April 13th, 2014
by Susan Getty
I have always been a shy introvert and never did anything alone. I don’t make waves – I make cookies! I am a stay at home mom and grandma – but the magic of the High Chaparral took over last year when I happened across the show on INSP. I was enthralled!
I hadn’t seen the show since it first ran when I was fourteen. A look on the net revealed there had been Reunions going on since 2003. Websites were dedicated to my heroes and it took only a few minutes for me to join the sites on Facebook dedicated to The High Chaparral. My family looked at me in shock. This certainly wasn’t who they were used to.
Then I announced that I MUST go to Tucson for the Reunion! It was like a magnetic draw. I knew I had to go – whatever it took.
O.K., so I was never going to meet Henry Darrow. (I got verklempt each time I read he wasn’t coming.) But, hey, I wanted to meet everyone who was involved and also the new friends I was talking to each day on Facebook–people who understood my feelings very well.
Soooo… I booked a hotel room – alone. My flight from Spokane by myself. I signed up for my first-ever horseback ride – a trail ride in the desert. I could feel big changes happening in my life. And I was happy and determined. I got all plans in order and then suddenly got “buyer’s remorse” and the “what ifs.” I started feeling that everyone was paired up and what if I didn’t fit in? What if it’s all different in person than on Facebook? What if I don’t like it?
A very smart leader of the Buffalo Gals, Lydia Tilbury Hopkins, told this worry wart to not be afraid to go alone to the Reunion because as soon as I saw my “sisters” there it would be O.K.” Was she ever right!
I arrived after five on Thursday. Registration closed for the day and people were sitting in the lobby waiting for the shuttle to the dinner at the White Stallion Ranch. I didn’t have a name tag on and since I look nothing like my Facebook icon Tinkerbell, no one knew me. I recognized Vickie Nelson sitting on the couch looking and acting as vibrant as you all imagine she is.
I said, “You must be Vicki.” She jumped up and gave me a big hug. Then with her back to me, I said, “And you must be Lydia.” She stood up and looked me over and in her sassy southern accent said, “Who ARE you?” When I said Sugeti, she hugged me and gave me a Tinkerbell keychain. I looked around and introduced myself to those people that I had enjoyed so much on the Facebook sites during the year. It was as if I was in a room full of celebrities that I knew and it was an instant feeling of warmth and friendship.
Soon they were leaving for the dinner, and a lady came walking into the lobby from the elevator. M.J. turned to me and said, “This is Lauren, Henrys wife.” I don’t know what I said. My mind was thinking LOUDLY, “He’s here! He is in this hotel!” and I was so glad that in the last week he had decided to come. I managed to say hello to this kind and approachable lady with the ready smile.
Approachable is the word to describe all the heroes of the Reunion. The stars are not just there for an autograph signing or a photo op with you. They are there at all the get-togethers. You have many opportunities to talk with everyone. And they are patient, and friendly.
One day Henry was buzzing down the same hallway, both of us heading to the Sponsors dinner. I knew this was a good opportunity to talk to him. I needed something interesting – no gushing with “how wonderful” he is or “how much I’ve loved” him for years! He has heard that so much. I know he loves baseball and I have two nephews on a major league team so I mentioned them. He told me about the old Brooklyn Dodgers and various players he had liked. Suddenly I was looking into the eyes of Manolito and I just couldn’t help myself. I said, “I’ll love you forever.” (And I meant it.) He still has that ability to move you and make you feel like a teenager again.
In the Sponsors dinner I found the Buck Cannon table I was assigned to. I wistfully thought it would have been so fun to be sharing my table with Cameron Mitchell. My table was full except for one last seat beside me. A man appeared apologizing for his lateness and introduced himself to all of us as Marc, Cameron Mitchell’s nephew. I was thrilled. Such a pleasant man and very fun to be able to ask him about his Uncle. After dinner we enjoyed Harry Sukman’s music played beautifully by the Vinnie Falcone Trio.
Saturday morning I was down early to see if I could change to the first trail ride. I couldn’t, but Marc appeared with photos of his Uncle and postcards that Cameron had sent his father while in Europe making movies. What a treat to look through these family treasures.
Next, onto the shuttle for Old Tucson. Susan Nobley (did I mention I counted six Susans?) and I explored around the town and collected bottles of Cannon soil when we reached the ranch house. We walked the grounds where we saw our favorites come riding up so often. Our group photo was taken and then to the sound stage for lunch. Stan Ivar, Susan and Kent McCray, Marc, Susan Nobley, David Crist, Sondra Hill and I shared a table and were treated to stories of Michael Landon, who was a dear friend of the McCrays. (He was best man at their wedding.)
Speaking of the McCrays…Kent has an amazing mind. Listening to his talk on production scheduling back when he was working on the High Chaparral, you realize his tremendous capabilities. Computers handle now what he did himself manually. It is probably why his mind is so clear now – he has exercised it throughout his life.
Lunch over, Lydia gathered the Buffalo Gals in front of the ranch for our photo then off to the trail ride. Never having ridden before can we say I was a little nervous? A few weeks before, I had done a little research online about riding. I studied an online trainer who had suggested an exercise to keep your heels down while riding. You can bet I practiced. I was happily surprised to find the instructor, Kathleen Vann Ausdall, on my trail ride! (I wonder if she noticed my heel position?)
M.J. and Debra Cox were right there to record our mount ups and ride out of Old Tucson. Kathryn Phipps, an expert horsewoman, added to the fun as she rode in front of me pointing out Apaches and other things of interest on the trail. To give me some extra excitement she told me to hold on and had her horse run down and up the gully with mine in pursuit. It was fun. Thank you, Kathryn. She also got us singing Buffalo Gals as we returned.
Back at Casino del Sol, Susan McCray made me the happiest woman in the room during the casting call. She chose me for Tornado Frances. As I was looking at the script in shock, I heard Laura Morton (Sharla to me) really getting into the Irish accent. I knew she would do a terrific job so we went to Susan to switch. Sharla was a sensational Frances!
We ended the night with Rudy’s Geronimo play. I know he felt all our support. If you have a chance as he tours around with his one man show be sure to go and see this talented actor.
Sunday was Cowboy Church and brunch. Penny sang, which was a nice surprise. I had no idea she had such a terrific voice. But what stands out to me the most when I think of Penny – aside from her warmth and graciousness—is her sincerity. She told us before beginning Reunion plans and all the way through, she prays for us. Believe me we were reaching for tissues when she said, “You are here because God wanted you to be here.” (Right, Ana?) Thanks for your prayers, Penny.
Ginger Kullman very sweetly offered to take me to visit the San Xavier del Bac Mission which was the Montoya ranch site. We had a good time seeing it, talking and going to lunch before we returned for even more!
I can’t forget the stunt men and all their stories. Really enjoyed them. They added much to the Reunion. Boyd Magers was an excellent narrator for the panel, and had some hard questions for the trivia contest.
Don’s show was Sunday evening. What a way to end the Reunion. Don is much more than a pretty face! What a talented and funny guy. I truly want to see and hear that show again.
Believe me I haven’t written everything or about the many fun happenings – but this should give you an idea.
To those of you who have not yet made the “pilgrimage,” let me tell you it is an experience you will never forget. Do whatever it takes to be there with us. There is truly a closeness and belonging you will feel from the moment you arrive, and you will cherish the memories and the friendship long after.
P.S. I don’t know what Penny has in store for us for the next Reunion, but whatever it is will be a treat. Perhaps it’s a shuttle to the tattoo parlor where we will all get tats of the HC brand on us like Uncle Buck did! Just kidding – I threw that in to see if you were still reading!