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Henry Darrow made his mark as an actor

The pioneering Latino TV star, who played Manolito on 'The High Chaparral' and the title character of 'Zorro,' recounts his career in 'Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle.'

September 14, 2012|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Henry Darrow, right, with "High Chaparral" co-stars Leif Erickson, left, Mark Slade and Linda Cristal.
Henry Darrow, right, with "High Chaparral" co-stars Leif Erickson,… (BearManor Media, BearManor…)

Not only was Henry Darrow the first Puerto Rican star of an hour-long TV series, playing the charismatic and devilish Manolito Montoya on the 1967-71 NBC western "The High Chaparral," he also was among the first to become a teen dream whose handsome visage adorned the pages of 16 and Tiger Beat magazines.

"I appealed to the more mature 12- to 14-year-olds," Darrow said with a laugh over the phone from the home he shares with his second wife, Lauren Levian, in Wilmington, N.C. He added that his costar, Mark Slade, who played the brooding Blue on the sagebrush saga, "appealed to the 9- to 11-year-olds."

Darrow's appeal was international. He recalled a publicity tour of Sweden during the run of "Chaparral."

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"I got together a guitarist and worked on a 25-minute act. It was wonderfully corny stuff," said the New York-born actor of Puerto Rican descent. "I learned a few phrases in Swedish. I had about 17,200 people on closing night — more than Sammy Davis Jr. had. I thought this was incredible!"

Darrow is traveling from North Carolina to L.A. to appear at several events this weekend to talk about his career and sign autographs of his book, "Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle," which he wrote with Jan Pippins.

On Saturday, which is also his 79th birthday, he'll be at the Autry National Center of the American West, which will be screening select episodes of "The High Chaparral" and his 1990-94 Family Channel series, "Zorro," which marked the first time the famed hero was played by a Latino on U.S. television. Also on Saturday, the Inspiration Network begins airing "The High Chaparral," which was created by David Dortort ("Bonanza") and also starred Leif Erickson as an Arizona rancher in the 1870s who is married to Manolito's sister, played by Linda Cristal.

On Sunday afternoon, Darrow will be signing copies of his book at the Kumaras Center for the Arts, Dance & Etiquette in Burbank, and that evening he will receive the Ricardo Montalban Lifetime Achievement Award at the ALMA Awards, which honor the accomplishments of Latino performers.

Montalban was influential in Darrow's life. Darrow was the vice president of Nosotros, the organization founded by Montalban to help Latino actors get cast in nonstereotypical roles. Montalban also guest starred on "High Chaparral."

Luis Reyes, co-author of "Hispanics in Hollywood," said Darrow was an inspiration to Latinos.

"We felt proud. His character was so strong," Reyes said. "His character of Manolito, especially in the pilot, comes off at first as your typical Latino-stereotypical bandito, but during the course of the pilot, [you discover] this guy is not a bandito but the son of a wealthy land baron who is basically trying to find his own identity in his own way."

For actor A Martinez, who appeared with Darrow on the NBC soap "Santa Barbara," Manolito "was this brown-skinned man as a power player with major grace — a dangerous man with a romantic heart standing down to no one. Like a lot of young dudes, a big piece of me wanted to be him. But the great thing to me about it was many of my Anglo friends wanted to be him as well."

Martinez had worked with his idol twice before Darrow joined the cast of "Santa Barbara" in 1989. The actors, who played father and son, won daytime Emmys in 1990.

There was an ease working with Darrow from Day 1 on "Santa Barbara," Martinez recalled.

"His energy and insight helped to open up my work in ways that were not previously imagined," he said. "He not only showed up every morning with the script mastered but often with a tasty chunk of ideas for improvement as well."

The former Enrique Tomas Delgado — he changed his name to Darrow in the 1960s to get more diverse roles — occasionally still acts. He did an indie film this year, "Soda Springs," out on DVD.

"There is a producer in Wilmington who is doing a short series on Daniel Boone for PBS," he said. "She asked me if I was interested in playing a Cuban tavern owner. So I am still viable...."

For more information on the Autry events, go to for the book signing, .

susan.king@latimes.com

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