Saturday, December 21, 2019

The 51st Birthday of My Beloved Vanessa Marquez

“He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began.” Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karenina, Chapter XIV, Part V

"If the people we love are stolen from us, the way they live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever." Sarah, The Crow (1994)

Vanessa Marquez on her 48th birthday.
It was fifty-one years ago today that actress Vanessa Marquez, best known as Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER, was born. Vanessa was not only a talented and beautiful actress, but she was also a kind, compassionate, loving, and intelligent woman. Vanessa and I were very close. I considered her my best friend and, in fact, even after nearly a year and four months after her death, I am still very much in love with her. I have never loved anyone as much as I love Vanessa and I know I never will again. It should come as no surprise, then, that I sometimes teased Vanessa about being my Christmas present for when I was five years old, even though I wouldn't know about it until years later. Regardless, she was always proud of being a solstice baby and she loved the holiday season.

Given December 21 1968 is the date of birth of my dearest Vanessa Marquez, I have researched the day to get an idea of what else happened on that date.  As near as I can tell from searching old newspapers, the weather in Los Angeles County on December 21 1968 was fair with northerly wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour. The high temperature was around 56 degrees and the low was around 38 degrees. The big news item that day was the launch of the Apollo 8 mission. It took place at 7:51 AM Eastern time. Apollo 8 was historic as the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon. Given how much Vanessa loved science fiction, it is only fitting that she was born the same day that a NASA mission launched. Vanessa was not only the biggest Star Wars fan I knew, but she was also a fan of Star Trek, Space 1999, The Twilight Zone, and The X-Files, among others.

For the most part the television schedule for December 21 1968 was nothing remarkable, with the networks sticking to their usual schedules. NBC aired Adam-12, Get Smart, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. CBS aired The Jackie Gleason Show, My Three Sons, Hogan's Heroes, Petticoat Junction, and Mannix. ABC aired The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Lawrence Welk Show, and The Hollywood Palace. The only programming of note was NBC Saturday Night at the Movies and The Hollywood Palace. NBC Saturday Night at the Movies aired the movie White Christmas (1954). It would be the third or fourth annual airing of White Christmas on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, as well as the last. The following season it moved to NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies. Given how much Vanessa loved Christmas and classic movies, it was a fitting film to air on the day of her birth. The Hollywood Palace aired its annual Christmas edition, featuring Bing Crosby and his family, as well as guests John Byner, Glenn Campbell, The Lennon Sisters, and Nicolai Olkovikov (a Russian juggler). Strangely enough, given White Christmas aired opposite The Hollywood Palace, Bing Crosby was in competition with himself on television that night.

The number one show for the week of December 15 1968-December 21 1968 was Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., although the only reason it was at no. 1 was perhaps because Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (the no. 1 show of the 1968-1969 season) didn't air that week. The number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye. In Canada "Wichita Lineman" by Glenn Campbell was at no. 1 and in the United Kingdom "Lilly the Pink" by The Scaffold was at no. 1. I was unable to find out what the no. 1 movie was for that weekend.

The card I made for Vanessa's 48th birthday.
As important a day as December 21 1968 would turn out to be for me, I have no memory what I might have done that day. I was barely five years old, after all. I assume that coverage of Apollo 8 might have at least pre-empted some of the cartoons I usually watched every Saturday at that age. Born in the Space Age and fascinated by NASA even then, I probably watched it if they did. If not, I probably watched my usual cartoons. I remember being a loyal viewer of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and Underdog was my favourite cartoon.  I don't know what my family would have watched that night, but I know for certain that it was not on ABC (the Columbia/Jefferson City metropolitan area wouldn't get an ABC affiliate until 1971). That having been said, I don't know if we watched White Christmas on NBC or CBS's usual Saturday night line-up. Regardless, at that time I had no way of knowing the importance of December 21 1968 in my life. I rather doubt that I would have believed anyone if they had told me that when I grew up I would become close friends with a beautiful actress and that I would fall in love with her.

Of course, December 21 1968 wasn't just an important day for me or for Vanessa's family. It was also an important day for a good many people. Vanessa had a large number of friends who dearly love her and a number of fans who admire her to this day.  And there should be little wonder why she should be so adored. Vanessa Marquez was an extremely talented actress. Strangely enough, Vanessa once told me that she was always passed up when it came to school plays. Despite this, while still a teenager she was cast in the movie Stand and Deliver. According to the film's producer and screenwriter Tom Musca, Vanessa was a natural when it came to acting. Over the next several years Vanessa would get many opportunities to display her talent as an actress, on such shows as Wiseguy, Nurses, and, most notably, ER and in such movies as Twenty Bucks (1993).

