The Washington Post

Latin TV and film actress was a ‘true pioneer’

Lupe Ontiveros, the Texas-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, once estimated that she had played the role of a maid more than 150 times during her career.

That’s why the 4-foot-11 actress was so overjoyed more than a decade ago when director Miguel Arteta said he had a screenplay for her to consider.

“He said, ‘Look at the part of Beverly,’ ” Ontiveros recalled in a 2009 NPR interview. “I said, ‘Beverly? You said Beverly? Her name is Beverly?’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it. I don’t care what the script is about, because her name is Beverly.’ It wasn’t Maria Guadalupe Conchita Esperanza, this Latino stereotype.”

That role as the straight-talking theater house manager in the 2000 movie “Chuck & Buck” was a breakthrough moment for her.

She also played a former fan-club president, Yolanda Saldivar who killed pop star Selena, played by Jennifer Lopez, in the 1995 movie “Selena,” and had a key role in the 2002 film “Real Women Have Curves.”

Mexican-American character actress Lupe Ontivero, seen here in 2009, has died. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/GETTY IMAGES)

Ms. Ontiveros died July 26 of liver cancer in a Whittier, Calif., hospital, said her agent, Michael Greenwald. She was 69.

“Her performances were truly riveting because of the truths that she portrayed,” actor Edward James Olmos told The Los Angeles Times. “She was part of the evolutionary process of the art form of Latino storytelling in the last 30-plus years. She was one of the true pioneers of the Latin artistic movement in theater, film and television.”

Olmos appeared with Ms. Ontiveros in the original 1978 Los Angeles production of Luis Valdez’s “Zoot Suit,” in which she played the mother. She took the part to Broadway in 1979 and played it in the 1981 movie version.

In “Real Women Have Curves,” Ms. Ontiveros played Carmen Garcia, the critical East Los Angeles mother who prefers that her ambitious young daughter forgo college and join her working in a dress factory. She shared a special jury prize for dramatic acting at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002 with co-star America Ferrera.

In his review of the film in the Los Angeles Times, critic Kevin Thomas wrote: “This is a wonderful role for an actress of the skill and stature of Ontiveros, whose innate warmth is crucial in maintaining Carmen’s humanity.”

In 2005, Ms. Ontiveros was nominated for an Emmy Award for her guest-star role as Juanita “Mama” Solis, the nosy mother-in-law of Eva Longoria’s character on “Desperate Housewives.”

Among her movie credits are “El Norte” (1983), “The Goonies” (1985), “As Good As It Gets” (1997) and “Storytelling” (2001). Her TV work included a regular spot on the the 1993 series “Dudley” and on the 2002-03 series “Greetings from Tucson.”

She was born Guadalupe Moreno in El Paso on Sept. 17, 1942. Her parents owned a tortilla factory and two restaurants.

She was a graduate of Texas Woman’s University in Denton and spent many years as a social worker in the Los Angeles area before answering an ad for movie extras in the early 1970s.

She found it difficult to overcome racial stereotypes when auditioning in Hollywood.

“I speak good English; I’m an educated person,” she told Latino Leaders magazine in 2003. “But whenever I interviewed — and I spoke English just like I’m speaking now — I wouldn’t get the role. They couldn’t see how a woman who looks like me — indigenous — could ever play somebody of stature, certainly not a professor or a judge. No! She has to be a maid; she had to clean my toilet.”

Yet, as she told the New York Times in 2002, “I’ve given every maid I’ve ever portrayed soul and heart.”

Survivors include her husband of 46 years, Elias Ontiveros Jr.; three sons; and two grandchildren.

— Los Angeles Times



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