When I graduate, I’m gonna be a Wolfman- Manuel Padilla Jr

Can you believe this is the 35th  anniversary of George Lucas’ American Graffiti? 

My sister took me and a group of teens from our church going to see this and we had no idea what it was about. No one knew that it would launch a 50’s revival in music, films and TV.  ( Despite the film was about 1962.)

American Graffiti is a 1973 coming of age film. It includes a mostly young cast with Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips and then unknown Harrison Ford.  American Graffiti is set in 1962 Modesto and tells the story of four friends and their adventures within one night of driving the strip and listening to a DJ named Wolfman Jack.

Many will say that it is the music that helps to make the movie. Much of it is music that was made in the 1950’s and help to launch a best-selling soundtrack. On that soundtrack are songs by Clyde Otis, a songwriter who is credited writing or co-writing over 800 songs. Otis was a pioneer for Black American businessmen in that he became an executive with Mercury Records during the 1950s. He wrote such hits as “The Stroll,” “(Baby) You’ve Got What it Takes” and “It’s Just a Matter of Time.”  Otis has taken his Final Taxi at age 83….. but this article is not about him.

In the film the character played by Richard Dreyfuss is “kidnapped” by a street gang called the Pharaohs. A member of this gang is a short Hispanic teen called Carlos.  One of my favorite lines in the film is spouted by him has he yell as the radio while they are driving around, “ You tell’em Wolfman! He’s my man. When I graduate, I’m gonna be a Wolfman.”

That actor who played Carlos was Manuel Padilla Jr. He has taken his Final Taxi as the age of 51.

Padilla made a name for himself long before this classic film. For years his was a child actor playing the Mexican or Indian boy is TV westerns like Rawhide, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. 

He played in two different Tarzan movies and was chosen to play as a regular cast member on the Tarzan TV show ( 1966-1968). Padilla played a orphan named Jai, who was adopted by Tarzan ( played by Ron Ely). He was the envy of any boy who watched the show. Who would not want to play with animals and swing from one tree to another in your underwear all day?

After Tarzan, Padilla became a regular on the Sally Field’s TV show, The Flying Nun.  He played the part of Marcello, the little boy who befriend Sister Bertrille on the series.

He appeared in over 30 films and TV shows. Other notable credits include The Great White Hope, A Man Called Horse,  Joseph Wambaugh’s  Police Story and  Happy Days.  Padilla even reprised his role as American Graffiti’s Carlos in the sequel , More American Graffiti.

His final film was Brian De Palma’s “Scarface”  where he was listed as was credited as “Kid No. 2.”

Manuel Padilla Jr died unexpectedly just after making a public appearance at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California.

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One Response

  1. One of my first real dates was in 1975 on an Airforce Base in Bitburg Germany. The boy’s name was Tom and he took me to see American Graffiti. We held hands. I was 14.

    I moved soon after, back to the states. 9 years later I married that man and am still married to him!

    We recently watched the movie again, outside on a screen with neighbors around the same age.

    Carlos was a small part in this movie, but I do remember that.

    Wolfman Jack’s show was one of the few American radio programs we were able to hear in the 70’s in Germany…I think that was one reason the movie resonated so much with us!

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