Henry Darrow is an Emmy and ALMA award-winning actor who became an international superstar as the dashing Manolito Montoya on the television series The High Chaparral (1967-1971). Born in New York, but raised in Puerto Rico as a teen, Darrow headed to California after receiving an acting scholarship during college. He didn’t have instant success in the entertainment industry, but fame – when it finally arrived – came like a flash.
His biography, the aptly named Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle, is a must-read for anyone interested in the acting profession, Hollywood history, The High Chaparral, or Henry’s inspiring life story. Reviews, book excerpts and ordering information can be found at www.henrydarrowbook.com. The book was written by Jan Pippins with Henry Darrow.
A recipient of the prestigious Ricardo Montalbán Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) Awards, Darrow achieved numerous milestones in his career that paved the way for future actors. Most notably, his breakout role on The High Chaparral marked the first time a Latino actor starred in a dramatic series on television.
Q. It’s such an honor and a thrill for me to talk with you. I’ve been a fan since I was kid.
A. Oh, gosh, really? You weren’t for Mark Slade [co-star on The High Chaparral]? The nine-year-olds used to go for Mark, but then I had the mature 11- and 12-year-olds [laughs].
Q. No, I was definitely a fan of yours! Can you tell me what prompted you to use the surname Darrow instead of Delgado and did you ever regret that decision?
A. Darrow was picked because there were very few Darrows. But the main reason I changed my name from Enrique Delgado Jr. was that Delgado was a Latin name and they were mostly Mexican actors. In fact, I had a Latin/Mexican agent named Carlos Alvarado, who handled mostly and only Latin actors. Of all the parts I did over the years with him, the only non-Latino part was a character called Blackie [laughs]. That was a TV show with Victor Jory. I had no problem going with another agent and this fellow’s big credit was that he had Superman and George Reeves, and I went with him for a few years.
Q. I grew up in Tucson, so I know how harsh summer is in the desert. How did you cope with the long hours of filming in the excessive heat?
A. My first year at Chaparral, and when we used to shoot out in Tucson, we’d have a lot of foreign people come from different parts of the world and they’d pass out because of the heat. I stupidly picked a black hat and a leather jacket and woolen pants. The only thing I did correctly was I got some small shoes – they were right to my ankle – and I’d have at least two or three pair during the year because walking on those stones in the heat and in the sand was pretty bad.
I remember Leif Erickson – when he first met me, I was standing around, and up, and I wanted to be in on everything – and he said, “Young man, you know, you’d be better off if you sat down for a while. So, I didn’t, and the rest of the year he got me and said, “You know, you’d be better off if you laid down in your dressing room with the air conditioning,” and I wound up doing that from the second year on.
Q. You are best known for playing Mano on The High Chaparral. How much of Henry Darrow is in Manolito Montoya?
A. I’ve wondered how much of me is in Manolito Montoya and, I don’t know, I guess something [laughs]. I’m an outgoing person and I was in the beginning.
Q. You were arguably one of the hottest actors in the world when The High Chaparral was at its peak. I read a quote where you said, “I really thought I was Elvis Presley for a while.” When you achieve that kind of fame, is it hard to stay grounded?
A. Fame came all of a sudden. But a couple of times I’d be in an airport and someone would say “Hey!” and I would turn thinking they meant me, and then they’d say, “Mr. Ricardo Montalbán?” So, I learned to just keep walking when someone said, “Hey!” I signed Ricardo’s name a couple of times because people thought that I was him.
After the first year, by the second season, I learned you can get first-class tickets for your wife and your kids and, in the meantime, I’d be in coach and everybody else would be up front, and I’d go, “Hey, what’s going on?” Then, the publicity fellow said, “Hank, you’re one of the five regulars [on The High Chaparral], so you deserve first-class. All of a sudden, I’m waiting for the limo and I’m being picked up at the airport with my name on a tag, and it’s like, “Yeah!” Through everything, you go, “Holy cow, this is great.”
