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Henry Darrow, ‘High Chaparral’ actor who fought to expand roles for Latinos, dies

Henry Darrow at microphone
Henry Darrow accepts the Ricardo Montalban Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
(Jerod Harris / Getty Images)

Emmy Award-winning actor Henry Darrow, best known as Manolito Montoya in the hit Western “The High Chaparral” and as the first Latino to play the dashing Zorro on television, has died at his home in North Carolina at age 87.

His former publicist Michael B. Druxman announced Darrow’s March 14 death on Facebook, saying the actor had died of natural causes. “Rest in peace my friend,” Druxman wrote, “you will be missed.”

There were several tributes to Darrow on social media, including one from Robert Beltran, who worked with the veteran actor when Darrow guest-starred in 1995 and 1996 as his father on “Star Trek: Voyager.” “How thrilled I was to act with him. He was a gentleman and an artist of the highest rank. His intellectual curiosity, his generous spirit, his joyfulness, were his great attributes. All young actors should study Henry (as I did) and learn.”

The Screen Actors Guild also celebrated Darrow: “We honor the career and achievements of Henry Darrow, the pride of Puerto Rico and SAG board member from 1970-73.”

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Beyond being an actor, Darrow was an activist who worked to expand the roles offered to Latinos on screen. In 1972, Darrow, Ricardo Montalban, Carmen Zapata and Edith Diaz founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee. Darrow was also a vice president of Nostros, the organization founded by Montalban to help Latino actors be cast in non-stereotypical roles. And in 2012, he received the Ricardo Montalban Lifetime Achievement Award at the ALMA Awards.

His character Manolito was definitely a non-stereotypical Latino, Luis Reyes, co-author of “Hispanics in Hollywood,” told the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

“We felt proud,” he noted. “His character was so strong. 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.”

Darrow also found himself a teen dream with the 16 and Tiger Beat magazine set. “I appealed to the more mature 12- to 14-year-olds,” Darrow joked in a 2012 Times interview.

His appeal was also international. Darrow recalled a publicity tour in Sweden during the run of the series. “I got together a guitarist and worked on a 25-minute act,” he said. “I learned a few phrases of Swedish. I had about 17,200 people on closing night. I thought this was incredible.”

Darrow was born Enrique Tomas Delgado Jimenez (he changed his name in the 1960s to get more diverse roles) in New York City, the son of Puerto Rican parents. He explored his cultural roots when he and his family returned to Puerto Rico in 1946.

He was a political science and theater major at the University of Puerto Rico and worked part time as an English-language interpreter. After receiving a scholarship for acting school, he moved to Los Angeles and trained at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he met his first wife, Lucy. They had two children, Denise and Tom.

The marriage ended in 1979 and three years later he married Lauren Levian.

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After guest starring in various TV series after “High Chaparral” — “Night Gallery,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Kojak” among them — he played Lt. Manuel “Manny” Quinlan from 1974-75 on the ABC David Janssen detective series “Harry O” but was killed off after just one season when the series was retooled.

He portrayed the heroic Zorro on CBS’ 1981 animated “The New Adventures of Zorro” and in the 1983 CBS comedy “Zorro and Son.” He also portrayed Zorro’s father from 1990-93 on the Family Channel’s “Zorro.”

Darrow joined the cast of NBC daytime drama “Santa Barbara” in 1989 and won an Emmy the following year for his turn as Rafael Castillo, the father of series heartthrob Cruz Castillo (played by A Martinez).

Martinez, who also won an Emmy that year, had long idolized Darrow because of his work as Manolito.

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“His energy and insight helped to open up my work in ways that were not previously imagined,” Martinez said in a 2012 Times interview. “He not only showed up every morning with the script mastered but often with a tasty chunk of ideas for improvement as well. “

Darrow wrote an autobiography, “Henry Darrow: Lightning in a Bottle,” with Jan Pippins in 2012. He made his final film appearance that year in an indie feature called “Soda Springs.”

King is a former Times staff writer.


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