July 3rd, 2011
by W. St.Germain
We continue our series about the supporting cast of The High Chaparral. This month, we will look at Ted Markland, Jerry Summers, Anthony Caruso and Roberto Contreras.
But at this half way point, I would like to recognize the many, usually anonymous, stuntmen and women who also helped to make The High Chaparral a success. Stunt coordinator Henry Wills headed a list of talented individuals who doubled for the stars when they were required be in dangerous situations. A wonderful article about these people can be found at http://www.thehighchaparral.com/stuntwork.htm (editor’s note: a mention of stunts should also include Bob Hoy, who is legendary in the Hollywood stunt community.)
The wranglers are another special group who, like the stunt crew, helped make the show great. Wranglers handle or help to control the animals used in the making of a movie or television program. They work with many different kinds of animals. We have horse wranglers, cow, snake and even chicken wranglers, to name a few. Denny Allan was the Head Wrangler for HC. To all of these ‘behind the scenes’ people, we tip our hats for a job well done. Now, last, but not least, we look at three more of High Chaparral’s wonderful supporting actors.
Ted Markland (Reno)
Arriving in the first episode of High Chaparral and staying with the Cannons for two years, Ted Markland’s Reno was always something of a mystery figure. Yet at the same time, there is a familiarity about him that is hard to explain. Ted created a character who we instantly recognize, like and can form opinions about, yet he is a man of few words. Not unlike Don’s Sam Butler, Reno unfolds for the view more visually than any other way. It is interesting to learn that Ted and Don, both quiet, appealing figures, worked together in a 1961 episode of The Outlaws. As part of his mystery, we don’t even learn if Reno is his first or last name.
Like others in the cast, Reno wears a trademark outfit, in this case a fringed jacket, pants and boots all in the sandy color of the landscape. I find Ted’s portrayal of Reno most interesting. He is always present where a strong hand is needed, loyal and brave when there is trouble at the ranch or if anyone in particular needs a hand, yet we know so little about him. He is the singing cowboy of the Chaparral, often playing quietly on his guitar in the cool evenings. He certainly likes children as is obvious when he sings to the Indian children in Ten Little Indians. This in itself shows us that he has an artistic and gentle side as well as a strong, tough one.
There is also a cheekiness about Reno that gives the character a further warmth. This probably comes from the fact that Ted Markland enjoys comedy in real life. He may not say much, but you can often see a twinkle in Reno’s eyes when he talks. His good nature is never far from the surface. I have seen Ted in a number of other roles and in every case he adds a certain something to the part that carries the unique Ted Markland touch. He made a perfect Reno.
Jerry Summers (Ira Bean)
It is interesting to learn just how much Jerry Summers was involved in. Not only did he act, direct and perform as a stuntman in film and television, but he did so in over 400 productions! Like Reno, it is remarkable that we learn virtually nothing about who Ira is, yet we recognize him and know he can be counted on when the need arises. He seems a bit older than Blue, making him the youngest of the bunkhouse boys but no one can tell for sure. One would think that knowing so little about someone who seldom speaks (unless he has to) that Ira Bean would be a forgettable character. Yet, despite appearing in only one season of High Chaparral, fans know exactly who he is.
Jerry made a great cowboy. In addition to High Chaparral, he featured in the first and last episodes of another classic western – Gunsmoke. There was no question Jerry’s chameleon-like performances meant he would never be short of work. His roles were incredibly diverse, including appearances in the original Star Trek series! He plays Chekov’s (Walter Koenig) stunt double during season two’s episode, The Trouble with Tribbles. Jerry left High Chaparral after the first season to return to stunt work. Along with Bob Hoy, he became one of the best known stuntmen in Hollywood.
Anthony Caruso (El Lobo)
It is an indisputable fact that those involved in the casting of High Chaparral actors had a flair for picking the perfect individual for a role. Anthony Caruso is another example of this. Having over 200 film and television credits to his name he was a seasoned actor who made the role of El Lobo his own. Active in the industry for 50 years and often playing the villain, Anthony’s El Lobo has to be one of the most loveable rogues we encounter in High Chaparral. You wouldn’t want to know El Lobo, you certainly couldn’t trust him, and yet when he makes his appearances, we are always happy to see him. Now that’s talent!
Another actor who featured in the likes of Gunsmoke, Star Trek and even Get Smart, Anthony was perfect for westerns. His gravelly voice and somewhat bouldery face made him the perfect villain. Most people want the bandit to be arrested and jailed. We love to see El Lobo get caught for his crimes yet we are always happy to learn that he got away, giving promise that he would return. He has a mystery friendship with Mano. It is only casually explained by Mano as El Lobo being someone he knew a long time ago. This is another example of a supporting character shining light on one of the stars. The friendship adds another layer to Mano’s character. To create someone who is both dangerous and brutal, yet somehow likeable is a rare thing indeed. Anthony Caruso did it well.
Roberto Contreras (Pedro)
Roberto Contreras as Pedro Carr
Even when he’s being serious, Pedro can make me smile. His expression always reminds me of a Basset Hound. Roberto was another seasoned actor with a career spanning 40 years and nearly 100 appearances to his credit. If we consider what we have read about the cast so far, it makes a person wonder how many centuries of experience went into the making of High Chaparral! Like many of the others, Roberto also appeared in The Outlaws prior to arriving at the Cannon ranch. It’s as if fate determined to bring all these great people together in one show.
Like Vaquero, Pedro is a jack-of-all-trades, though unlike the dignified Vaquero, he doesn’t spend time in the Cannon house. He also lacks Vaquero’s cooking skills! Aside from appearing in numerous westerns, including an uncredited role of ‘villager’ in The Magnificent Seven, Roberto featured in a variety of roles in shows including Mr Ed, FBI, Get Smart and Kung Fu. In every role, there was a certain something that made you remember him. He made Pedro a loveable, reliable yet sometimes muddled up member of the bunkhouse, adding the perfect blend of light heartedness to the gang. Like the others, we know very little about Pedro except that he grew up with a cousin making fireworks and that cousin later went on to become an undertaker.
Pedro brings fun to the series but also has common sense. This is demonstrated when he borrows a few coffins from his cousin to smuggle fireworks in The Firing Wall, thus saving the lives of Don Sebastian, Mano and many of the Chaparral’s residents. Despite his gangly, humorous portrayal of Pedro, Roberto gives a convincing performance of a skilled cowboy who is loyal and dependable – presenting another unique character for the show.
Next time, we conclude our series with Rudy Ramos (Wind), Frank Silvera (Don Sebastian Montoya) and Gilbert Roland (Don Domingo Montoya).
Did You Know?
Jerry Summers and Anthony Caruso weren’t the only High Chaparral actors to appear in Star Trek. Our own Henry Darrow was also featured in the newer Star Trek series, Voyager and Next Generation!