Western Revisited

They may have been fresh off the plane from Hollywood, but the Cannons and the Montoyas had just as much mud on their chaps as any other cowboy in the Wild West.

OK, so they were characters being played by actors, but one would have never known that after looking at those Tucson Mountains in the background.

The cast and crew of The High Chaparral will return to Tucson for a reunion event at Old Tucson Studios, where the show was shot from 1967 to 1971.

The reunion will begin with a morning program at The High Chaparral ranch set, where attendees will hear stories about the golden days from producer Kent McCray and various actors. A luncheon is closed to the general public, but following that will be an open discussion and Q&A with cast members. Episodes will be shown at Old Tucson Studios all day long.

Guests will include Henry Darrow, Bob Hoy, Tucson's Dan Collier and other cast members. Event-goers, and especially those familiar with the show, can expect a nostalgic visit to the set.

Penny McQueen, an event organizer, says that her love for the post-Civil War-era show stems from its historical realism. McQueen claims that, unlike counterparts like Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza, this was first Western series to be shot onsite—a site where Apache leaders fought Spaniards and American settlers.

"The dirt and the dust and the grit and the sweat—it all had this terribly authentic feel," says McQueen. She is the editor, publisher and main contributor to The High Chaparral Newsletter and Web site (www.highchaparralnewsletter.com).

As if the historical value of the desert landscape were not enough, the part of Cochise, a legendary Apache leader, was cast in true Southwestern spirit: A direct descendant of Cochise himself, Nino Cochise, was in his 90s at the time and was missing one leg, but the hobbling old man with the impressive lineage nonetheless won the small role.

The show also broke barriers in terms of its inclusion of violence, for which the producers "took a lot of heat," says McQueen. The rough-and-tumble boys suffered injuries like broken legs, and some crewmembers fainted under the Tucson sun. (Nobody was around to nag 'em with the slogan, "It's a dry heat, boys.")

While The High Chaparral made a name for itself among Western buffs, it also gave Tucson a claim to fame.

"High Chaparral was a very important series to Old Tucson," says Frances Causey, film manager at Old Tucson Studios. "It was such a highly successful show on NBC, and it had a serious impact on the Western genre."

Causey says that the reunion will offer an opportunity to get Tucson back on the map by introducing Old Tucson to the newest generation of movie buffs and television fans. She is currently working on five projects that could get the green light to be filmed at Old Tucson, including Ghost Wolf.

If business were to start booming, she foresees an economic boost for all of Tucson.

"The economic impact of film is so great. Just think: So many people in the town—even the dry cleaners who cleaned the cast's costumes (in Chaparral)—benefited," Causey says. "We are trying to bring film production back to Tucson."

It is not enough to just film shows here, though. In order to bring attention to Tucson, that show has got to have a lasting following, like Chaparral.

"When I first watched it, I watched at a point in time when I could believe it was real," says McQueen. "I've carried it in my heart for all these years."

A band of loyal followers has continued to support the show, organizing a reunion every two years since 2003. This is the first reunion held in the Old Pueblo.

"The fans overwhelmingly wanted to come to Tucson, to bring the show back the ranch," says McQueen.

The High Chaparral Reunion will be held on Saturday, Oct. 17, at Old Tucson Studios. The festivities will begin at 10 a.m. Admission to Old Tucson costs $16.95 for adults, and $10.95 for kids age 4 to 11. For more information, call 883-0100, or visit thehighchaparralreunion.com.