Never Look Back
By Ginny Shook
When Linda Cristal called to ask me for a favor, I bit the bullet and asked her for one in return. Would she allow me to interview her for the High Chaparral ReunionNewsletter? “I haven’t done an interview in 20 years,” she told me, “but for you, of course I’ll do it.”
To say that I was nervous with such a gift is like saying The High Chaparral was just another TV show. But I was ready with questions and was sure that my interview would be full of pleasant reminisces and stories.
I was not prepared for the gift she gave me – a personal insight into her philosophy of life. I’m not sure that was her intention. But her mindset and beliefs have colored every aspect of her life, including her career. Every question about High Chaparral came around again to her beliefs. I felt that I was getting an important life lesson; that I was being mentored by someone with a deep and important wisdom.
What she has accomplished was no accident. No being in the right place at the right time. It had nothing to do with her talent, or her beauty (so she says). It was her life philosophy; a code, if you will, that she put into place long ago and has lived by ever since. It’s kept her out of the Hollywood mindset of measuring herself against someone else. Beauty can only by measured by comparison, and she didn’t measure or compare herself to other people.
Linda never said that her way was the best way, but what worked for her. Everything she told me, in a voice which has not changed one bit from her days as Victoria Cannon, was serious, sincere, and almost curious about what she herself was saying. There is confidence, certainly. But it is not ego. If anything, there is an absence of ego in Linda. Her confidence is a result of her ability to see a goal, focus on it, and make it happen. It is this ability that drives her life.
And what character does that remind you of?
I know I can’t do justice to her philosophy. So I will share our entire conversation, uncensored, as it unfolded.
GS: I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Henry Darrow. He said the High Chaparral actor he most enjoyed working with was you.
LC: He was my favorite. It was a joy working with him – a joy. They gave me carte blanche to ad lib, whatever I thought was good for the scene and I used it. I used it with Henry most of all because we had a natural facility with each other by ad libbing entire scenes. We would say “how long do you need it?” and that would be it. We’d start in English and end in Spanish.
GS: A lot of fans have said that Victoria was such a role model to them – she was so strong, but still so feminine. In the late sixties there weren’t women role models on TV. How much of Victoria was Linda Cristal?
LC: One hundred per cent. Absolutely, that’s the way I am.
When you grow up alone and you educate yourself – I used to take classes in the night – and I used to work on the weekends, in singing groups with Mark Slade – every weekend we were singing somewhere in one state or another.
I planned my life the way I wanted it to end. Everything happened the way I planned it. I have to say there wasn’t one battle I didn’t win.
GS: Your male cast members have mentioned more than once how much they admired you for having to wear such hot costumes on location in Old Tucson.
LC: This again goes back to the root – my willpower has always been beyond what you can conceive. It goes beyond everybody else that I know. Everybody tells me – my best friend says “I don’t envy you your beauty, your money, your position. What I do envy is your willpower.” So it was hot. But you don’t fight it. You never fight the enemy. You befriend him. You keep him close to you. It was all willpower. So I took the heat as an acceptance as what life is about.
And of course we used bags of ice on the neck when we weren’t in front of the camera and behind the knee. I never fainted. Everyone that came to see the location fainted. There were two ambulances going back and forth to the hospital with the ones who fainted. But I never did because I don’t fight…I don’t fight it. I give in on the surface and only fight it inside me. I accept it. Don’t fight it. Don’t fight the enemy – its trouble.
GS: Even that blue velvet dress with the jacket that Victoria wore? Didn’t you just want to kill them for bringing you these heavy clothes to wear?
LC: No, no, I didn’t entertain any ideas against them. If it was good and it fits right – the rest didn’t matter. But when I took my clothes off at the end of the day they were soaked like you wouldn’t believe. But instead of resenting it I thought “good, I’m losing weight.”
GS: But you were already so thin.
LC: But with the kind of food they fed you at the studio – you have to try to lose weight so you don’t gain it.
GS: I’ve been told that you are even more beautiful now than you were then.
