Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Carmen Margarita Zapata was born in New York City, New York, U.S.A., the daughter of a Mexican father and Argentinean mother on July 15, 1927. She performed on Broadway at the young age of 20, making her debut in the chorus of the musical Oklahoma. A triple threat, she could sing, dance and act. She also performed in musicals such as Guys and Dolls and Carnival. At some point while still living in New York she also ventured on stage to do standup comedy under the name of Marge Cameron. She tried changing her name in hopes she could be seen for her talent alone, and could steer clear of the ethnic pigeonholing. In spite of the difficulty, she did go on to do some great work, appearing in over 100 movies and television shows.

She returned to acting under the name Carmen Zapata in the early 1960s and the subsequent 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 television. As a series regular, she had supporting duties alongside Mayor Anthony Quinn in the drama "The Man and the City" (1971); played matriarch Sophia Valdez in the ethnic family sitcom "Viva Valdez" (1976) opposite Rodolfo Hoyos Jr.; appeared as Arthur Hill's housekeeper in the detective drama "Hagen" (1980) starring Chad Everett; and had flavorful recurring roles in "The New Dick Van Dyke Show" (1971) and "Flamingo Road" (1980). Unfortunately, the series' run of all these shows was too short-lived to earn top TV stardom for herself.

Her film roles, among dozens, include Boulevard NightsDeath in Granada, and the Sister Act franchise, for which she is best remembered as one of the singing nuns. She worked a lot on TV from the 1960s through late 2000s. Among her credits are "L.A. Law", "Married With Children"; being a series regular on "Trapper John, M.D." from 1981–1985; and playing Carmen Castillo in the soap "Santa Barbara" from 1985-1989. One of her longest-running roles was on the bilingual children’s program "Villa Alegre", where for nine years she played lead character Doña Luz, the mayor of Villa Alegre. The program was the first national bilingual (Spanish/English) program in the United States. It was produced by Bilingual Children's Television as its inaugural project on the company's founding in 1970.

In 1972, she co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee with actors Ricardo Montalbán, Edith Díaz and Henry Darrow.  In 1973 she founded the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts (BFA) along with Cuban-born actress, playwright, and director Margarita Galbán and Argentinean-born, award-winning set designer Estela Scarlata. The BFA became the theater most every Latino actor got their first acting gig in Los Angeles,  Andy García and Lupe Ontiveros among them.  The BFA was where actors went to do the Spanish classic plays such as Federico García Lorca's Blood WeddingThe House of Bernarda Alba and Yerma. The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts extended variations of these productions Los Angeles Unified School District. Moreover, a BFA facility was set up as an extension of University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The theater space of the BFA was renamed Teatro Carmen Zapata/Carmen Zapata Theater in her honor.

She helped inspire and shape many careers through her drama classes, teaching at the Academy of Stage and Cinema Arts and the East Los Angeles College Theatre Arts, among others venues, as well as through the productions at BFA.

An accomplished actress, translator, theater producer, and community leader she was knighted by King Juan Carlos of Spain. She also received the Cross of Queen Isabel La Católica for her contributions to the preservation of Hispanic culture ranging from the Golden Age to contemporary, and for educational programs.

In 2003 she received a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to live theater. On Sunday, January 5, 2014 she passed away in her home in Van Nuys, California at the age of 86. She will be remembered as a Hollywood trailblazer, an accomplished actress, and the driving force behind the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, an institution that continues to provide stage work for Latino actors.

QEPD / RIP  Carmen Zapata

[Portions of this bio was taken from this site and this site.]

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