The High Chaparral

The High Chaparral was filmed for NBC primarily in Hollywood, California and in 
Old Tucson, Arizona for four seasons from 1967 to 1971 in the following time slots:

Sept. 1967-Sept. 1968 Sunday 10:00-11:00 PM
Sept. 1968-Dec. 1970 Friday 7:30-8:30 PM
Feb. 1971-Sept. 1971 Friday 7:30-8:30 PM

Executive Producer/Creator . .
Production Manager . . . . . . Producers . . . . . . . . . . .
Story Consultants . . . . . . .
Music By . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cinematography . . . . . . . .
Stunt Coordinator . . . . . . .
David Dortort
Kent McCray
William F. Claxton, Buck Houghton, James Schmerer
Don Balluck, Walter Black
David Rose, Harry Sukman
Harkness Smith, Kenneth T. Williams, Haskell Boggs
Henry Wills

Link to
Internet Movie Data Base for Full
Production Crew Information

Some of the following biographical material is from The High Chaparral Songbook (ca. 1969),
from the
All Movie Guide and other sources.

David Dortort
Executive Producer

1917 - 2010

     The High Chaparral community was saddened by the loss of David Dortort, creator of "The High Chaparral" and "Bonanza".  He passed peacefully in his home at the age of 93 on Sunday, September 5, 2010. 

      While he was best known for his work on "Bonanza", it was "The High Chaparral" where he pushed the creative boundaries of the time in television Westerns.  Shooting on location in Arizona instead of on a Hollywood soundstage, and featuring a mixed ethnicity step-family with relationship challenges, were things simply not done in the Ward-and-June-Cleaver atmosphere of sixties television. 

     Perhaps his biggest contribution was in breaking down conventional stereotypes in the portrayal of Indians, Latinos, and Anglos.  His insistence on authenticity in language and roles resulted in early acting opportunities for many Latino and Indian actors who went on to full Hollywood careers. 

     David Dortort's influence on film-making and television extended far beyond the worlds of "Bonanza" and "The High Chaparral" and his creative energy will be missed by many.

Obituaries from "The Hollywood Reporter" and from "The New York Times" are below.


David Dortort's long interest in the West, from boyhood, stood him well in his dual roles as executive producer and creator of both NBC's popular Bonanza series and The High Chaparral.  Dortort began as a part-time magazine writer, became a successful novelist, came to Hollywood as a film writer, and stayed to become one of television's top producers.

While Dortort was writing for the Western series, Restless Gun, the series star, John Payne, was so impressed with his work that he asked Dortort to take over the producing reins.  Following that series, Dortort created and produced the Bonanza pilot, leading to a series that has made television history.

Dortort graduated from the New York City College in 1938 with a B.A. in English and Philosophy.  While working for a radio station (WNYC) he wrote for magazines in his spare time.  At the conclusion of a four-year hitch in the Army, he again put his spare time to good use by writing his best-selling novel, "Burial of the Fruit."  Over 2 million copies were sold.  the Hecht-Lancaster film company purchased the film rights to the book in 1949 and hired Dortort to write the screenplay.  He has been twice nominated for TV's Emmy Award for the Best Dramatic Writing of the year --- once for his TV version of The Ox-Box Incident, and again for his adaptation of William Faulkner's, An Error in Chemistry.

Dortort served as President of the Television-Radio branch of the Writers' Guild for three consecutive terms.  He taught creative and screen writing at UCLA, and is also the former President of the Producer's Guild of America.  The busy producer formed his own company, Xanadu Productions, to develop projects exclusively for NBC-TV.  The first project was The High Chaparral, which premiered in 1967.


David Dortort and Leif Erickson    

David Dortort at the 2003 Reunion

From "The Hollywood Reporter", September 7, 2010:

'Bonanza' creator dies at 93
David Dortort's series was the most-watched from 1964-67

By Mike Barnes

Sept 7, 2010, 03:44 PM ET

David Dortort, who created "Bonanza," the top-rated Western that aired for 14 years on NBC with family values as its centerpiece, died Sept. 5 in his apartment in Westwood. He was 93.

"Bonanza" ran from 1959-73, was the most-watched show on television from 1964-67 and maintained a place in the ratings top 10 for a decade. Dortort also created "The High Chaparral," which originally followed "Bonanza" on Sunday nights on NBC and ran for three seasons.

In 1959, Dortort pitched his show to RCA subsidiary NBC. "Bonanza" would be filmed in color in gorgeous Lake Tahoe, Nev. -- to help promote the sale of RCA's color TVs -- and feature a cast of relative unknowns (Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts) as members of the Cartwright family.

Dortort went away from the typical Western formula of focusing on lone drifters, choosing to focus on a family of three boys and a father living on the Ponderosa Ranch.

"Our scripts delve into character and deal with human relationships, which is where the best stories are. And we try to teach something about human values like faith and hope," the Brooklyn native told Look magazine in 1965.