LC: I never understood what it was to be beautiful. By age five people would stop and – I say this without false modesty – but the truth is my mother was stopped all the time just to tell her how beautiful the child was. Since then I heard it all my life. So how do I know I have it if I hear it all the time? I didn’t know it, no, I didn’t. And then as I got older – the fact is, because of genes or something, I never look my age. Never, not even today. My doctors are flabbergasted. It is nothing I do, it’s just the genes.
You know what you have when you have it. Do you think a rich woman knows that knows money is money? No, she doesn’t know. Only if you were to become homeless you would understand about money. You cannot see what is too close to you . I never understood the words “you are beautiful”. I didn’t know what it meant. I couldn’t savor it. It sounded like Chinese to me. It didn’t elate me. It’s a very strange thing. Now, today, when I see these beautiful women on television, the models and other beautiful women, I understand beauty. But not because I don’t like the way I look – I like it. It’s just that their youth puts a slant on their beauty that I didn’t conceive before. It puts it together. Makes it real.
GS: The guys have all said they used to play poker when they weren’t filming.
LC: (laughing) Yes, they did.
GS: What did you do to pass the time on the set?
LC: Go to bed very early, memorize – its hard to memorize in a foreign language – and try to sleep early so I would look fresh in the morning. The thing about that was always “she’s such a trooper.”
GS: Did you enjoy your time making High Chaparral?
LC: Unfortunately, again, it was too close to me. First of all, I wasn’t supposed to do that show. It was Joan Caulfield who had the part. And then when I got it…That’s the way I always got things. Even if someone else had them, if I approached it I would get it. So, I don’t know…when United Artists went to look for a star for Comanche to star with Dana Andrews, and she had to speak English – and I didn’t, not a word – I got the part anyway.
I never lost any battles in my life. It was just my conviction, I guess. Before I opened my mouth they thought I was the right person for the part. When they said “but do you speak English?” I said “don’t worry, I speak Italian, French, Spanish – I will learn English in no time” – they believed me.
I can’t think of anytime in my life when I lost anything. I hope it doesn’t sound unromantic. In looking back it’s like I’m talking about someone else. Nothing is that important. In fact, when I got awards I said “how nice” but I never got the impact of what the award was saying, based on this or that, or recognized as that – I never understood it, until not too long ago. Now, that is a shame. Imagine how wonderful it must be for someone who really has the ability to appreciate winning. Maybe it’s because I have always been alone. So, who are you proud to show it to?
GS: That sounds like a good philosophy.
LC: The only philosophy I came with is, which my father taught me, is never look back. Never look back. And that was very, very helpful. So I never look back – never look at my films. It’s very rare that I do an interview, very rare – I only do it because its you, and yesterday because of David Dortort backing that magazine. I would never – not for 20 years. When you say goodbye to something it has to be a complete goodbye, not a little bit of a goodbye.
GS: What if someone approached you now to do a film?
LC: It would have to be so tempting for me to do it because I feel I stopped at the right time – maybe a little late – but at the right time, anyway. And that was fine, that was fine. I’m satisfied with what I did. It’s not like I think about “Oh, if I could have done…no, no – I did it all. My God , I did it all. My son was asking me the other day “name the country you haven’t been in.” I had to think a while to name a country I haven’t visited. It was hard. What life is about – I’ve done, or I’ve seen, or I’ve experienced. Or I’ve faced and decided that’s not for me. You know?
GS: Do you have any story about High Chaparral you’d like to share?
LC: I am one of those who never says “no.” For instance, when David Dortort said “you know, this character is very often on a horse” and I had never been on a horse – well, I had been, but very little. Not much – walking, maybe. And I had to look comfortable on a horse. And he put us – it was Mark Slade and myself in one of those round corrals. And I said “of course.” You know. And the horse felt hard and it felt like it was going to start bucking. And I said, like I always do, “No, no, no. You go forward. Go forward.
So, he never threw me. In fact, I got so comfortable that I used to run faster than I was supposed to, to sneak in and do my own stunts. And when they caught me everyone was angry with me because they were afraid I was going to hurt myself. But that was my fun. And it was challenging. And I like that.