May 12th, 2015
By W.J. St.Germain
John Fitzpatrick might have used the word “brilliant” when describing his thoughts on the 2015 High Chaparral Reunion to Jane Elliott Rodgers, but all I’ve heard is, “It was boss!” For those of you who are not up on the Liverpudlian vernacular, “boss” means “outstanding” or “excellent,” providing yet another adjective to describe the event.
John is a good friend of mine and I spent many happy years living only streets away from him as a child. He is a man with a heart of gold who is now retired from a career that involved caring for people when they came out of hospital. It’s the kind of person he is. John attended the reunion with his daughter, Joanne. Joanne and her sister Jennie are two more people I am proud to call friends. As Jennie just had a beautiful new daughter, Emmie, she was unable to attend but hopes to do so next year, maybe even bringing little Emmie along! Joanne too, found the whole event, “boss!”
“I’ve been a fan of High Chaparral since I was about 13 or 14,” said John, “Ever since it was first aired in the UK in the late 60’s. I’ve been a fan since the first episode I watched. I got the DVDs for Christmas a few years ago. I was chuffed. I’ve got favorite episodes of course, ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ for one.”
I asked John how he found out about the reunion.
“I first heard about it after I joined the Facebook fan page. I didn’t know anything like this existed so I can’t tell you how determined I was to attend the reunion when I found out about it. It’s been me dream to come and see ‘The House.’ To see where the Cannons lived, to fulfill that, you can’t imagine what it meant to me.”
John and Joanne arrived in Tucson 24 hours after leaving Liverpool. Joanne landed, “feeling like a zombie… but it was worthwhile.” It wasn’t their first trip to America. John had been to Florida in 1997 then to Vegas in 2005 while Joanne has visited New York three times! But the reunion topped them all. It was a magic holiday where father and daughter got to spend some quality time together. Not something adult children get to do with their parents very often.
I asked them about their first impressions of the reunion venue and what they thought of Tucson.
“Tucson was a lot bigger than I’d imagined,” he went on. “I think they’re trying to attract more tourists. The reunion will certainly be an attraction worth attending.”
“The first day we were there, it was raining,” said John with his cheerful smile. “We thought we’d left all the bad weather behind us in the UK.”
“We’re generous,” said Joanne showing she’s inherited her dad’s humor. “We must’ve brought it with us to share!”
“Unfortunately the Casino del Sol was fully booked when we registered so we had to stay at a hotel by the airport. So the message here is, don’t delay booking! I won’t make that mistake again,” said John, “When we arrived at the venue I thought, ‘Wow! How grand is this!'”
The people didn’t disappoint either.
“Where to begin?” asked John. “Everyone was so welcoming. The first people we met were Ginger Kullman and fellow Brit, Brenda Greenwood.”
“They were lovely people,” said Joanne, agreeing.
“Then we met Kathryn Phipps, another Brit who now lives in the States,” said John, ”
Oh and the fabulous ‘Butler Sisters’ Janet and Liz!”
“We had so much fun with these two,” said Joanne, “They were boss.”
Of course one of the key attractions is meeting the cast.
“Don Collier was much bigger in real life,” said John, “and an even bigger personality to go with it. He was so much fun and he had time for everyone. If you wanted to chat, with him he had time. If you wanted a picture or autographs, you got it. I think I was the only person at the reunion that Don didn’t kiss. Maybe next year, Don?” John laughed. “But I did get a kiss from the lovely Penny.”
“I think Don enjoyed himself nearly as much as my dad,” said Joanne.
What about the events, I asked. Did they have a favorite?
“I didn’t get to see Don’s ‘Confessions of an Acting Cowboy’ as we had to travel home on the Sunday, which was a pity. I would’ve loved to have seen it. So for me, it was Rudy Ramos’s ‘Geronimo, Life on the Reservation.’ It was just spellbinding, like Geronimo was there in the room with us. It sounds like Cowboy Church would have been great too, but I couldn’t attend.”
“My favorite event was the sponsor’s dinner,” said Joanne, “I loved the boys choir.”
“You know,” said John, “we didn’t really have much free time. If we were ever on our own for longer than a couple of minutes, everyone was so friendly that someone would come over to us and ask us if we were ok then you’d get to chatting.”
I reminded John that he posted a picture of himself on Facebook standing outside the Cannon Ranch with the caption, “A dream come true.” Again, he tried to express just how much the reunion meant to him.
“As I said, it’s always been a dream of mine to visit the real High Chaparral, where the show was filmed, where all the people once walked, laughed. Knowing you are actually walking on the ground where it was filmed, standing at the sites where people came and went. It’s amazing and unforgettable. When I got to that famous site in the picture, I sang the theme tune in my head to myself. That moment will stay with me for the rest of me life. That moment was just for me. The world vanished and I was there, back in time, with them all. The other big moment for me was to go inside the house. But it’s a lot smaller than it looks on TV!
“I can’t express how special that day was for me. Though I loved all the characters in the show, me favorite was Mano. I didn’t want to meet Henry at Casino del Sol, I wanted to meet him as Mano at the Cannon house. And what a magical moment it was.”
I think John summed up how everyone else felt when he said, “Me dream’s come true. I’ve come to the Cannons’ ranch and I’ve had me picture taken there. And I’ve been over, I made it!”
The much quieter Joanne did leave us with some lovely thoughts about the reunion that say it all.
“My dad really loved it there. I think seeing the ranch was the highlight of his trip. And it got better. That’s where he wanted to meet Henry Darrow and he did. Henry was so kind to my dad. Dad asked him if he could call him Mano and he said of course. He asked Henry if he would speak to him in Mano’s voice and Henry was only too glad to do so. He was so kind to my dad because in that sense, dad did get to go back in time to the Chaparral when he got to talk to Mano.
“I would also like to say that I met too many wonderful people to mention here. And I made so many lovely friends that I wish we could’ve stayed longer. Since I’ve been back, some people have said that they wished they’d gone. It was the most amazing experience, so if you are unsure about going next year then don’t be. You will love it. Before I went to the reunion I was not a fan of ‘High Chaparral.’ I hadn’t really bothered with it. But having met some of the stars and so many lovely people, when we got home I joined the Facebook page. I have made friends with some of the people we met at the reunion. I am watching the DVDs with dad and I am a true fan now!”
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