The High Chaparral
Geronimo, Life on the Reservation
Months into the pandemic production shutdown, as he waited to be called back to the Montana set of Paramount Network's hit drama Yellowstone, Rudy Ramos made an important decision.
He would do one, perhaps final, performance of a one-man show he'd been touring around the country for the past six years to acclaim from live audiences.
With contributions on Kickstarter, Ramos self-funded the production of Geronimo, Life on the Reservation, written by Janelle Meraz Hooper, and often performed it on reservations for tribal audiences.
With all touring productions stopped and live theaters dark across the country, Ramos will be performing his show from the stage of the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, CA in late August – without an audience.
It will be live-streamed across the United States and in Europe, potentially reaching many more viewers than could ever see it in person. (Ticket information below)
The story of the Apache leader – to clear up a long-held misconception, he was never a chief –resonates deeply with Ramos. He is Native American and Latinx and he grew up in Lawton, Okla. near the place where Geronimo spent the last years of his life, Fort Sill.
The one-hour show spans the last 23 years of Geronimo's life as a prisoner of war in his own country and traces his evolution from a surrendered Indian leader to an entrepreneur and a celebrity who rode in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade.
Ramos looked into the life of a man and a warrior who has generally been portrayed as a savage in literature, film and television and instead discovered his wisdom, humor, resiliency and humanity.
Some of those same qualities can also be found in Felix Long, the fictional tribal leader Ramos portrays in Yellowstone, whose fourth season will soon begin shooting.
It was nearly 50 years ago that Ramos became a star in another Western, NBC's The High Chaparral. He played the character Wind, a half-Indian, half-white teenager with a rebellious, independent streak that touched a massive audience and generated magazine cover stories in the US and in Europe.
In the ensuing decades, Ramos's vast array of television credits includes roles in NYPD Blue, Murder, She Wrote, The Practice, Hunter, MacGyver, Remington Steele, Alvin & The Chipmunks, Hill Street Blues, Knight Rider, St. Elsewhere, The Rockford Files, Helter Skelter and Hawaii Five-O.
He's shared the big screen with some of the best-known film stars of our time—Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and Sean Penn, among them-- in movies including Colors, Beverly Hills Cop II, The Enforcer and Defiance.
As he prepped for his upcoming theater performance, we spoke with Ramos by phone from his home in Ventura County, where he lives with his wife Kathy and their two rescue cats.
What inspired you to take on the role of Geronimo in your one-man show?
It's a seldom told story, and it's unfortunate that a lot of people don't know about it. I'm playing and living him and telling his side of the story: fighting for his family, his people, and his land which the white people came in and took from him.
Therein lies the dilemma. It took two nations, Mexico and the US Cavalry, 10 years to get him to come in, but he never "surrendered"—that's a white man's term. He finally came in and negotiated.
The Mexicans gave him his name, which was originally Goyahkla. He was from the Chiricahua tribe of Apaches and they lived on one side or another of the border. They were a traveling band, and he was a leader, but never a chief.
The Mexicans tried over and over to kill or capture him. They said he's like Saint Jerome, and that's where he got the name Geronimo.
What were some of the aspects of his character that you discovered?
He was a very intelligent, wise person and made the adjustment to living on a reservation better than most. As he got older, he was allowed certain freedoms like going to the nearby town of Lawton and selling bows, arrows and buttons off his coats.
He rode in President Teddy Roosevelt's inaugural parade with four chiefs, but basically it was propaganda to show how we trained the Indians. There's a line in my show that he was blamed for every death between here and New York City, but he wasn't even there. He was not the bad guy.
When you hear the story, you will understand why he fought. Taking away your land would fire anybody up--the mountains, the caves where our loved ones are buried. The biggest insult is that none of the treaties were ever honored.
What's the Yellowstone experience been like for you, to play Felix Long?
I never saw a script at first, but when I did I saw a quality in the writing that I'd never seen--and the integrity of this man Felix, and I definitely wanted a part of it.
I've played a lot of bad guys. He's the elder, not the chief, who come and go, but elders don't. I've never seen Natives portrayed as Taylor Sheridan does. He has a real social conscience, and he's a very smart man way beyond his years.
Whoever did the role of Felix Long, it was going to be a great role and he cast me himself. He saw something. I just got an email, firming up Season 4 to shoot in Montana, hopefully in September or October.
I don't know how many episodes I'll be doing. The way Taylor works, you could always do more. I originally signed on for the first two episodes and ended up doing the first two seasons. The storylines drastically changed in Season 3 with most of the action on the ranch, and I wasn't part of it.
