post Tucson and HC on Television

November 17th, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:18 am

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Just as the filming of “Arizona” will forever define Southern Arizona’s movie scene, “The High Chaparral” stands as the most important Tucson-made TV show. The production proved that a series filmed largely in Tucson could be successful, and it was a financial boon to the area because NBC spent as much as $300,000 filming each episode, the Star reported in 1967.

And the gift would keep on giving. “The High Chaparral” production manager, Kent McCray, persuaded his close associate Michael Landon to shoot episodes of “Little House on the Prairie,” “Father Murphy” and “Highway to Heaven” in Tucson.
“I think ‘The High Chaparral’ did more for the motion picture business and prosperity here than any one thing ever did,” said Bob Shelton, who ran Old Tucson from 1959 to 1985.

The series followed the adventures of Leif Erickson’s character, Arizona Territory rancher Big John Cannon, as he built his cattle business and fended off attacks from Indians.

“It was a fantastic series we were blessed with that was really kind of our afterburner kick,” Shelton said. “When they came here, they were great to work with. I had known some of the guys from NBC. The producer was the one who did ‘Bonanza’ — David Dortort. They came here and built a ranch house on the east side of Old Tucson.”

Don Collier, an actor who played ranch foreman Sam Butler, would later transplant to Tucson and recalled his enjoyable days shooting the series.

“It was 12- or 13-hour days, but they were fun days,” said Collier, who is recognizable more recently for work on the local show “The Desert Speaks.” “I had a lot of fun with it. We tried to film it like a real working cattle ranch and did roundups, branding and everything you do on a ranch.”

Collier said he and the rest of the cast were tight and “did our share of drinking.” They passed the off hours playing cards and dominoes and would visit Nogales. The cast and crew stayed at local hotels including the Ramada Inn and Desert Inn.

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