Jul. 15th, 1927
New York City, New York, USA
Carmen Zapata's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles
Guest TV Roles[none found]
In a career spanning six decades plus, the ever-vital and ever-versatile Carmen Zapata stands as one of the most respected and diversified Hispanic-American figures in the performing arts. The much-admired veteran actress has worn many hats over the years: teacher, producer, translator, lecturer and narrator.
Born in New York City on July 15, 1927, the daughter of a Mexican father and Argentine mother, she started entertaining on the musical stage. Making her Broadway debut in the chorus of "Oklahoma" in 1946, she continued in the same vein with regional and summer stock roles in "Bloomer Girl", Bells Are Ringing", "Guys and Dolls" "Carnival" (with Liza Minnelli), "Bye Bye Birdie", "No Strings" and "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off". In 1956 she appeared on Broadway in the 'Jose Quintero' directed dramatic piece "The Innkeepers" starring Geraldine Page, but it closed within a few days. For years Carmen was active on the stand-up comedy circuit performing in clubs and hotels across the country while billing herself as "Marge Cameron" in order to encourage non-discriminatory employment.
She returned late to acting in the early 1960s (as Carmen Zapata) 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 TV. As a series regular, she had supporting duties alongside Mayor Anthony Quinn (I) 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 (I)'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" (1981). Unfortunately, the series' run of all these shows was too short-lived to earn top TV stardom for herself.
Always striving for dignity, intelligence and positiveness in her work, she was often defeated by token appearances that underused her vast talents. When afforded the opportunity she could be quite touching and heartfelt. Dramatic and comedic performances included roles in such popular shows as "The Bold Ones", "Bonanza", "Marcus Welby, M.D.", "Owen Marshall", "Medical Center", "Adam 12", "Mod Squad", "The Rookies", "Love, American Style", "Wonder Women", "The Streets of San Francisco", "McMillan and Wife", "Trapper John, M.D.", "Chico and the Man", "Matt Houston", "Falcon Crest", "Married with Children", "The Trials of Rosie O'Neil", "L.A. Law", "Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman", and many, many others. She was seen sporadically in the late 1980s and early 1990s on the daytime soap "Santa Barbara" (1984) as Carmen Castillo. Less visible on film, negligible roles included Sol Madrid (1968), Hail, Hero! (1969), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), Rabbit Test (1978), Boulevard Nights (1979), How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (1980), the campy horror flick Vultures (1983), and, more recently as one of the choir nuns in the box-office bonanza Sister Act (1992) and its sequel.
More significantly, Ms. Zapata established herself as a prominent benefactor to the Los Angeles-area performing arts. In 1973 she co-founded the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts (BFA), a resident theater company and organization dedicated to bringing the Hispanic experience and culture to the Southern California community via the medium of bilingual stage productions. Serving as its president and producing director, many honors have been bestowed upon her for her selfless contributions. Establishing a durable relationship with the Los Angeles Unified School District to bring the works of great Hispanic authors to public school students, she has produced over 80 plays on BFA's mainstage. On TV, she starred as the town mayor for nine seasons on the PBS' bilingual children's television show "Villa Alegre" (1973).
As a teacher of drama, Carmen has offered her talents and services to the Academy of Stage and Cinema Arts and the East Los Angeles College Theatre Arts, among others venues. Moreover, a BFA facility was set up as an extension of UCLA. Since 1976, Carmen has been co-translating the groundbreaking plays and poems of such renowned Hispanic figures as 'Federico Garcia Lorca'. These important translations have included Garcia Lorca's "Blood Wedding", "The House of Bernarda Alba" and "Yerma" (the last work mentioned won a Dramalogue Award in 1980). In return, she portrayed the small role of Garcia Lorca's mother in the film The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca (1996) starring Andy Garcia (I) as the maverick Spanish poet and playwright who was executed by firing squad for his political stoicism.
A narrator for the Oscar-nominated documentary Las madres de la Plaza de Mayo (1985), Carmen's later focus has been as a lecturer at universities and theater conferences across the country. At age 80, Ms. Zapata's unwavering dedication in preserving Hispanic-American culture continues to be a source of pride to the Los Angeles community and her profound influence has extended itself nationwide. At various times, she has been the recipient of several L.A. industry awards as well, including the "Ovation", the Dramalogue and Nosotros Awards for her excellence in theatre. In 2003 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- In August of 1993 Mayor Richard Riordan appointed her Commissioner of the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.
- Performing "Carnival" in summer stock with 'Liza Minnelli' (qv) in 1964 and billing herself as Marge Cameron at the time, it was Carmen who arranged and introduced Liza to the team of 'John Kander' (qv) and 'Fred Ebb' (qv). Liza went on to do the Tony-winning "Flora the Red Menace" with the fabulous duo.
- Co-translated many of the landmark works of 'Federico Garcia Lorca' along with Michael Dewell.
- A singer, she contributed vocals to the song "Te quiero puta!" on Rammstein's 2005 album Rosenrot.
- She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Live Theatre at 6357 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
- Among her various honors: The 1997 Hispanic Heritage Award for Lifetime Achievement, honoring her commitment to the arts for more than 50 years; YMCA Leadership Award; Woman of Courage Award from the City of Los Angeles; the Governor's Life Achievement Award, and the Community Leadership Award from the Mexican and American Foundation.
- In May of 1990, she was knighted by his Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain and presented with "El Lazo de Dama del Orden del Mérito Civil.".
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