The fifth year was supposed to come and I asked my publicity guy, “Hey, the season’s coming and I’d like some tickets for the Dodgers.” And he said, “Hank, your show is going to be canceled.” I said, “What?” And he said, “Yeah, there will be no more tickets for anybody from the Chaparral.” So, you learn. You learn. Gradually, I learned what Leif was getting, money-wise, and then you ask for a little more next time and you get a little more. We never got to the level of the Bonanza boys, who were making $15,000 and $17,000 an episode.
Q. Why didn’t you get to that level?
A. We only lasted four years. They went on for 10 and 12 years and they kept getting another $1,500 and another whatever it was. But, I got to work with a lot of fine people – Kurt Russell, Jack Lord, Robert Lansing worked the show – a number of people and stars worked the show.
Q. You were the first Latino actor to star in a network TV drama on The High Chaparral. At the time, were you cognizant of the impact you would have on future generations of Latino actors, and, if so, was that a difficult responsibility to bear?
A. As you indicate, I was the first Latino actor to star in a network TV drama, an hour show. And I also was the first Latin Zorro. I had played the voice of Zorro for CBS, then I played Zorro – well, it was like the older Zorro, 55 and older. I got up on the desk and pretended I was fencing and almost fell off, and they said, “That’s what we want for the part,” a little on the clumsy side and over the hill.
Going into the second season of Chaparral in 1970, Ricardo Montalbán started a group called NOSOTROS. In Spanish, ‘nosotros’ means ‘us,’ and that was having to do with Hispanic actors. In membership, we had Tony [Anthony] Quinn, Desi Arnaz, Gilbert Roland – and I turned out to be the first Vice President of the organization.
Q. Like most people in the entertainment industry, your career ebbed and flowed. How did you cope with the hard times?
A. Boy, you said it. It was really up and down. What I tried to do, mostly, when I wasn’t getting TV work, I could work in the little theaters around Hollywood, since I had a kind of a reputation and I had done a series. They had houses – I think they were 60- or 90-seat houses – and you could do parts that you normally would never get in television and in features.
Q. What is the best career advice you would give to someone trying to break into show business today?
A. If you’re in Hollywood, then it’s television and coaches that teach camera technique. If you’re in New York, then it would have to do with plays and getting to teachers that are great teachers – the Sandy (Sanford) Meisners and all those kind of people that have worked with really top stars.
Q. It probably didn’t seem like it, at the time, that you were achieving all those firsts for Latino actors, and then you ended up winning the ALMA Award for Lifetime Achievement. Do you ever reflect back on your career and think, “Wow, I really did accomplish a lot.”
A. Only when other people remind me. I go out and sell photos at some of these Western events and people bring up other shows that I’ve done. It’s like, “We love you for Chaparral, but you were in Kojak, you were in Mod Squad, you did a series with David Janssen called Harry O, you did Zorro,” and I forget that, indeed, there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve done throughout the years.
I got a call from a friend who said she’s going to try and get a plaque for me, because I went to a high school in Puerto Rico – the high school is The Lady of Perpetual Help – and she said, “I don’t think they remember that you graduated from there, so I’ll try and get a plaque for you,” and I thought, “Okay.”
Q. It doesn’t really sound like you’re into that sort of thing – the recognition.
A. Yes! You know, when they give me an award, like the ALMA Award, I thought, “Yeah, I’ve done a lot of stuff.” I mean, different series and radio shows and Spanish commercials and commercials in English – I did commercials for Coors and Dodge and other things – and I thought, “Damn, that’s a lot!”
In the beginning, I gave myself 12 years and, man, it was slow. I did about 50 TV shows, but if you divide that among 12 or 13 years, that amounts to just a few shows a year. The sign of success was depending on how much unemployment you got. There was a stretch where I worked about two or three shows in a row and I made enough for them to pay me $18 a week, and then I was doing series work, and when I’d have a week off or something, I could collect unemployment. Then, all of sudden, you’re in your 50s and you’ve jumped over the line.
But, it still sort of lingers. There’s still a remnant of people thinking of me in that particular way, even though I have white hair and I’ve gotten older and every now and then I use my cane to walk in a straight line. But, overall, the career has been good. My biggest fan was my mother, Gloria – she died last year in a nurse’s arms. She was at a home.
