Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lupe Ontiveros, presente

Somewhere in the house I have a picture of Lupe.  I took it in about 1997, at the Cuban Festival that used to take place.  It's one of my favorite pictures of her, because she is with one of her sons and she is all adoring mama.

The picture below is a close second.  I can almost hear her distinctive voice.  Before the picture, dulcid, seductive, full of promise.  If the picture took too long, well, those descriptors would have melted.   In all likelihood, steam would be coming off the language she might use.  Singed ears all 'round.  There is the expression "Sin pelos en la lengua/without hairs on the tongue"- it means someone who speaks their mind and has no filter.  Lupe certainly could speak sin pelos, but she was as kind as she was sassy.
Dyana Ortelli, Rick Najera, Lupe Ontiveros, Rafael Agustin
Photo by Susie Albin-Najera
If one felt the sting of her words no one minded for long because it was La Lupe who in the next instant would have you laughing so hard, you just might end up dribbling from your eyes, from your nose, or from god knows where.

In 1996 the Latino Theater Company produced "La Virgen del Tepeyac", at St. Alphonsus Church in East LA. Rehearsals were several nights of practice at Plaza de la Raza followed by 9 performances at the church. Because it was low budget production we often used towels as head wraps, all of the women had a green room that was the wall of the walkway between the sacristy and the sanctuary.  I think we used old wooden pews for our shelves.  Because it was low budget production we often used towels (toallas), scarves really,  as head wraps.

I was in the coro and Lupe was, surprise, La Criada (the maid). I had no idea she'd been one of the visionary founders of the company.

Several nights we ended up being toallamates - checking to make sure our towels were on straight and secure.  She was kind and acerbically sweet.  Night after night I would see her read the audience and deliver lines with a freshness that made me laugh and wonder at her skill.  Every night fresh.  She brought the character to character actress every night.

It was hard to imagine her doing anything else.  But this was a second vocation, her first had been as a social worker.  According to IMDb she was a graduate of Texas Women's University, with majors in psychology and social work.  I can't help but believe that her time as a social worker allowed her to see the foibles and strengths of those that struggle and those that perservere.  Her brilliance as an actor wove some of what she saw into the characters she portrayed.

In 2010 she received the Lifetime Award from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers - a celebration of her work as an actress, producer, and activist.  At that time she shared  that she could say that "it's been very gratifying.  I'm happy because I  had a very interesting and fulfilling life - full of challenges".

Lupe was given Last Rites before she passed this evening.



  1. Thank you. Lupe and I were in the Nosotros actor's workshop together and she was always wonderfully dear, funny and real. She is a great role model. Socorro Serrano (Swan)

  2. Dennis Leoni -"...her impish smile, her feisty nature and her generous heart". What she did with the limited parts offered her was amazing. When she had a part where she was allowed to do more, my word, she soared.

  3. You are so right. When this very comedic woman was given juicer, broader parts she showed so much more of her talent.Thank you for bringing more of her background for your readers.

  4. El Norte was a brilliant, heart-breaking film, and Ontiveros was unforgettable.

  5. To your point this quote from Agustin Gurza - "The lede of an obit should capture the essence of a person's life and career. The NY Times did a good job with its obit on the late Lupe Ontiveros, a beloved Mexican-American actress who was eulogized a lot among my FB friends. By comparison, the LA Times, her hometown paper, wrote a superficial lede that reflects its own obsession with Hollywood awards rather than a true understanding of what the actress stood for. The local obit lacks all the heart that Lupe had a lot of:

    LA TIMES: "Actress Lupe Ontiveros, who received an Emmy nomination for her role as a nosy mother-in-law on "Desperate Housewives," died Thursday night of liver cancer in a hospital in Whittier, said her agent, Michael Greenwald. She was 69."

    NY TIMES: "Lupe Ontiveros, a Mexican-American character actress who struggled through Hollywood typecasting to play memorable roles in television and film and become a model of perseverance for Latino actors, died on Thursday in Whittier, Calif. She was 69."