Latino Newsmakers
Villaraigosa has a new job, Carmen Zapata has passed away
Victor Barreiro


Previous L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a huge supporter of the gay community, has added a new title to his long list of accomplishments. The former mayor has joined Spanish-language broadcaster Estrella TV as a senior advisor to help the 4-year-old television network gain more traction.

The Estrella network is hoping to compete with Spanish language giants Saban’s Univision Communications and NBCUniversal’s Telemundo.

Working as a consultant seems to be Villaraigosa’s latest way of making money. He was recently named a senior advisor for Herbalife Ltd., Banc of California and the public relations firm Edelman.

“We feel that Antonio Villaraigosa—who really does represent the Hispanic community across the country, as well as economic success and contribution to the community—could help us get the word out about Estrella TV,” said Lenard Liberman, chief executive of Estrella TV.

Estrella TV is a division of the privately owned Liberman Broadcasting, the country’s largest minority-owned Spanish-language broadcaster. The company owns KRCA-TV Channel 62 in Los Angeles and stations in San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, New York and Miami. Liberman Broadcasting also owns 18 radio stations, including seven in L.A.

Emmy-nominated actress Carmen Zapata has passed away at the age of 86. The Latina will be remembered as a Hollywood trailblazer, an accomplished actress and the driving force behind the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, an institution that continues to provide stage work for Latino actors.

“She was an inspiration for me. She taught me that art is the key to resolving differences in the community,” said Luis Vela, marketing manager for the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles.

Zapata was born in New York, the daughter of a Mexican father and Argentine mother. She appeared on Broadway at the young age of 19, making her debut in the Oklahoma chorus. Zapata could sing and dance, not to mention act—a triple threat, to say the least. During her time in New York, she also ventured to other areas and found herself onstage doing stand up comedy under the alias of Marge Cameron. The change in her name was so she could be seen for her talent alone and avoid ethnic pigeonholing. Zapata, unlike other struggling performers, found work. She went on to appear in over 100 movies and TV shows. Her film roles, among several dozens, include Boulevard NightsDeath in Granada and the Sister Act franchise, for which she’ll forever be remembered as one of the singing nuns.  

Zapata’s TV credits from the ’60s through the late 2000s include L.A. Law, Married with Children, a series regular on Trapper John, M.D. from 1981-85 and as Carmen Castillo in the soap Santa Barbara from 1985-89. One of her longest-running roles was on the bilingual children’s program Villa Alegre, where for nine years she played lead character Doña Luz.

Aside from paving the way for Latino performers, she could often be seen making a difference in several communities. In 1972, Zapata co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee with actors Ricardo Montalban, Edith Diaz and Henry Darrow. 1973 was a big year for her as she founded the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts along with Cuban-born actress, playwright and director Margarita Galban and Argentine-born, award-winning set designer Estela Scarlata. The BFA became the theater where a number of Latino actors got their first acting gig in Los Angeles. Andy Garcia and Lupe Ontiveros are among them. The BFA was the place where actors went to perform in classic Spanish plays such as Federico Garcia LorcaBlood WeddingThe House of Bernarda Alba, Yerma and Pedro Paramo. The BFA extended variations of these productions in the Los Angeles Unified School District and set up a BFA facility as an extension of UCLA.

Zapata helped inspire and shape many careers through her drama classes, teaching at the Academy of Stage and Cinema Arts and the East Los Angeles College Theatre Arts, among others venues, as well as through the productions at BFA.

According to her website, Zapata was “an accomplished actress, translator, theater producer and community leader who was knighted by King Juan Carlos of Spain.”

In 2003, the multi-talented artist was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to live theater.

Zapata was once asked how she wanted to be remembered—as an artist, producer or founder. “I prefer people remember us as educators,” Vela recalled her saying.

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