Q. She must have been up there in years.
A. Yes, she was 96. Dad died young – he was only 68 and he died of a heart attack, as did his other three brothers, all less than 70. I had my first heart attack and had a stent put in 12 years ago and I’m still going strong. I’ve changed my diet and stopped smoking.
Q. Good for you.
A. Yes, and I’ve been asked to do a kind of a radio thing and I said, “What’s the part like?” And they said, “It’s just called The Old Man.” And I said, “Well, okay, I don’t have to do anything with my voice, because it sounds old already.”
Q. I don’t think it does. I think you sound great.
A. Oh, thank you!
Q. You sound very vibrant and youthful – so you might have to do a little acting there.
A. Oh, thank you, that’s very nice.
Q. My last question is about what you’re doing on Facebook with fans who get to interact with you using social media. How is that working out?
A. I don’t even have a cell phone, my dear.
Q. So it all goes through Jan Pippins – she asks you the questions?
A. Yes, you hit it.
Q. She gets questions from your fans on Facebook and apparently she calls you and then she shares your answers with fans. People are so excited to read your answers, including me.
A. Oh, Becca, thank you. We’re going to have a copy of a painting coming out that a famous artist called J. Peralta [http://www.jperalta.com] painted. This lady is selling us the painting she did of me. Jan wrote a book – have you seen it?
Q. Yes, I have a copy.
A. Oh, great! Well, this artist made a painting of that [book] cover in color. It’s 18 x 24 and she is going to make a short number of them and sell them with a letter from me and an autograph. We’re supposed to go down to the Gene Autry Museum in L.A. and I said, “Sure, I’ll go. Get me an airplane ticket and one for my wife and I’ll be there.”
Q. That’s exciting.
A. Yes, it really is. And I thought, “Hey, I’m not through yet!”
Henry Darrow won several awards over his acting career. He was born in 1933 as Enrique Tomas Delgado. He changed his name because he felt that his name makes him identified as a Latino. He was unable to get some parts in TV-series due to him being a Latino. After changing his name, he immediately started getting a whole range of new roles. His most successful role was in the drama series called “The High Chaparral.” He played the role of a dashing character “Manolito Montoya.” The show was a huge success; The High Chaparral ran for four seasons. On IMDB, it’s score is 7.9/10.
He played the lead role in TV-series Zorro (1990-93.) He has made numerous quest appearances in different TV-shows. He appeared in more than 120 movies and TV-series. Star-Trek fans would remember his role as Admiral Savar in the 24th episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He also holds the honor of being the first Puerto Rican to star in a TV drama series and win an ALMA award. He gained fame when Latino actors where only seen in small roles. His work paved way for other actors with Hispanic background to get lead roles. His acting career is an inspirational story for all of us. He has been an active TV star for more than 30 years; it is an achievement not many are blessed with. His biography, “Lightning in a Bottle,” was written by Jan Pippins. The book received positive reviews everywhere. On Amazon, the book has 4.8/5.0 rating.
Henry Darrow’s chosen career path was challenging but he succeeded in becoming a TV star. His show, The High Chaparral, still airs on some channels and it has a good audience base. Henry Darrow’s fan following is still impressive. Due to health issues, he is not doing much TV based work these days, but he will always remember him as a person who made history in Hollywood by being the first Latino to star in an hour-long TV drama series. If you want to know more about his life and the challenges he faced, then you must read his book, Lightning in a Bottle.
It goes without saying that the quality of acting performance is relatively low in today’s cinema compared to what it was in 1960’s. There are some excellent actors in cinema today, there is no doubt about it, but there are too many TV-shows and movies released every day and most of them have low acting performances. Not to mention all the CGI scenes cinema is using. Back in the old days, actors had to deliver outstanding performances to keep the audience interested. Henry Darrow was no exception; in fact, he was under additional pressure because of his Latino background. But he succeeded to make a career in acting because he was great at it! Every performance he gave desires a standing ovation.