Frank L. Fouce, an impresario of Spanish-language entertainment who turned the historic Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles into a prestigious venue for a burgeoning Latino market and helped launch the television network that became Univision, died Sept. 22 in Los Angeles. He was 85.
The cause was lymphoma, said his daughter, Paula Fouce.
Mr. Fouce was a co-founder of the Spanish International Communications Corp., which operated the first Spanish-language television stations in the United States, including KMEX-TV, Univision’s flagship outlet and the No. 1 source for Spanish-language news and entertainment in Los Angeles.
He bought the Million Dollar Theater, at Third Street and Broadway, in 1969 and undertook a major renovation, drawing huge Spanish-speaking audiences for films and live performances at a time when mainstream media largely ignored them.
Mr. Fouce learned the entertainment business from his father, Frank, a former child actor and pioneering Spanish-language film distributor. As the television industry grew, the pair recognized the potential for Spanish-language TV and in 1961 helped start SICC with the Azcarraga family of Mexico and other investors. Its first outlets were in cities with large Spanish-speaking populations, including San Antonio, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
“The Fouce family saw a marketing niche and built across venues — theaters, live entertainment and television — at a time when not many Anglos were paying attention to Latinos and what we wanted to see here,” said Felix Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.
In 1975, Mr. Fouce and other minority stockholders initiated what would become a 10-year legal battle to loosen the Azcarragas’ control of the network. An investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, which found that the Mexican interests had circumvented foreign-ownership rules, led to a sale of most of SICC’s stations. Two broadcast giants were created by the breakup: Telemundo and Univision.
Frank Louis Fouce, whose ancestors were Spanish immigrants who landed in Hawaii in the late 1800s, was born in Los Angeles on Oct. 15, 1927.
He was a graduate of Loyola University in Los Angeles and served as an Army paratrooper in Japan in the late 1940s before going to work in Hollywood as an assistant director at the Hal Roach Studios and Bing Crosby’s production company. He later earned a master’s degree in business from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
His father owned or operated several downtown theaters, including the Mayan, California, Liberty and Roosevelt theaters. In 1950, he began leasing the Million Dollar Theater to show Spanish-language films and Mexican vaudeville acts.
After he died in 1962, his son succeeded him as head of Fouce Amusement Enterprises, which had offices at the Million Dollar Theater that had been used by Sid Grauman, the showman who opened the theater in 1918. In 1969, Mr. Fouce bought the theater from the Popkin family for $2 million and for the next 25 years used it to showcase top performers from Cuba, Mexico, Spain and other countries.
“We give our people what they demand, what they like — simple musical fare featuring personal appearances of top-name Latins,” including Maria Felix, Lucho Gatica, Dolores del Rio and Lalo “El Piporro” Gonzalez, Mr. Fouce told the Los Angeles Times in 1965.
He served as president of KMEX-TV starting in 1962. After its sale in 1986, he started Burbank, Calif.-based KRCA-TV, which offered programming in Farsi, Tagalog, Korean and Chinese. KRCA switched to Spanish-language programming after the Fouce family sold it in 1997.
Mr. Fouce also was active in politics, serving as chairman of the Los Angeles County Republican Party from 1989 to 1990.
Survivors include his wife of 65 years, the former Betty Ballester; four children; and four grandchildren.