character is Manolito, while Fred’s is Buck.
Coming home to the High Chaparral means different things to different folks, but a common thread for all is the national and international community that continues to embrace the show we all love. If reunions are for families, the High Chaparral world is indeed that: family.
As John Fitzpatrick, in his best Liverpudian accent, put it, “Anyone who is dithering about coming should come. I’ve heard people say it’s great, that everyone is friendly. It isn’t. It’s better than that.”