Friday, July 27, 2012

HOLA Legends: Lupe Ontiveros

Lupe Ontiveros (September 17, 1942 – July 26, 2012) was an American film and television actress. Ontiveros acted in numerous films and television shows, most often playing a maid or, more recently, an all-knowing grandmother; she once estimated that she had played a maid between 150 and 300 times onscreen.

She was born Guadalupe Moreno Castañón in El Paso, Texas, U.S.A., the daughter of Luz "Lucita" Castañón and Juan Moreno, middle-class Mexican immigrants who overcame a lack of formal education and were owners of a tortilla factory and two restaurants in El Paso. She graduated from El Paso High School and went on to study at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, U.S.A., where she received a bachelor's degree in social work.

After getting married, she and her husband moved to California to realize his dream of starting an automotive business. During a period of professional dissatisfaction with her social service career, she was trying to decide whether to go back to school for a nursing degree when she saw an article about a need for local film "extras." With her husband's encouragement, she began with that simple job and parlayed it into a long stage and screen career. Prior to acting, she had worked for 18 years as a social worker.

After deciding she wanted an acting career, she began in earnest, following up full-day sessions at her first career with evening work at Nosotros, a community theater in Los Angeles. In 1978, she was cast as Dolores in Luis Valdez’s historic play Zoot Suit in her first major theatrical role. She went on to reprise the role on Broadway — the first Mexican American theatrical production ever to play there — and in the 1982 film version. She was a founding member of the Latino Theater Company.

Ontiveros stated that she wanted to see more diverse roles available to Latina actors, but that she was proud of the work she did: "I'm proud to represent those hands that labor in this country. I've given every maid I've ever portrayed soul and heart." In part because of her history in this role, she was chosen as the narrator for the documentary Maid in America.

One of her most prominent early movie roles was in the 1983 Gregory Nava film El Norte, in which she played a seamstress and maid who acts as mentor to a newly arrived immigrant girl from Guatemala. In a 2004 interview with the Dominican newspaper Listín Diario, she called El Norte "the film that always will remain in me... [it] tells the immigrants' story" when asked to name her favorite film from her long career.

A notable role for her was that of housekeeper Rosalita, a Hispanic maid hired to assist in the packing and moving of the Walsh family in the hit adventure film The Goonies (1985). She worked with Nava in subsequent films, including My Family/Mi familia (1995) and Selena (1997). In the latter film, she portrayed Yolanda Saldívar, the convicted murderer of Tejano singer Selena. She also appeared in the Academy Award winning film As Good As It Gets (with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt).

In 2000, she was featured in the film Chuck & Buck, in which she played Beverly, a tough theater director who puts on a play written by one of the film's main characters. She has said in multiple interviews she accepted the role even before seeing the script, solely on the basis of being asked to play a character who was not defined by Hispanic ethnicity. For that role, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards.

She co-starred with America Ferrera in the 2002 film Real Women Have Curves as the overbearing mother of Ferrera's character. Her performance received excellent reviews and earned her and her co-star a Special Jury Prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. She and Ferrera appeared together again in the family comedy Our Family Wedding.

Ontiveros had a recurring role in the 2004-05 season of the ABC prime time soap opera "Desperate Housewives" as Juanita Solís, Gabrielle's suspicious mother-in-law. She received an Emmy nomination as Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for this role. In 2004 she also began a role as Abuela Elena, the grandmother of the title characters in the animated PBS children's series "Maya & Miguel." The multicultural and bilingual series later introduced a deaf character, Marco, after a sign-language-themed episode was suggested by the actress, who has two hearing impaired adult sons.

The actress was one of the stars of The WB's "Greetings From Tucson", playing the grandmother in an upwardly mobile family of mixed Irish and Mexican heritage. She previously had recurring guest roles on the series "Veronica's Closet", for which she won an ALMA Award in 1998, and on the short-lived soap opera "Pasadena." She also has been a guest star on "Hill Street Blues", "Red Shoe Diaries", "Resurrection Blvd.", "Cory in the House" and "King of the Hill", among many other series.

She passed away in Pico Rivera, California, U.S.A. on July 26, 2012, after a battle with liver cancer, leaving behind her husband and three sons. She was 69 years old.

2010 NALIP Lifetime Achievement Award Video

 Celebrity Habla

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