Thursday, September 1, 2022

A Pictorial Tribtue to Yvonne De Carlo on Her 100th Birthday

It was 100 years ago today that Yvonne De Carlo was born Margaret Yvonne Middleton in in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Today she may be best known for laying Lilly Munster on the classic sitcom The Munsters, but the fact is that throughout her career she played several other roles, many quite different from Lily. Here is a pictorial tribute to Miss De Carlo, featuring her in some of her best known roles (including Lily).

Yvonne De Carlo in a promotional photo for Salome, Where She Danced (1945), the movie that made her a star).

Yvonne De Carlo as Gina in the film noir Brute Force (1947)

Yvonne De Carlo as femme fatale Anna Dundee with Anna's ex-husband Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) in the film noir Criss Cross (1949)

Throughout her career, Yvonne De Carlo played in a lot of Westerns. She played Calamity Jane in Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949)

Yvonne De Carlo as composer Richard Wagner's first wife, Minna Planer, in the movie Magic Fire (1955)

Aside from Lily Munster, Yvonne De Carlo's most famous role may well be Sephora in The Ten Commandments (1955).  Sephora is a sharp break from many of her earlier roles, and she certainly played it very well.

Yvonne De Carlo with Maureen O' Hara and John Wayne in a photo for the movie McLintock! (1963)

Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster. While I have always enjoyed The Munsters, I always had a problem with the makeup they used on Miss De Carlo. She was still a great beauty in the Sixties, and I though the makeup detracted from that. Indeed, she is playing a vampire, and I have always pictured vampires as looking no different from the living (just a little paler).

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Lasting Influence of Vanessa Marquez

Vanessa Marquez
It was four years ago today that Vanessa Marquez was shot in the back and killed by officers of the South Pasadena Police Department. Vanessa Marquez was a beautiful, well-known and beloved actress. She starred in such movies as Stand and Deliver (1988) and Twenty Bucks (1993). She was a regular on the TV shows Culture Clash and ER. She appeared on such TV shows as Wiseguy, Seinfeld, Nurses, and Melrose Place. Vanessa was also my dearest friend. We first encountered each other live tweeting to movies on Turner Classic Movies using the hashtag TCMParty and live tweeting episodes of the TV show Mad Men. We soon learned that we had a good deal in common and we became close friends. Eventually we were in touch nearly every day, through social media, texts, and phone calls. Vanessa made an enormous difference in my life and I miss her to this day. Four years later, I am still grieving over her.

Of course, I am hardly the only person upon whom Vanessa Marquez had an impact, and her influence on people went well beyond her circle of friends. As an actress Vanessa Marquez was something of a pioneer. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Latinas, particularly Chicanas, were rarely seen in movies and on television. When they did appear, the characters they played were often stereotypes. Vanessa Marquez did not play stereotypes. She did not play cholas or overly sexualized, fiery señoritas. When she died, her friend production designer Edward E. Haynes, who worked on the TV show Culture Clash, summed up the sort of characters she played, "In the world where there was such little representation for people of colour, she always represented the strong, educated, and centred Latina character."

Out of all the characters Vanessa played, perhaps no character better represented the intelligent and educated Latina than Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver. In the film Ana Delgado is a restaurateur's daughter who not only excels in mathematics, but wants to major in medicine, despite her father's desire for her to go to work in the family restaurant. Soft spoken and shy, Ana was nonetheless intelligent and strong willed. She was a sharp break from earlier portrayals of Latinas on screen. Vanessa excelled in playing Ana, making the fact that it was her very first acting job all the more surprising. Here it must be pointed out that while the other students in the film were composites of the various students Jaime Escalante had taught through the years, Ana Delgado was the one character based on an actual person. She was based on  Leticia Rodriguez, the daughter of the owner of the restaurant El Farolito. While in the movie Ana wanted to go into medicine, in real life Leticia Rodriguez became an electrical engineer for Honeywell Corp.

