The High Chaparral first aired in 1967. I was fourteen years old and a semi-regular viewer. When I watched, I watched for one reason – Henry Darrow who played Manolito Montoya. He was handsome, charismatic, and Mexican. Or rather, he played a Mexican on TV. Henry Darrow, born Enrique Delgado was Puerto Rican. What mattered was that he was Latino. Someone a brown girl could swoon over.
I put Henry Darrow in a story in Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories. It was just a mention or two of him in reference to Angie’s own celebrity crush. Yeah, I endowed Angie with many of my own secret adolescent imaginings.
Angie’s father had taken up and dropped one hobby after another, only to return to the TV – first the evening news and then a cop or western show. Angie always joined him for High Chaparral to inwardly sigh over Henry Darrow, who portrayed Manolito Montoya, a name Angie often murmured, enjoying how her lips squeezed together with the m’s and rounded multiple times with the o’s.
Henry Darrow died on March 14, 2021 at age 87. Thanks to Jan Pippins, who co-authored Darrow’s biography Henry Darrow: Lightning in a Bottle with him, a copy of Living Color was in his possession. Jan had sent a signed copy to him. I don’t know if he ever read that last story in the book that mentions him, but it’s enough to know that my book made it into his hands and that perhaps he had flipped through its pages, seen his name in the last story.
Also thanks to Jan, I received an invitation to the May 22 online memorial for Henry Darrow, which was organized by Miluka Rivera, the author of several books on Latino actors in Hollywood. The memorial featured clips of Henry Darrow’s iconic High Chaparral moments – for instance, sexily strumming the guitar, sexily quaffing a glass of vino, laughing his sexy laugh, his dimples taking no prisoners. His looks aside, he earned his place as an audience favorite. He was a dedicated actor, trained for the stage before television brought him into our living rooms, to all of us starved for a Latino face on the screen. He was also committed to elevating the image of and opportunities for Latinos in Hollywood, contributing to the establishment of Nosotros, the arts advocacy group founded by Ricardo Montalban.
The memorial also featured tributes from A Martinez, Erik Estrada, and Jimmy Smits. I was never an Estrada fan, but all the yeses to Martinez and Smits. Here’s a screenshot of Martinez from Miluka Rivera’s memorial video. A gets an A for his graceful, intelligent 72-year-old self. And, wow, I was shocked to learn his age. I’d always thought I was older. Time is a funny thing. One minute you’re in high school and the next, decades have suddenly evaporated.
The final episode of The High Chaparral aired in 1971, the year I graduated from high school. I didn’t go to my prom. Angie did. With her cousin Eddie. But her dream date was Henry Darrow. He was Eddie’s dream date too.
“Thanks for the date,” he said, sliding out of the car.
“Thanks for being my date.”
He leaned on the car door. “Who would you’ve picked instead of me?”
“Yeah, me too,” Eddie said, grinning before closing the door.
When I signed the copy of Living Color to Henry Darrow, I wrote that he was the only reason I watched a TV western. I bet I wasn’t alone.
Thank you, Henry Darrow.
(The quotation at the top of the page is from the jacket copy of Henry Darrow: Lightning in a Bottle by Jan Pippins and Henry Darrow.)