A headshot from 2010
It was because Vanessa was just so talented, not to mention very beautiful, that she has a large number of fans around the world. Following her death I saw an outpouring of love for Vanessa from fans who never even knew her. A petition to have her included in the Academy Awards' on-air In Memoriam reached over 12,000 signatures. When the Academy failed to include her in the on-air In Memoriam, national media outlets took note of the fact. I always got the feeling that Vanessa thought she would be remembered for nothing more than Stand and Deliver. She didn't even think she would be remembered for ER. I always told her that she was wrong, that people loved her and would remember her. I am glad to say that in this instance it turns out I was right.

While Vanessa was certainly a talented actress and she was certainly beautiful, there were many more reasons why her friends love her. Vanessa was an intelligent, kind, caring, and loving woman with a good sense of humour. Vanessa cared deeply for her friends and was always quick to help them and quick to defend them if they were attacked. When Jaime Escalante (the teacher upon whom the movie Stand and Deliver was based) developed cancer, she was relentless in raising funds for his treatment. Vanessa not only cared for human beings, but for animals as well. For a time she volunteered at a local animal shelter. I am sure all of her friends have stories about just how compassionate Vanessa was. I know I have more than one. For example, when I had a particularly virulent case of the norovirus a few summers ago, Vanessa worried about me as much as my own family.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Vanessa had a wonderful sense of humour. It is little wonder why she was so good when it came to performing comedy. Not only did Vanessa maintain her sunny disposition even when she was at her sickest, but she had an uncanny ability to cheer people up even when she felt poorly herself. I could have an absolutely horrible day and talking to Vanessa could make everything better. Vanessa could brighten even the darkest of nights. Many of Vanessa's other friends have told me the same thing. Not only did Vanessa have a need to cheer her friends up when they were unhappy, but more often than not she succeeded.

A headshot from 1996 or 1997
What made Vanessa all the more remarkable is that despite being a well-known, talented actress and an extremely beautiful woman as well, she was entirely down-to-earth and unassuming. Having starred in a classic movie (Stand and Deliver) and the no. 1 show of its time (ER) I don't think anyone would have blamed Vanessa if she had a little bit of an ego, but she never did. In fact, despite the fact that nearly everyone considered her stunning, Vanessa would only admit to being cute at best. Vanessa never considered herself better than anyone else, despite her considerable achievements as an actress. So loved was Vanessa by her friends in #TCMParty, the group of TCM fans who live tweet movies on TCM using that hashtag, that our mutual friend Paula Guthat called her, "the Sweetheart of #TCMParty."

Given how bright, sweet, warm-hearted, and compassionate Vanessa was, there should be little wonder that her friends loved her deeply. As for myself, I don't think there is any way I could have not loved Vanessa. Not only was she an entirely beautiful, intelligent, and sweet woman, but we had so much in common as well. We both loved Star Wars, Mad Men, The X-Files, Star Trek, the 1966 TV series Batman, The Monkees, The Andy Griffith Show, and classic movies. Our views on politics and life ran parallel to each other. We could even complete each others' sentences. I sometimes told Vanessa that she was perfect (something she strenuously denied) and I do believe that for me she was.

Even now I cannot say how Vanessa felt about me beyond that she considered me a close friend. She did tell me that she loved me, but I cannot say with any certainty whether she meant it as a friend or something more. As to myself, Vanessa is ultimately the one person I have loved more than anyone else in my life. I have called her my soulmate, the love of my life, and the girl of my dreams, and none of that is hyperbole. Indeed, to this day I find it difficult to use the past tense, "loved," when discussing Vanessa. My love for her did not end when she died. I still love her more than anyone or anything. Because of this, the past year and four months have been the hardest of my life. Even now it is not unusual for me to break down crying at odd moments.When Vanessa died I felt as if part of my soul had been torn away and I still feel as if part of me is missing.

Of course, as sad as I am that Vanessa is no longer with us, I know I can speak not only for myself but for her other friends as well in saying that the anniversary of her birth is reason to celebrate. Vanessa Marquez was an altogether remarkable woman who made all of her friends richer for having known her. I don't know about her other friends, but if I had to do it all over again, even if I knew I could not change the end, I would. Vanessa was an intelligent, beautiful, talented, compassionate, and warm-hearted woman who cared deeply for her friends and helped so many. While she deserved much better than to die the way she did, the fact that she was born at all is reason to rejoice.

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