June 13th, 2014
An Interview with Penny McQueen
By WJ St.Germain
When Penny and I recently discussed what sort of article I might write for this issue, it occurred to me that readers might like to know Penny’s thoughts about the recent High Chaparral reunion. I would like to remind everyone that without our Penny, reunions would not be what they are – if they occurred at all.
Yes, I know she gets help and all credit to those who contribute their time and effort because they also play an important role. Certainly a huge thank you goes out to the cast and crew who are the key draws to these events. But it can’t be denied that Penny is the glue that gets all the pieces sorted and holds everything together. I think she deserves her moment in the limelight. So let’s hear what Penny’s thoughts are.
How did you become involved in organizing reunions?
The Reunions started over ten years ago when Bobby Hoy (Chaparral’s Joe Butler) helped a small group of fans and celebrities get together at Sportsmen’s Lodge in Los Angeles. I helped Denise, the lady who was heading them up, and when she decided to retire I thought it would be sad to let things die off. After moving the location from L.A. to Tucson and the growth of the Newsletter and our social media fan family the events have taken on a life of their own. From that beginning of 20 or so people we now have hundreds who attend from all over the world and tens of thousands who participate daily via social media. It’s been a stunning journey.
How many reunions have you organized and did you attend them all?
I’ve produced 4 Reunions in Tucson, and attended and helped for the 2007 40th anniversary Reunion.
What are some of the greatest challenges about organizing a reunion?
It’s an enormous job, one that’s evolved into year-round work, probably more than anyone – including me – realizes. I think that’s the biggest challenge, the sheer amount of work involved. I do some kind of High Chaparral work every day, many nights until midnight. Fortunately I’m blessed with many extraordinary, dedicated people who work alongside me.
What are some of the greatest pleasures when organizing a reunion?
The payoff for me – the thing that justifies the mountain of work – is the effect these events have on people. I have an endless list of stories fans tell me about how meaningful the Reunion is, how it fulfilled a lifelong dream, allowed them to recapture a piece of their youth.
We have a high percentage of folks who’ve experienced some kind of loss in life, and they tell me the Reunion is a springboard for their recovery. So I see the higher purpose of this project as a mission, an opportunity to minister to the cast, crew and fans in a meaningful way.
How many countries do you estimate have been represented at reunions?
We’ve had people attend from at least 12 countries – Guatemala, New Zealand, Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia, Venezuela, Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Canada and the United States. There may be others as we get many fans at Old Tucson who don’t go through our registration system since the event at the Cannon ranch house is open to the public.
The High Chaparral truly has an international family.
Do you have any special memories from previous reunions? (Biggest thrill, best moments)
In my role as Producer I love that moment when I first officially open the doors and welcome everyone. At the High Chaparral ranch house at Old Tucson I arrive early for setup. That means I get the privilege of standing on the porch and watching the fans arrive. Many times as fans walk up the slope to the house they have tears in their eyes or are running to get there. It’s a huge thrill to see people actually fulfilling a dream they’ve had for over 40 years.
Personally there are so many favorite memories, too many to list but here are a couple of favorites I can share.
I’ll always cherish Bobby Hoy introducing me to Henry Darrow at the 2007 Reunion. About 30 fans were in a meeting room listening to Kent McCray and Henry Darrow tell stories when the Butler Brothers – Don Collier and Bobby Hoy – came in unexpectedly and created total pandemonium. The room erupted like rock stars had hit town. When I asked Bobby to introduce me to Henry he took my hand, waded through the fans like Moses parting the waters then marched me through the ring surrounding Henry saying, “Hank, I want you to meet Penny, she’s one of our special fans.” What I didn’t realize was that I was standing in front of a room full of people with two actors who were enjoying the attention and my obvious inability to react like a normal human at the moment. Henry theatrically took my hand, kissed it, looked deep into my eyes, called me something Manolito-ish and kissed my cheek, while Bobby played right along with the show.
It was marvelous and magical.
A second cherished time was being invited to Kent and Susan McCrays house along with Henry Darrow, Don Collier, Bob Hoy and his beautiful Kiva and Bob Shelton. It was pure fantasy to have a drink with that bunch, listen to their stories and see their competing Cameron Mitchell impersonations.
