Henry Darrow’s Life in Acting
Henry Darrow began seriously acting on the stage when he was in college in his ancestral homeland. The New York-born actor — baptismal name: Enrique Tomas Delgado — was there to get a political science degree, but he already had designs on an acting as a career. An opportunity opened up in the early fifties, when an acting scholarship was announced through the University of Puerto Rico that would allow one student from the island to apprentice either in New York or in Los Angeles — Pasadena, to be exact, at the Pasadena Playhouse.
“When I found out that was only about 26 miles from Hollywood, that’s where I wanted to be,” Darrow, who turns 79 on Saturday, said in an interview with Trading Posts this week. “The day after I got there, I went down to Hollywood (Blvd.) and Vine to see what celebrities and actors I could see. Right away, I saw Leo Gorcey, of the Dead-End Kids movies. He was crossing the street and then walked right by me. I thought ‘I’ve arrived!’”
Darrow, who is probably best remembered for his role of Manolito Montoya in the late-sixties television series The High Chaparral, comes to the Autry on Saturday, Sept. 15 to talk about his acting career and his recent book, Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle, written with Jan Pippins. Some of Darrow’s favorite episodes of The High Chaparral and Zorro, one of his later roles, will be screening in the Western Legacy theatre.
By the time he got the role of “Mano,” Darrow had racked up a dozen or so character roles in television series like Gunsmoke and The Wild, Wild West. Predictably, they were often the role of the heavy. But then he got a part in a 1965 production of a Ray Bradbury play, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. Darrow remembers the famous novelist directing him in the role of Martinez, one of four men who pooled their money to buy a single magical white suit that changed their lives. Darrow was playing Martinez, who was supposed to be transformed into a Romeo figure, like a suave loverboy.
“I made him crow like a rooster,” Darrow said. “But Bradbury waited for me after rehearsal and told me, ‘Henry, Martinez is not a rooster. He’s a dove.’”
That play was significant for Darrow in another way. In the audience one night was David Dortort, producer of Bonanza, who was looking for actors for his new production, The High Chaparral, which told the story of two families, one Anglo, one Mexican, united by marriage in the Arizona Territory. By that time, Darrow had acquired his actor’s moniker, which he had picked from the phone book because “there weren’t many Darrows.” But Dortort didn’t know this — yet.
“He kept looking for an actor named Delgado,” Darrow said. “Still, I got the interview and was in High Chaparral for the next four years.”
The series — and the Manolito role — are known as among the first significant, serious representations of Latinos on television. Darrow remembers Dortort as a forward-thinking producer who didn’t hesitate to tell stories that were diverse.
“The Mexican family was on an equal level with the Anglo family,” he said. And of his role? “I had open season. Dortort even allowed me to use Spanish. My double was a knife thrower and knew whips. So my character could do many things.”
Darrow says he was so excited about his part that at first he was doing everything, as much of the action as possible. And he had wanted his character to cut a dashing figure, so in the costume department he picked out a black suede jacket and black wool pants, plus a black felt hat, for his character. But when they began shooting on location in Tucson, AZ, he learned what a mistake that had been.
“It became very hard work, especially shooting in Old Tucson,” he said. “There’s no trying to pick the coolest weather when it’s summer over there. Back in those days we shot a show like that, in six days.”
Still, Darrow was enthusiastic. When they began working with Indian actors, he says he got a book on the Apache language and learned enough to become an interpreter on the set.
Darrow says he always loved everything about acting — but especially the action. He particularly enjoyed movies that involved horse riding and fencing and action scenes. That’s part of what drew him to accept the role of Zorro’s father, Don Alejandro de la Vega, in the early nineties remake of the old Disney series.
“There was a nice scene with a prison sequence,” he said. “Those were the most fun episodes to do.”