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Los Angeles Times

Series Pays Tribute to a Pioneering Cast of Latino Actors Television*

Turner Classic Movies launches Hispanic Heritage Month today with a weekly schedule of films as well as interviews with the performers.


September 2, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved.

"Thank God for these wonderful actors like Jennifer Lopez, Andy Garcia, Jimmy Smits and Antonio Banderas whom we have today," says Luis Reyes, author of "Hispanics in Hollywood."

"But contrary to popular belief," he adds, "Hispanics have been part of the Hollywood film industry since the beginning."

Cable's Turner Classic Movies is shining the spotlight on these Latino pioneers with its Hispanic Heritage Month film series. Every Monday throughout the month will be devoted to Latinos who worked in front of and behind the camera.

The festival will also feature interstitial interviews with Rita Moreno, Ricardo Montalban, Maria Conchita Alonso, as well as Reyes, who will talk about the myths of Latinos in Hollywood. The actors will discuss their own careers, role models and compromises they had to make.

Among the Latino actors highlighted in the festival are Rita Hayworth ("The Lady From Shanghai," "You Were Never Lovelier"), Montalban ("Fiesta"), Lupe Velez ("Mexican Spitfire's Baby"), Moreno ("West Side Story"), Anthony Quinn ("The Guns of Navarone"), Jose Ferrer ("Moulin Rouge," "I Accuse"), Cesar Romero ("Vera Cruz") and Dolores Del Rio ("The Fugitive," "More Than a Miracle").

Veteran Latino performers, says Reyes, "did not work in a vacuum. They were stars themselves, as well as working with other established stars. Ramon Novarro, his 'Ben-Hur' (1926) helped saved MGM from bankruptcy."

The festival also illustrates how actors such as Anthony Quinn, who won two supporting-actor Oscars, for "Viva Zapata!" (1952) and "Lust for Life" (1956), expanded their range by playing everything from Italians to Greeks to Arabs. "He is the most successful Hispanic actor of his generation because of the length of his career," Reyes says. "He started in 1936 and he played every ethnicity, and then there was the international significance of his career."

Ferrer, who was born in Puerto Rico, was the first Latino actor to win a best-actor Oscar, for playing the tragic French title character in the 1950 film "Cyrano de Bergerac."

"He was a well-established actor, director and producer on Broadway before that," Reyes says. "With 'I Accuse!' [Sept. 30], he is also the actor and director of this film. He's playing a French Jew who is accused of treason and the cover-up that resulted from it. And in 'Moulin Rouge' [Sept. 9], he played French painter Toulouse-Lautrec, and he was nominated for an Oscar for that as well."

Alonso says she never had a role model growing up in Venezuela. "I liked Goldie Hawn a lot," she says, laughing. As far as Latino performers, "I just enjoy Rita Hayworth's beauty and her softness in the way she acted. I loved Carmen Miranda, though her life was very tragic. She was always trying to have fun; she was so wild and crazy."

The festival features two of the colorful Brazilian-born Miranda's later films, "A Date With Judy" and "Nancy Goes to Rio" (both on Sept. 23).

Reyes is pleased that the festival is shining a spotlight on the comedic actress Lupe Velez, who began working in films during the silent era and was briefly married to "Tarzan" star Johnny Weissmuller.

Her "Mexican Spitfire" movies, Reyes says, "are kind of late in her career. It was almost like she was a sitcom star. She was a spitfire in her own way. She did have that exaggerated personality, so they did a series around the personality she created."

Latino actors, though, were more often than not cast in stereotypical roles, in part because Hollywood would import actors from Mexico and Spain and then didn't know what to do with them.

"They were kind of pigeonholed for the most part in these stereotypical roles, much like Penelope Cruz today," Reyes says. "She is an actress who plays any role in Spain. They bring her here and in 'All the Pretty Horses,' what did she play? A virginal senorita. In another film, she played a prostitute. So it took her a while to get to 'Vanilla Sky.' "

A lot of roles for Latinos dried up in the 1970s and '80s with the demise of the western film genre. "Westerns always had Latinos in them," Reyes notes. "Either they were banditos or the California noblemen. There was always a role for them in westerns."

The evening of Sept. 30 is devoted to work by Latinos behind the camera, including cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa ("Night of the Iguana"), composer Lalo Schifrin ("Sol Madrid"), production designer Pato Guzman ("The In-Laws") and director Raoul Walsh ("The Naked and the Dead").

Reyes says Figueroa once told him of an encounter in Mexico City he had with artist Diego Rivera. "He was at an art exhibit," says Reyes. "He went up to Diego Rivera and said, 'My gosh, I am in awe of your murals and paintings.' Diego told him, 'I am in awe of you because you make murals and paintings that move.' "

"Hispanics in Hollywood" begins Monday at 5 p.m. on TCM with "The Lady From Shanghai" with Rita Hayworth, followed by "Fiesta" with Ricardo Montalban at 6:30 p.m., "Mexican Spitfire's Baby" with Lupe Velez at 8:30 p.m., "Mexican Spitfire at Sea" with Velez at 9:45 p.m., "Forever, Darling" with Desi Arnaz at 11 p.m., and "You Were Never Lovelier" with Hayworth and Xavier Cugat at 12:45 a.m.

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