Bonanza premiered at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday in September 1959 and failed to attract an audience going up against "Perry Mason" on CBS. But in fall 1961, NBC shifted the show to 9 p.m. Sundays, and it became a huge success.

"Bonanza" was canceled in 1973, a year after the beloved Blocker, who played Eric "Hoss" Cartwright, died unexpectedly after complications from gall bladder surgery. Dortort went on to produce several "Bonanza" spinoffs including "Bonanza: The Next Generation" (1988), a prequel for Pax TV and other Old West-based projects.

Before "Bonanza," Dortort wrote episodes for such series as "Lassie," "The Restless Gun," "Climax!" and "Waterfront" and contributed to the screenplay for the 1952 Nicholas Ray film "The Lusty Men."

A three-time Emmy nominee, he got his start as a producer on "Restless Gun." Dortort served as president of the Producers Guild of America and was president of the Television-Radio branch of the WGA.

Survivors include daughter Wendy, son Fred, brother Elliot and granddaughter Tracy.

A service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Writers Guild Foundation and the Venice Family Clinic.

From "The New York Times", September 9, 2010:

David Dortort, ‘Bonanza’ Creator, Dies at 93

David Dortort, a television writer and producer whose idea to create a western drama based not on shoot-’em-ups but instead on the travails of a loving family resulted in “Bonanza,” one of the most popular shows in history, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 93.
The cause was uncertain, but he had a history of heart problems, said his daughter, Wendy Czarnecki.

In 1958 Mr. Dortort, an experienced television writer, had also become one of the first writer-producers in television drama. He was serving both functions on a successful half-hour western, “The Restless Gun,” starring John Payne in the traditional Hollywood role of a roving gunman who settles the conflict in each episode — and establishes right and wrong — by shooting the bad guy.

The show was broadcast on NBC, and that network asked Mr. Dortort to develop a western for NBC itself to produce, an opportunity that Mr. Dortort, who studied American history at City College of New York and believed his familiarity with the subject was the equal of that of anyone in Hollywood, seized upon to combat what he called “the myth of the lone gunfighter.”

He pitched a show set on a Nevada ranch on the shore of Lake Tahoe after the 1859 discovery of the gold and silver deposits known as the Comstock Lode in Virginia City. Rather than focusing on a single hero, the show would have four: a father, widowed three times, and his three sons. The idea of “Bonanza,” as the show came to be called, was to depict the story of the American West — “one of the great migrations of all time,” he called it — with accuracy.

“The gunfighter played a small, inconsequential role in the story of the West,” Mr. Dortort explained in a 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television. “The true history of the West is about family, pioneers.”

Because the show was to be partly shot on location, and because color television sets were on the verge of being readily available to consumers, Mr. Dortort urged the network to film “Bonanza” in color, and it became television’s first full-hour western in color, which helped distinguish it from competitors like “Laramie” and “Gunsmoke.” It starred Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright, the family patriarch (whom Mr. Dortort named after his own father), and, as his sons, Pernell Roberts as the eldest and the most intellectual, Adam; Dan Blocker as the sweet-tempered giant Eric, better known as Hoss; and Michael Landon as the impetuous, hotheaded Little Joe.

“Bonanza” appeared for the first time at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 1959, opposite “Perry Mason” on CBS. Two years later it moved to 9 p.m. on Sunday and became a dominant hit, running for 14 seasons — including three years, from 1964 to 1967, when it was the most-watched television show in the country.

Mr. Dortort oversaw production of the show for most of its run. In addition to telling stories based on historical events involving the Comstock Lode and the oncoming Civil War, the show dealt with themes like racial prejudice and religious tolerance. Mostly, though, its drama, and its popularity, were because of its focus on the Cartwrights and their tight knit bond.

“What is the message?” Mr. Dortort said. “Love is the message.”

David Solomon Katz was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe on Oct. 23, 1916, and grew up in a neighborhood famous for the gangsters of Murder Inc., a milieu he mined for one of his two novels, “Burial of the Fruit” (1947). His second book, “The Post of Honor,” came out two years later. His father, Beryl Dortort, who came to this country, according to family lore, to avoid going to rabbinical school, changed his name to Benjamin Katz and became a successful insurance salesman.

Young David graduated from Boys High in Brooklyn and City College, where he studied not only history but also creative writing and was a writing-seminar colleague of Alfred Kazin. He met his future wife, Rose Seldin, an accountant, after he graduated. They married in 1940. It was she who persuaded him to change his name back to his father’s original one.

Drafted after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he served in special services in Torrance, Calif., starting a newspaper and arranging for performances by Hollywood entertainers at an Army hospital. “Burial of the Fruit” was optioned for a film, and he was hired to write it, but it was never made, an experience that made him determined to learn how to write for the screen.