Of course meeting each of the stars for the first time is something you never forget, and I’m so blessed that each time I see any of them I feel the same because they’re all such dear, special people.
What keeps bringing you back to reunions?
Each year I say ‘never again’, and each year I say ‘how can I say no?’ It’s the people – cast, crew and fans. How often do we get the chance to create such pure joy for so many people at one time?
Any regrets? If you had to do things again, would you have changed anything for a given reunion?
The *real* problems stay backstage where they belong so no one knows about those! Seriously, no major ones, and that’s because I’ve had excellent advice and help from the best mentors you could ask for – Kent and Susan McCray. When Big Daddy Kent McCray has a strong suggestion about how to produce something, I listen!
I’ve had key help from Ginny Shook, Ron and Crystal Hudson and other dedicated, hard working team players who selflessly work whenever I ask. I’ve had tremendous support from Bobby Hoy, Don Collier, Rudy Ramos, Henry Darrow, and everyone else in the High Chaparral family. With that kind of support it’s easy to look good! .
Has any of what you’ve done regarding your work with reunions influenced your daily life?
Tremendously and probably in ways I don’t actually think about. It’s amazing to me that the celebrities who created HC are friends. I still, after all this time can’t quite grasp that, because at heart I’m still a fan who watched them all on TV and dreamed of going to the High Chaparral and meeting all of them. This year I have my own production company, A Penny For Your Thoughts Productions. That was born directly from the work involved in producing The High Chaparral Reunion, which led to other projects.
How would you like to be remembered when people discuss their reunion memories in the future?
I hope the experience helps people grow in some positive way mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That’s a fundamental part of the mission statement. As for me, hopefully I’m a part of making that happen, but the Reunion is about the cast, crew and fans, not me. A boat needs a lot of people rowing to make progress and someone has to be in the front of the boat to keep everyone organized and rowing together. That someone happens to be me for The High Chaparral Reunion.
The following questions relate to the recent 2014 reunion:
For those who weren’t able to attend the reunion, who of the surviving cast and crew were present?
Henry Darrow (Manolito Montoya), Don Collier (Sam Butler), Rudy Ramos (Wind), Kent McCray (Producer/Production Manager), Susan McCray (casting), Neil Summers (stunts/acting), Steve DeFrance (stunts/acting).
Also on hand were Jackie Hummer Fuller and Marcus Mitzel, Cameron Mitchell’s nephew.
What were the major topics of discussion?
The High Chaparral! Fans always love the Question and Answer panels because they get to hear directly from the celebrities. 2014 was extraordinary because we had special performances by Don Collier (Confessions of an Acting Cowboy), Rudy Ramos (Geronimo, Life on the Reservation) and Vinnie Falcone (Warm Heart, Cool Hands, an evening with Harry Sukman). Kent and Susan McCray developed special surprises for the fans too. Additions like these really put the event on a whole new level.
And finally, we’d love you to share some of your best memories from the 2014 reunion.
There was a technical problem with the video overhead before Don’s Confessions of an Acting Cowboy, so 15 minutes before the show I needed to get ALL the chairs moved to one side of the theater room. Watching the resort staff, my volunteers, and Don’s family all pitch in to drag 240 chairs into a new configuration was (hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience of amazing teamwork.
After Cowboy Church on Sunday morning, Neil Summers remarking, “I’ve never experienced anything like the peace that comes from this group of people.”
Hearing Rudy Ramos greet Don Collier with a hug and, “My brother! I love you!” on his arrival. Then getting to premier Rudy’s Geronimo (and do it *right* for our beloved Wind) was such a privilege.
Seeing Henry Darrow and Don Collier banter like two pros in a comedy duo during their Q&A.
Henry Darrow driving his personal mobility scooter like he was trying to win a formula one race, running over fans in the process.
The best part of the weekend for me, besides seeing my dearly loved friends, is seeing all the details some together and watching fans lifetime dreams come true. I love taking a shy fan who’s by the hand and introducing them to Manolito, Sam Butler, and Wind. That’s the payoff for me.