Exclusive interview with Yellowstone Actor, Rudy Ramos, and his High Chaparral roots: Part 1

Rudy Ramos – Wind Breezes to Yellowstone
By Henry C. Parke

When approached at the Lone Pine Film Festival for an interview, actor Rudy Ramos was pleased to discuss not only Felix Long, his character on Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone, but also Wind, his first professional acting role, fifty years earlier, on The High Chaparral. “I like that you picked up on that,” he said, “that those characters are kind of bookends to my career.”

But when the interview took place a couple of weeks later, it appeared Yellowstone may not be the closing bookend. “Because of Yellowstone, I’m getting offers. There’s two movies that really interest me.” And he’s auditioned from home for a role in another Western series. “Self-taping, with my cell phone on a tripod. You lose that camaraderie, but for me to drive into Hollywood from where I live, that’s 50 miles. And if you don’t like what you just [recorded], you can do it again until you get it like you want.”

His audition for Yellowstone was also high-tech in a way. He’d read for the casting director and had a callback 10 days later. “There was a whole room full of ‘suits,’ all executives. I thought, this is really a good part, and probably it’s gonna go to Wes Studi or Graham Greene. But I was very relaxed, real confident, and I did my reading. Then somebody said, ‘Could you ask him to do that last line just a little softer?’ I did that scene again that way. And I heard, ‘Yep, that’s it.’ But I didn’t see who said it.” When he checked in the outer office, he was told, “Oh, that was Taylor Sheridan. He’s watching by Skype from Utah.”

The Accidental Audition that Led to the World Stage

Rudy Ramos in The High ChaparralRudy had his first audition in 1970, at age 19, in Los Angeles. The High Chaparral was a hit, already in its third season, “and they were gonna add a new character, a half-breed Indian boy called Wind. And they had looked and looked, even screen-tested a couple of guys who were blond-headed and blue-eyed—and they put wigs on them,” he recalls with a laugh. “I had no credits. I never had been in a play. But I was training in a scene- study class, and I accidentally got an audition. But it wasn’t off the script. It was from the play A Hatful of Rain,” about a Korean War veteran who’s addicted to morphine.

He was reading the addict’s part, and the casting director read the older brother who wouldn’t lend him money. “And it was with Mr. David Dortort, who created Bonanza and The High Chaparral.” He did the scene, “And it didn’t feel right to me. My hand was on the door. I turned around and looked at Mr. Dortort. ‘Could we do that again?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ ‘Can we switch parts?’” When the scene was done, “Mr. Dortort said, ‘How soon could you get to Tucson, Arizona?’ I said, ‘Does this mean I have this part?’ And he said, ‘Yep.’ I said, ‘I can get there as soon as you want me.’

“Truth be known, I was right for the part because I was very much like the character. Wind was a half-breed Indian, and I’m half-breed; half Mashika, a band of the Aztecas, and half Mexican. He was asked to leave the tribe; I wasn’t asked to leave Oklahoma, but it was in my best interest that I did. Where I was raised was all Blacks and Indians; Kiowas and

Comanches. Everybody I knew growing up was either married with three kids and divorced at 21, or they were in jail, or they were dead.”

“I started in High Chaparral and they were already a hit, and those people were stars before they came into the show, everybody except Henry Darrow. He was a wonderful actor, and he became a star because of High Chaparral. And it wasn’t just a hit show in the United States, it was a hit in Germany and England and Italy. After we got canceled, it became an even bigger hit in South America and Central America. So, I started out on the world stage. And now, coming down the home stretch of a long and really enjoyable career, (with Yellowstone) I’m back on the world stage again.”

Learning from the Best

The High Chaparral cast was very welcoming. “Cameron Mitchell used to take me to Nogales to watch the dog races. Everybody got along on Chaparral. You never saw any temper tantrums. The bunk house guys, Bob Hoy, Don Collier, they worked hard and they partied hard,” he recalls with a laugh. “Sometimes they’d come to work, they’d have to hold their eyes open with toothpicks for a while.” They played practical jokes on the new young actor—tying his moccasins together so he’d fall when he stood up—but they were protective of him.

Rudy Ramos The High Chaparral“They would all ride back from the set and head right for the bar. And they would never let me come with. And one day they said, ‘Why don’t you come and have a drink with us?’ I have a beer, they knock down a couple of mixed drinks. I said, ‘I’ll have another.’ Collier and Bobby Hoy said, ‘No, you won’t. You can go to your room now.’ Same thing with cards. As soon as someone says ‘Cut,’ they’re playing poker. I’d stand right behind and watch, but they would never let me play. Collier used to tell stories about John Wayne, and how he cheated at cards. I used to tell Collier, when I grow up, I wanna be just like you. I told him that until the day he passed away. I got to see Bobby right before he passed away, too.

“Linda Cristal, Don Collier, Bobby Hoy, even Big John (Leif Erickson), they were all wonderful with fans, always had a moment to stop and say hello. Now Cameron Mitchell was a little more secluded. Henry Darrow, he was a real sweet person, but it was funny seeing him as America’s heartthrob because he was a charming guy, but he didn’t project that in person. But he, and all those guys, they were so gracious to the fans. It was good for a young actor to see, because I never forgot that, when people come up, if they want an autograph, or they just wanna shake your hand.”

Because actor Mark Slade, who played John Cannon’s son Blue, quit the show about when Rudy Ramos joined it, many viewers assumed Ramos was brought in to replace Slade. “I didn’t replace him. When they created Wind, Blue Boy was still in the show. I wish that Mark Slade would’ve stayed on, because there was gonna be some really good stuff between Wind and Blue Boy,” which had to be written out. “But I actually worked with Mark on Paris, a TV show that James Earl Jones did for one year, and we played two police officers. We worked about two weeks on that show. And we never mentioned High Chaparral—he never mentioned that he knew I was in it. And we got along great. When we finished that show, Mark came up to me and he gave me hug and said, ‘It was nice working with you, Wind.’”

Of course, nothing lasts forever. “They had great plans for the next season, where it would be discovered that Wind was the son of Buck (Cameron Mitchell) from a relationship he had with a Native woman. Then I got a call from Linda. ‘Rudy, has

anybody called you from the office? I just got a call from someone at The Hollywood Reporter, who said they’d heard we’d been canceled.’”

What came next for Rudy? Read more

About Henry C. Parke

Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based screenwriter and wanna-be cowboy Henry C. Parke has been Film Editor for True West since 2015 and has written Henry’s “Western Round-up,” the online report on Western film production, since 2010. His screenwriting credits include Speedtrap (1977) and Double Cross (1994). He’s the first writer welcomed into the Western Writers of America for his work in electronic media. He’s done audio commentary on a fistful of Spaghetti and domestic Westerns, and he’s got a saddle-bag full of Western scripts.

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