Jan Pippins, author of Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle, explains how she first got involved writing the biography of veteran actor, Henry Darrow, the first actor of Puerto Rican heritage to star in an American television series. In chronicling the obstacles and successes during the actor’s more than fifty years in show business, Pippins (who co-wrote the book with Darrow) combined personal interviews, internet archives, and the actor’s personal memorabilia collection.
Although Pippins has written professionally for many years, this is her first book. Throughout several careers, she has written legislation, a local newspaper column, short news articles for trade publications and “Where are they now?” fan articles. But when she met the ALMA and Emmy Award-winning actor on her first trip to Los Angeles, she knew he would make the perfect subject for a book.
“It’s a story of life, work, love and redemption,” Pippins says. “Henry Darrow’s story entertains, inspires, and introduces readers to a very human hero who succeeded despite very long odds.”
Insider Scoop on Mid-Century America Show Business
In particular, the book follows the ups and downs of show business in mid-century America from Darrow’s unique perspective. He provides the insider scoop on how public sentiment, government intervention, advertising projections and hard feelings joined forces to kill the landmark series The High Chaparral and other television westerns. He also shares his observations about the problems confronting Latinos and other minorities before, during, and after the Civil Rights struggles of 1960s and how some people like Darrow surmounted those obstacles. The benefits of stardom, however, often came at great personal cost, such as the alienation from his children.
How did Pippins choose this particular subject? “Actually the subject chose me,” she says. “Darrow’s life has all the components of a good novel: a protagonist with big dreams and even bigger talent overcomes humble beginnings, life-threatening illness, crippling anxiety and prejudice to become an international star. At the height of his fame, he put his own hard-won career on the line to open doors for others. Hollywood chews people up and spits them out, but Henry was a working actor for over fifty years. When he asked me to write his biography, how could I refuse?”
Researching and Writing the Biography
Darrow’s massive memorabilia collection helped the author find the right background materials and authenticate stories from various sources. “He’s a packrat,” she says. “We cleaned out one garage and two closets, making his wife, Lauren, very pleased. It was sweaty work, but worth it.”
Her additional research included reading books on the history of Hispanics in the entertainment industry, television and movie westerns, and American history covering pertinent time periods. She also credits internet newspaper and trade magazine archives with helping her establish the proper context for Darrow’s biography.
As enjoyable as the researching and writing was for Pippins, she did face challenges in telling the story of someone in the public eye. One particular challenge was in structuring a career that spans over such a long period. She decided to begin Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle, with a scene of the actor at age seventy-five while he was rehearsing for a demanding role in a stage play of “My Fair Lady.”
Pippins describes the opening of her book: “His knees are bad, his back aches and his memory is failing. For the first time in his life, he’s unsure of himself as an actor. From there we flashback through Henry’s remarkable life and career in three sections – three acts as if in a play. At the end we circle back around to ‘My Fair Lady’ and what happened in that performance.”
The author also recognized the importance of telling someone’s life story with accuracy, attention to detail, and tender loving care. According to Pippins, “While writing the book, I was acutely aware that I had a significant responsibility. This kind and charming man, his wonderful wife, friends and family entrusted me with their stories. I owed my best work to everyone involved, including eventual readers.”
Henry Darrow: Lightning in the Bottle. Authors: Jan Pippins and Henry Darrow. Publisher: BearManor Media, 2012. Pages: 392. http://www.henrydarrowbook.com. ISBN: 978-1593936884.