Jan 29, 2018

Rory Hooks Up with Ron Howard and Tarzan's Sidekick

Remember Jai, Tarzan's tiny South American sidekick in the 1967-68 tv series?  He was Manuel Padilla Jr.  Born in 1955 in Los Angeles,  he began acting at the age of eight, playing big-eyed, pouting Mexican and Indian boys who won the hearts of Frank Sinatra, Richard Chamberlain, and about every cowboy in every Western  on tv, not to mention various Tarzans and Sally Field (Sister Bertrille) of The Flying Nun.

In 1973, the 18-year old landed a role in American Graffiti as Carlos, a member of the Pharaohs car club, who terrorize Kurt (Richard Dreyfuss) with tales of a "blood initiation,"   He reprised the role in More American Graffiti (1979).

He also played a gang member named Squirt on a 1974 episode of Happy Days, and a high schooler in the 1978 comedy Cotton Candy; which Ron Howard wrote and directed.

Manuel's acting career ended abruptly when he grew into adulthood, and no longer had big eyes and a pout.  We don't know much about his later life, except that it was "troubled."  He scrounged around to find work.  He married twice -- both marriages ended in divorce -- and had five children and a grandson.  But by the 2000s, he was unemployed, living in a spare room at his father's house.

On January 29, 2008, Manuel died unexpectedly, shortly after appearing as a celebrity guest at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona.  He was 52 years old. A tragic ending to a troubled life.

This is a story from happier days, told by Rory, one of Manuel's childhood friends.

Hollywood, July 1974

In Hispanic cultures in the 1970s, there was no conception of "gay" and "straight."  Every man was expected to marry and raise a family; there could be no exceptions.  But girls were usually unavailable, uninterested in sex, and anyway trying to save their virginity for the wedding bed.  Boys had to be hombres muy hombre varones, sex machines, always on the make.  That meant that they spent a lot of time seeking out each other.

Anal was out of the question, unless you were into maricones, but oral was more common than you think.  Every group of friends had at least one guy who was willing to go down on them while they thought about girls.

In Pomona in 1974, I was that guy: 17 years old, slim, bookish, with nerd glasses and a gleam in my eye. and a constant protest that "I should really be studying" as Manuel, Jorge, Roy, and Sock pushed me into their 1963 silver Camero to cruise down Towne Avenue, stop for burgers, honk at girls, and finally end up in the basement of Manuel's house to watch old movies on tv, smoke some joints, and drop their pants for me.

[Sex scene censored]

But I wanted more than some dark fumbling sex with my buddies. For as long as I could remember, I had a special fetish for kissing and what they call "body worship," especially with white boys: white muscled bodies like marble statues, rubia (red or blond hair), little or no body hair, Apollo or Zeus out of some ancient myth who swooped into maidens' bedrooms at night and ravished them.

My special, special fetish was for Ron Howard.  I loved him even when I was a kid, and he was playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show.  Opie was only two or three years older than me, but his life was so different, so exotic -- fishing, swimming, going to county fairs and church socials with Sheriff Andy.

I knew that Manuel had been in some movies and tv shows -- I saw him as Jai in the old Tarzan movies -- but I didn't know that he was friends with Ron Howard until one day in July 1974, when he said "I can't go.  I have to drive up to L.A. to have lunch with Ron Howard.  He wants to talk about bringing me back to Happy Days.  Not playing another gang member, I hope."

"Ron Howard!  Lucky!" I exclaimed without thinking.

Manuel grinned.  "You would like him, ese.  He's got a serpiente down there, almost as big as me.  And he likes brown boys.  Nicest guy in the world, but muy maricon."

"Como?  How do you know that?"

Manuel told me that Ron Howard was about "girls! girls! girls!" on the surface, but in the wee hours of the morning, after you'd spent six hours watching old movies on tv and eating pizza and drinking beer, and everything was musty and slo-mo, he'd drop the girls! girls! girls! and take a brown boy to bed. Mamiendo, cojiendo, even besando...kissing..

Kissing Ron Howard!  I had to meet him!

The full story, with nude photos and explicit sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

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