June 2013 archive

2013 RRAFF Career Achievement Award: CARMEN ZAPATA

Carmen Margarita Zapata, born in New York in 1927 to a Mexican father and an Argentine mother, has distinguished herself as an actress, teacher, activist, and leader of Latino Hollywood for more than sixty years.

Carmen began entertaining on the musical stage, making her Broadway debut in the chorus of Oklahoma in 1946, and continuing in regional and summer stock roles in Bloomer Girl, Bells Are Ringing, Guys and Dolls, Carnival (with Liza Minnelli), and many others. In 1956 she appeared on Broadway in The Innkeepers, starring Geraldine Page and directed by Jose Quintero. Carmen was active on the stand-up comedy circuit as well, performing in clubs and hotels across the country while billing herself as “Marge Cameron” in order to encourage non-discriminatory employment.

She returned late to acting in the early 1960s as Carmen Zapata, and the search for ethnic support roles proved both difficult and unfulfilling. It was impossible to steer clear of the severe stereotypes imposed on her, yet she managed to establish a name for herself on 1970s TV. She appeared as a series regular alongside Anthony Quinn in The Man and the City in 1971, played the matriarch in the ethnic family sitcom Viva Valdez in 1976 appeared as Arthur Hill’s housekeeper in the detective drama Hagen in 1980, and had recurring roles in everything from The New Dick Van Dyke Show to Flamingo Road.

Always striving for dignity, intelligence and positiveness in her work, she was often defeated by token appearances that underused her vast talents. When afforded the opportunity she could be quite touching and heartfelt. Dramatic and comedic performances included roles in literally hundreds of dramas and comedies throughout the Seventies and Eighties, from Bonanza and Marcus Welby, M.D. to Wonder Woman, L.A. Law, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, and many, many others. She was seen sporadically in the late 1980s and early 1990s on the daytime soap Santa Barbara and most recently appeared as one of the choir nuns in the box-office bonanza Sister Act (1992) and its sequel.

More significantly, Ms. Zapata established herself as a prominent benefactor to the Los Angeles-area performing arts. In 1973 she co-founded the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts (BFA), a resident theater company and organization dedicated to bringing the Hispanic experience and culture to the Southern California community via the medium of bilingual stage productions. Serving as its president and producing director, many honors have been bestowed upon her for her selfless contributions. Establishing a durable relationship with the Los Angeles Unified School District to bring the works of great Hispanic authors to public school students, she has produced over 80 plays on BFA’s mainstage. On TV, she starred as the town mayor for nine seasons on the PBS’ bilingual children’s television show Villa Alegre. Continue reading

2013 RRAFF Pioneer Award: PEPE SERNA

Pepe Serna, a constant whirlwind of activity and enthusiasm, has been one of the backbones of Latino Hollywood for decades, and one of its most recognizable faces.

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1944, Serna was initially discovered in Roger Corman’s film Student Nurses in 1970, and soon thereafter appeared in the Hal Wallis-produced film Red Sky at Morning in 1971. Within months, he was working steadily on television dramas and comedies that have become classics: Mannix, Kung Fu, Police Story, and on and on. Along the way, he’s appeared in some of Hollywood’s most memorable films, including Scarface, Silverado, Car Wash, and Clint Eastwood’s The Rookie. He was Reno Nevada in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, he was part of Latino landmark films and television projects like Resurrection Blvd., An American Family and American Me. He even played Jennifer Lopez’ father twice, in two different CBS series in the 1990’s, before she became a superstar (for the record: Second Chances and Hotel Malibu).

For more than forty years, Pepe has worked regularly in film and television; he’s still frequently recognized on the street for everything from Miami Vice to “that guy from Dragnet” (or Matlock, or Diagnosis Murder or thirty other TV shows) He’s worked on stage as well, most notably in a one-man show called El Ruco, Chuco, Cholo, Pachuco, Serna’s own version of the panorama of Latino cultural history. Over the years he’s branched into voice-over and cartoon work as well. He played “Sanchez,” the only continued Latino Character in Eddie Murphy’s animated series The PJ’s. Today, he has half a dozen film projects filming or in post-production, often offering his support on projects that include many young Latino talent, including Road to Juarez, Clean Sweep, and Man from Reno.

Serna in “Scarface”

Pepe’s sideline as a painter has met with critical success as well. His vibrant paintings and recent one-man stage shows reflect a serious return to his Mexican roots, and he has been commissioned quite frequently. In fact, Pepe was recently commissioned by the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project and the Mark Taper Foundation to paint an inspirational canvas on the subject of reading. It was turned into a poster and given to students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Pepe has been honored by the Screen Actors Guild Heritage Achievement Award; the League of United Latin American Citizens; and the prestigious Estrella Award for Arts & Culture from the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. His energy, enthusiasm, and constant stream of ideas and projects had made Pepe Serna an important part of the Latino community in Los Angeles, and a valued ally in our continuing cultural movement.

Website: pepeserna