While Ana Delgado is among the best known characters Vanessa Marquez ever played, she was not the only intelligent, educated Latina that she played. Vanessa was also well known for having played Nurse Wendy Goldman on the hit TV show ER. While Wendy's name sounds Jewish, the character was obviously a Latina, and was often called upon to translate for Spanish speakers. Wendy may be best known for her various humorous subplots in episodes of ER, but she was also portrayed as both intelligent and competent. In the episode "Luck of the Draw," when Dr. Lewis tells Wendy to give her patient 350 milligrams of dopamine, Wendy corrects her and says, "I think you mean micrograms." Even before her stint as Wendy on ER, Vanessa regularly portrayed intelligent and educated characters on sketches on the show Culture Clash. Most notably, she played an exceptionally bright character in a parody of the game show Jeopardy. Vanessa's credits following ER are few, but among them is her role in the BET television movie Fire & Ice. In the TV movie, Vanessa Marquez plays Wanda Hernandez, a technician working for a security film run by Holly Ames (Lark Voorhies) and Pam Moore (Tempest Bledsoe).

The educated characters played by Vanessa would have an impact, particularly Ana Delgado. Over the years she would receive fan mail from individuals who had gone into mathematics or the sciences because they had been inspired by the character of Ana Delgado. Since Vanessa's death, I have also received messages from individuals who told me how Vanessa's characters had inspired them. Indeed, if Vanessa Marquez has a legion of fans, I think it is because she played strong, fully developed characters who were not stereotypes. I think that is why the petition, launched by her Stand and Deliver co-star Lydia Nicole, to include Vanessa in the Oscars' on-air In Memoriam reached 12, 000 signatures. People loved Vanessa and appreciated her for the characters she played.

Of course, Vanessa Marquez's impact went beyond her acting career. When she was younger, before she was diagnosed with refractory coeliac disease, she was busy as an activist. She worked with the United Farm Workers, and knew both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. She did publicity for the UFW, and on December 7 1989, she took part in a rally and then a march protesting the exposure of farmers to pesticides used on grapes. She also did work on behalf of Amnesty International. Vanessa was one of the famous Latinas who appeared in the award winning 1994 Latina Vote public service announcement, directed by Julie Carmen, encouraging Latinas to vote. Later in her life, she volunteered at her local animal shelter. Vanessa was also relentless in raising money for cancer treatment for Jamie Escalante, the teacher who had inspired the movie Stand and Deliver. She was even interviewed by various Los Angeles news outlets in this capacity.

Quite simply, Vanessa cared for people, and that was made even more obvious in the way she treated her friends and acquaintances. Alongside myself, Vanessa was one of the original members of TCMParty, the loose affiliation of Turner Classic Movies fans who live tweet movies on the channel using that hashtag. Vanessa was so loved by her fellow TCM fans that TCMParty co-founder Paula Guthat called her, "the Sweetheart of #TCMParty." Vanessa became very close friends with many members of TCMParty. I was not the only one by any means. She was known in TCMParty for her kindness and her compassion for her fellow fans. She could recall tweets that TCMParty members had made long after they had made them. TCMParty paid tribute to Vanessa when she died. When TCM showed Stand and Deliver on September 30 2020 and again on February 4 this year, a  great amount of love was expressed for Vanessa Marquez. Edward James Olmos may have received top billing, but as far TCMParty was concerned, it was Vanessa who was the star.

As an actress Vanessa Marquez was extremely talented. She could bring to life characters in a way few actors could. Very bright herself, Vanessa had no problem playing such characters as Ana Delgado and Nurse Wendy Goldman. Acutely aware of the lack of Latino representation in the media and aware of her responsibility to her fellow Mexican Americans, Vanessa refused to play stereotypes. It was because of this she would have a lasting influence as an actress.

As a human being, Vanessa was sweet, warm, and loving. She cared about her fellow human beings and she sought to make a difference, whether it was through her work with the United Farm Workers or volunteering at an animal shelter. Vanessa treated her friends and even acquaintances with kindness and dignity. She was so down to earth that one would never know she was a famous actress who starred in a classic film and the number one TV show of its time. Her death sent shock waves through the TCM fan community and many TCMParty members paid tribute to her. When Turner Classic Movies aired Stand and Deliver on September 30 2020 and on February 4 this year, there may well have been more of an outpouring of love for Vanessa than many better known stars. Vanessa was a beautiful and extremely talented actress, but more importantly she was a loving and caring woman who made a difference in her friends and acquaintances' lives. It is for that many will always remember her.