How is it working with Taylor, Kevin Costner and your fellow cast members?
Taylor Sheridan is a very special person and so is Kevin Costner. Taylor could have had his pick of anyone: Wes Studi, Graham Greene. Anyone would shine, but I'm the lucky guy who got it. I auditioned, and I heard someone say 'Yeah, that's it."
Taylor has given me new life. I started off on the world stage in a Western and am now in another legendary Western. He's a joy to be around, and he has such a social conscience about women, Native women, life on a reservation, how women on the reservation are raped and then thrown down a hill.
He addressed that in a show. I can't say enough about him, and everyone loves working with him.
I love working on the show, the cast, and the recurring cast. I'm probably--along with Michael Nouri--we're probably the two oldest ones. I've never been shown such respect by a cast and crew. I was kind of awed and overwhelmed at first. Someone told me, "You've earned this respect."
There's zero drama on set. We're all there to bring Taylor Sheridan's words to life. It's a great situation, and we're very well taken care of by Paramount and the production company. Everyone should have one spectacular job, and this is the best!
Kevin saw what I was doing in the first five minutes and there was immediate trust between us. Hatfields & McCoys was the best thing he's ever done, and Silverado. He keeps getting better and better. We talk about horses, about him going to school in Torrance, and we talk about Ventura and the big fire in 2017.
I have a real close relationship with Kelsey Asbille, who plays my granddaughter, and with Luke Grimes. I joke with Atticus Todd, "You're like the son I never wanted." He's so wise and I've learned so much from him.
Shifting gears, seven years after the infamous Manson murders, you were in Helter Skelter, a four-hour made for TV movie that aired over two nights on CBS and drew a massive audience. Tell us about the character you played.
Danny De Carlo was a biker, and he was kind of an enforcer, but he wasn't a member of the Manson family. He was the first one to go to Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who wrote the book Helter Skelter.
I didn't have to audition. I went to a meeting with Tom Gries, the director. I'd just come back from a TV show in Hawaii. I still had a little bit of an Oklahoma accent. He looked at the casting director and said, "Cast him now as Danny De Carlo."
When we talked about the role, I pointed out that Danny's from Canada. He said, "You're Danny now, you talk the way you talk, with a slight Oklahoma accent."
Danny had some warrants, and in the movie they found him in a park working on his motorcycle. He was told he could either go to jail or talk to Bugliosi. He was the first one to talk about life on the [Spahn] ranch, to validate everything Bugliosi was thinking.
I had a lot of scenes in the first two hours, talking to Bugliosi as he was putting the whole case against Manson together.
The thing that bothered me the most was after the movie aired, my mother was getting calls harassing her, saying things like Danny was a snitch and Charlie was a hero.
Let's rewind back to your days on The High Chaparral. You had moved to Los Angeles from Oklahoma, taken acting classes, gotten an agent and some small roles on Ironside and The Virginian.
They had added a new character in the fourth season. David Dortort, who created Bonanza, cast me. When I auditioned, David told me there was something I did in a scene nonverbally and he said, "That's when I knew you were the one, that's what Wind would do."
I developed the character as we went along. I was already being that person, I was just being honest.
It was a Friday and I was told I was going to Tucson Monday, and that my first day of shooting would be on Wednesday. I was welcomed with open arms, and they were happy to have me. Especially Cameron Mitchell. He was a real good guy who took me under his wing.
Henry Darrow talked to me about acting, and what it's like coming into a show. He was Puerto Rican and made me aware of the responsibility of the name of Ramos and the Native thing. He made me aware I represent others.
Linda Cristal was from Argentina, and she became famous in Mexico. She also took me under her wing and guided me toward some good financial people.
What was the atmosphere like on THC?
The crew would play practical jokes on me all the time, especially the stunt guys. I'd never been on a movie set. I wore lace-up moccasins, and they would crawl under my chair and tie them together. I'd trip and fall, and then I'd roll over and untie them and that endeared me to them. It was great fun.
We were there for six months. We'd go way into the desert. It was a really good chapter in my life.
The role catapulted you onto another level.
Wind caught on with fans right away. I was on the cover of Teen Beat, and was a big hit in Germany and England. The British magazine Fab 208 did a big piece on me with a foldout cover.
Inside there was a three-page article and the next story was on Mick Jagger. I was right there in the same magazine with Mick. I was just young enough to take it all in stride.
It was weird to get attention when you've never had it. Wind was a loner. He'd been kicked out of the tribe, and a lot of teens identified with him, guys and girls. I pretty much was that character.