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.
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]
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."
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.