Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Betcha Didn't Know...?

Some of the most notable names from the dawn of film and television are of Latino descent. Here are some of them.

In this edition, some Latinos who became known in the 1970s and 1980s in film and television.

Jimmy Smits (1955- ) was born in Brooklyn, New York, USA to a Dutch-Guyanese father and a Puerto Rican mother. He is perhaps best known for his roles as attorney Victor Sifuentes on the 1980s legal drama "L.A. Law," as NYPD Detective Bobby Simone (a non-Latino role) on the 1990s police drama "NYPD Blue," as U.S. Congressman (and later President of the United States) Matt Santos on "The West Wing." He is also notable for his portrayal of Bail Organa in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and as Miguel Prado in "Dexter." In addition, he was Sonny Crockett's original partner in the television series "Miami Vice" (his character died in the pilot episode which made way for new partner Ricardo Tubbs, played by Philip Michael Thomas) and Conky Repairman on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse." Film credits include The Believers, My Family/Mi Familia, Running Scared and Lackawanna Blues. A noted stage actor, this Brooklyn College alum most recently played Orsino in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at Central Park's Delacorte Theater for the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater and replaced Jeff Daniels in God of Carnage on Broadway.

Antonio Fargas (1946- ) was born in New York, New York, USA to a Puerto Rican father and a Afro-Trinidadian mother. He is most famous famous for his roles in 1970s blaxpoitation movies, as well as his portrayal of Huggy Bear in the 1970s TV series "Starsky and Hutch." His film credits include Foxy Brown, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (which hilariously spoofs his blaxpoitation past) and Don't Be A Menace.... In addition to "Starsky and Hutch," his TV credits include "All My Children," "Living Single," "Lie To Me" and a regular role on "Everybody Hates Chris." The Argentine band Babasónicos released a song in their 1998 B-sides album Vórtice Marxista called "Antonio Fargas". The song's chorus repeats the phrase "Antonio Fargas es Huggy Bear," and is meant to be homage to him.

Freddie Prinze (1954-1977) was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel to a German father and a Puerto Rican mother in New York, New York, USA. An actor and stand-up comedian, he was known as the star of the 1970s television series "Chico and the Man." While half-German, for comedic purposes he often said he was half-Hungarian, so that he could call himself a "Hungarican." For the sake of his budding comedic career, he changed his surname to "Prinze", which he chose because, according to his friend David Brenner, he originally wanted to be known as the King of comedy, but famed comedian Alan King already had that last name, so he would be the Prince of comedy instead. In December 1973, his biggest break came with an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." He was the first young comedian to be asked to have a sit-down chat with the host on his first appearance. From 1974 to 1977, he starred as Francisco "Chico" Rodríguez in the TV series "Chico and the Man" with Jack Albertson. The show was an instant hit and popularized Chico's catchphrase "Looking good!" While suffering from depression, he shot himself in the head, an act which was later ruled an accident. (He had a history of playing with guns, faking suicide attempts to frighten his friends for his amusement.) He left behind a wife and son and passed away at the tender age of 22. Decades later, received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Looking good, indeed.

Tony Orlando (1944- ) was born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis to a Greek father and a Puerto Rican mother in New York, New York, USA. A singer and sometime actor, he is best known for performing with the group Dawn (known collectively as Tony Orlando and Dawn in the 1970s. His musical career started with the doo-wop group The Five Gents. His first success came when he recorded the hits "Bless You" and "Halfway To Paradise" in 1961. In 1969 he recorded with the group Wind and had a #28 hit that year with "Make Believe." After becoming general manager at Columbia Records, he was tempted back to a recording career when he was asked to record a demo record of the song "Candida." The label liked the demo so much that his version was released, under the band name Dawn (the middle name of the daughter of Jay Siegal, of The Tokens). After he discovered that there were six touring groups using that name, Dawn became Dawn featuring Tony Orlando (which later changed to Tony Orlando and Dawn). Joining him in Dawn were Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, and the trio scored a string of #1 hits with "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," "Knock Three Times" and "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)." With Dawn, he had a highly-rated weekly variety series "Tony Orlando and Dawn," which ran for from 1974 to 1976. In 1980, the nation adopted the symbol of the yellow ribbon during the Iran hostage crisis. The yellow ribbon idea came from Orlando's hit "Tie A Yellow Ribbon." It has since become an international symbol of hope and homecoming. He continues to tour the country to sold out concerts and he has also been a guest host of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon for many years.

Georg Stanford Brown (1943- ) was born in Havana, Cuba. An actor and director, he is perhaps best known as one of the stars of the police television series "The Rookies" (1972-1976), where he played Officer Terry Webster. During the 1960s, he had a variety of roles in films, including The Comedians, Bullitt and Wild in the Sky. On television, he played Tom Harvey (son of Chicken George, great grandson of Kunta Kinte, and great grandfather of Alex Haley) in the 1977 television miniseries Roots, and 1979's Roots: The Next Generation. In 1980, he starred in the highly successful Stir Crazy opposite Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. He then went on to a supporting role in yet another miniseries North & South in 1985 as Grady. He also directed several second-season episodes of the television series "Hill Street Blues," for which he was nominated for two Emmy Awards. He won the Emmy in 1986 for directing an episode of "Cagney and Lacey," starring his then-wife Tyne Daly. More recently, he had a recurring role on the FX drama series "Nip/Tuck." He and Daly were married for 24 years, from 1966 to 1990, and have three daughters.

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