His early movie credits include “The Lusty Men” (1952), a western, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Susan Hayward and Robert Mitchum, and “A Cry in the Night” (1956), a police drama about a kidnapping, with Natalie Wood. His television work included episodes of “Racket Squad” and “Lassie,” and adaptations of the Walter Van Tilburg Clark novel “The Ox-Bow Incident.” In 1967 Mr. Dortort turned his primary focus away from “Bonanza” to create a second western drama, “The High Chaparral,” set in the 1870s in the American Southwest and starring Leif Erickson as the head of another fragmented ranch family. That show ran for four years.

Mr. Dortort’s wife, Rose, died in 2007. In addition to his daughter, who lives in Petaluma, Calif., he is survived by a brother, Elliot Katz, of Marlboro, N.J.; a son, Fred Dortort, of Berkeley, Calif.; and a step-granddaughter.

Kent McCray
1928 - 2018
Production Manager

Kent McCray during 
The High Chaparral Production

Kent McCray and friends at the 2003 Reunion in Los Angeles
Sitting: Mr. Dortort, his wife Rose, Bob Hoy. Standing: Barbara Luna, Ted Markland, Susan McCray, Henry Darrow, Kent McCray.

Born in Connecticut, Kent McCray developed his skills nationally, having majored in Theater Arts at the Julius Hart College of Music before moving on to be the only pupil of the legendary Dr. Nagy (formerly of Yale). He began his career at NBC in 1951 with work on the Colgate Comedy Hour during television’s Golden Age. He later worked on The Red Skelton Show, The Ralph Edwards Show, and This is Your Life. He also worked as an associate producer with Bob Hope, accompanying the comedian on many of his overseas USO trips to entertain the troops.  Kent McCray has worked in all phases of filmmaking:  production, post-production, scoring, and supervising the scoring and dubbing sessions.

McCray joined Bonanza in 1962 as Unit Production Manager and then went on to produce The High Chaparral.  He ran Michael Landon’s production team for Little House on the Prairie at the behest of Mr. Landon. He later produced Movies of the Week: The Loneliest Runner, Killing Stone and two seasons of the NBC series, Father Murphy. Other activity included the feature film Sam’s Son, the Emmy nominated Where Pigeons Go to Die and the CBS/Columbia pilot Us.  After Michael Landon’s death, Kent and his partner/wife, Susan McCray, produced the highly acclaimed tribute to Michael Landon, Memories with Laughter and Love.  He was also Co-Partner and Co-Executive Producer of Adobespaceship Productions.

He was a fixture at conventions honoring both Bonanza and The High Chaparral, regaling guests with his countless stories of beloved Cartwrights and Cannons. With his wife, Susan McCray he hosted a grand salute to the 50th anniversary of THE HIGH CHAPARRAL in Burbank, California in 2017. Kent passed away June 7, 2018, just four days short of his 90th birthday. 

William F. Claxton
1914 - 1996
Producer, Director

Bill Claxton on the set 

 Bill Claxton (left) with crew member,
John Gammons, Chief of Security

American director William F. Claxton started out as a film editor with Edward Small Productions in 1940. Claxton's first directorial effort was 1951's All That I Can Have. He spent much of the 1950s with 20th Century-Fox's Regal Pictures subsidiary, turning out such worthwhile medium-budget efforts as God is My Partner (1956) and Desire in the Dust (1960); occasionally, as in the cast of Rockabilly Baby (1957), he produced as well as directed. Though his film credits are extensive, he is best known for his TV work, beginning with his producer/director stint on the religious anthology This is the Life (1951-1980). A favorite of the late Michael Landon, Claxton directed Landon in such weekly TV series as Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven. William F. Claxton also directed the feature-length series pilot Bonanza: The Next Generation (1988). From Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Bill Claxton was a producer for The High Chaparral for the first two seasons and he directed a total of 22 episodes during the course of the series, twice as many as the next most prolific HC director, Leon Benson.

Buck Houghton
1915 - 1999

Buck Houghton was most readily known as the producer of the first one hundred-plus episodes of The Twilight Zone.  His career included work as a story editor for David O. Selznick and MGM Studios, production work on feature projects at RKO Studios, innumerable television series production including Yancy Derringer, Hawaii Five-O, and The High Chaparral, and feature film production for Zoetrope Studios and New Century, Hawaii Five-O.

James Schmerer

James Schmerer, producer of the NBC series, The High Chaparral, at thirty-one years old was one of the youngest producers in television production at the time.

A graduate of New York University with a B.S. Degree in Motion Picture Production, he moved to Hollywood in 1961.  In that short span of two years, he became Supervising Editor and Associate Producer of Hollywood and the Stars, the first network documentary series for Wolper Productions on NBC.  In 1964, as a Screen Writer, he co-wrote, World Without Sun, winner of that year's Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary.  Before becoming a producer of The High Chaparral series for Executive Producer David Dortort in 1969, Schmerer served as Head of Creative Development for Dortort's Xanadu Productions.

Among his other production credits are: Associate Producer on The Silencers and the CBS-Television series, Dundee and the Culhane, as well as serving as Story Editor on the long running NBC-TV series, "Daniel Boone" for 20th Century Fox.

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