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post The Importance of Good Supporting Characters: Part One

April 24th, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:03 pm

W. St.Germain

This month, we begin a three part series about the importance of supporting cast in filmed productions; in this case, television shows. However wonderful the main cast is, without good supporting cast, a show can flounder. These performers are there to act as more than space fillers. They help to make the main cast shine even brighter by functioning as contrasts and by revealing characteristics that would otherwise remain hidden.  These relationships give an added dimension to the whole show. While they do enhance the roles of the stars, good supporting cast can also become important in themselves. However, if the person playing them doesn’t breathe life into their character it shows. It occurred to me that the exceptional supporting cast of High Chaparral deserved to be recognized in their own right. That is what this series will be about. Since there are many excellent examples, it will be done in three parts. In this issue, we feature Don Collier, Bob Hoy, Rudolpho Acosta, and Marie Gomez.

Don Collier as Sam Butler in the episode Follow Your Heart

Don Collier (Sam Butler)
Already a seasoned actor prior to joining the cast, Don Collier is a rancher/cowboy in real life and it shows in his portrayal of Sam Butler.  The leadership he displayed as Marshall Will Foreman in The Outlaws is still evident in his role as Foreman Sam Butler.  Incidentally, while Don started out as deputy in The Outlaws, he soon became Marshall! His screen presence is too special to be ignored. Sam can best be described as an onion (I can see Don’s face reading this). Every time you think that you know him, a new layer is revealed. Don’s character provides an excellent example of how supporting characters each have a story of their own, even if that story remains a mystery to the viewer. That in itself adds another facet to their character.

I often wondered why Sam never had a love interest. To discover (in the episode Follow Your Heart) that he was married, and had a daughter came as a great surprise to me. I wonder if any other actor could have pulled that one off as believably as he did. Using few words, we see the depth of Sam’s love for his wife, Trini, played by the wonderful actress Miriam Colon. When she lies dying in his arms, we can’t help but weep with him. Again using few words, we see Sam’s great respect for Big John, allowing us to see another side of John when he returns that respect.  Strong, honest, confident and loyal are all words to describe how we view this character. To learn that these are qualities that Don Collier possesses in real life comes as no surprise.

Bob Hoy as Joe Butler in the episode Follow Your Heart

Bob Hoy (Joe Butler)
Stuntman, stunt-coordinator and actor, Bob Hoy put a lot more into the show than many people realize. Bob plays Joe Butler, ranch hand and younger brother to Sam. In his trademark blue shirt (and gorgeous moustache) there was something about Bob that always made you notice him. Even if he’s just in the background, you know he’s there. While brother Sam played the authority figure in the bunkhouse, and did it well, Joe Butler demonstrates a similar strength and toughness that is slightly different but just as obvious. One of the wonderful, but subtle, characteristics Don and Bob managed to produce is a genuine belief that these two men really were brothers. You can believe that they were raised together; there’s a sameness in them and yet each is unique.

One of the most endearing features of Joe’s character is his childlike view of the world. Childlike? Definitely. Children tend to have a very cut and dry attitude toward life. People are right or wrong, good or bad, with nothing in between. Theirs is a world of black and white. As we grow older, we become aware that shades of gray exist. Joe Butler did not. While he is every inch a strong, mentally and physically tough man, only Bob could have made this ‘black and white’ characteristic endearing. In others, it would have come across as narrow minded. It is another example of how a superior supporting actor adds color to a show. One of Hollywood’s top stuntman, Bob went on to do a great many other things – including stunt work on the original Star Trek series.

Penny’s Tribute Issue to Bob did much more to describe his contribution to High Chaparral and the business in general than I could do in this space so I suggest that if you haven’t already read it, go to: http://highchaparralnewsletter.com/Archives/BobbyHoy_2010.html

Rudy Acosta as Vaquero

Rudolpho Acosta (Vaquero)
One of the most successful character actors of his time was Rudolpho ‘Rudy’ Acosta. Hugely popular in Mexican cinema and winning the Mexican version of the Oscar, Rudy made nearly 100 film and television appearances, including his role as Vaquero. Vaquero was an employee of the Chaparral’s previous owners who stays on to work with for John. Rudy smooths out a lot of edges in this show. He is seen as cook, ranch hand, cattle herder and anything else required. His knowledge of the Apache and their ways makes him an important character, especially when Mano, the only other person to speak fluent Apache, is absent. Vaquero is one of the Chaparral’s most flexible individuals.

Despite being someone who can do many types of work, Rudy manages to make Vaquero a man who you would trust to do anything. Whether he is assisting Victoria as she removes a bullet from someone, acts as translator between John and the Indians or cooking a meal, you know he’ll do it well. It takes a special kind of talent to be given the role of jack-of-all-trades and not come across looking like you are nothing more than an unskilled worker who hangs around the place. Rudy made Vaquero important to the ranch. All of this he did with a quiet dignity that made him another memorable cast member.

Marie Gomez (Perlita)

Marie Gomez as Perlita Flores

Although she only appears in four episodes (incredible isn’t it!) Marie Gomez’s portrayal of Perlita Flores is so outstanding that we love to see her. This fiery, beautiful woman must have been exhausted after each performance. She put so much into them. You can tell that Marie loved working on High Chaparral. As Perlita, she creates a perfect blend of mischievous flirt, who has no qualms about receiving dresses stolen from Victoria, to a fiery tempest when things don’t go her way. She often behaves in a shameless manner, acting as a perfect contrast to Victoria’s dignified grace. Yet both women are stunningly beautiful and can be relied on when it really counts.

Perlita’s passionate, sometimes selfish, ‘live for the moment’ attitude acts to magnify Victoria’s personality that much more. Yet despite Perlita’s less appealing characteristics, Marie presents such an exquisite blend of naughtiness, charm and inherent goodness that we can’t help but love her. Marie is quoted as saying that Champion of the Western World was her favorite episode. Jan wrote a wonderful article about her at http://blog.highchaparralnewsletter.com/?p=334

Next month, we will look at Ted Markland (Reno), Jerry Summers (Ira), Anthony Caruso (El Lobo) and Roberto Contreras (Pedro).


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