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Legendary Actor Carmen Zapata Passes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez | Editor   
Thursday, 09 January 2014 00:00


Actor Carmen Zapata passed away in her Van Nuys home on Sunday, Jan. 5, after a very long illness.

Zapata, 86, an early advocate for Mexican American and Latino actors, was the co-founder with director Margarita Galban of the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles. Zapata produced hundreds of bilingual theater productions and appeared in scores of television shows during a career that spanned 60 years.

When Zapata moved from New York to Los Angeles, she settled in the San Fernando Valley and had lived in the same home in Van Nuys for the last 50 years.

She is praised as much for being a teacher as she was for her trailblazing work as an actress during a time when there were even fewer roles for Latinas than there are today.

Zapata performed on Broadway, in movies and on television.

She appeared on numerous TV shows, including “Bonanza,” “The Bold Ones,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Zapata had continuing TV roles in “The Man and the City” and “The New Dick Van Dyke Show.” She sang in several musicals includ- ing “Bloomer Girl,” “No Strings,” “Show Boat,” “Stop The World I Want to Get Off,” and “Funny Girl.” She’s also known for her appearance on the soap opera, “Santa Barbara,” as well as her role as one of the choir nuns in the “Sister Act” movies.

Many still fondly remember growing up watching her on the PBS bilingual children’s show “Villa Alegre,” and appearing on many shows that tried to pen- etrate the walls of Hollywood and change the perceptions and portrayals that kept Latinos in sterotypical roles. One of those start-and-stop attempts was “Viva Valdez,” a 1976 ABC sum- mer sitcom with Zapata playing the matriarch.

But rather than wait for Hollywood and the entertainment business to respond Zapata, a woman of action, co-founded the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in 1973 and took on many roles herself including actress, teacher, producer, lecturer, narrator and translator.

A maker of her own destiny, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.

For 40 years, BFA concentrated on bringing the great Spanish language classics to its stage nestled in the work- ing class community of Lincoln Heights in Los Angeles, and translating the works, and putting on productions in both English and Spanish.

She produced more than 80 plays herself.

Despite poor health, Zapata was still very involved with the nonprofit. Even from a Fausto Barajas, Jorge Galvan, and I all got our professional starts in Theater thanks to Carmen, in the play ‘Wanted: Experienced Operators’ in 1982. She took a chance on us and I love her for all she gave to our artistic and hometown community. Rest in peace and thank you, Carmen. You have earned this rest a thousand times over.”

Actor Evelina Fernandez of the Los Angeles Theatre Center wrote:

“Rest in peace, Carmen. Thank you for opening doors for us and for giving us the op- portunity to work at the Bilin- gual Foundation of the Arts. You will be missed but never forgotten.”

“Sorry to hear this sad news. Carmen was a dear friend, a true lady and a genuine artist. She will be sorely missed! !Vaya con dios, querida maestra! wrote Luis Valdez, playwright and the founder of Teatro Campasino.

“The best way to honor Carmen is to continue her work,” Vela said.

“We have a show in rehearsal right now that will go on tour in the schools before coming back to our theatre,” Montalvo said. “In the show business tradition the show will go on, and we will push on to honor Carmen’s legacy.”

In lieu of flowers, The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts is accepting donations to their youth scholarship program. For more information, go to: Funeral arrangements were pending at press time. Information will be posted on The San Fernando Valley Sun’s Facebook page as information becomes available.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 01:52