×

Actress Carmen Zapata Dies at 86

Actress and producer Carmen Zapata, one of the most respected Hispanic-Americans in the performing arts, died Sunday night in Van Nuys, Calif., from complications of heart failure. She was 86.

Zapata was perhaps best known to wider audiences for her roles in the film “Sister Act” and its sequel, both starring Whoopi Goldberg, and for her recurring role as Mrs. Castillo on the soap “Santa Barbara,” but she was also a champion of bilingualism, co-founding in 1973 the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, a theater company dedicated to bringing the Hispanic experience and culture to the Southern California community through bilingual stage productions. And on PBS, she played the town mayor in “Villa Alegre,” a bilingual series that ran for nine seasons beginning in 1973.

The actress started on the stage, making her 1946 Broadway debut in the chorus of “Oklahoma.” She also appeared on the Rialto in 1956 in drama “The Innkeepers,” starring Geraldine Page, but that drama’s run was short. Zapata did regional or summer stock work in “Bloomer Girl,” “Bells Are Ringing,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Carnival,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “No Strings” and “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.” She also did standup comedy for a few years, billing herself as Marge Cameron to avoid discrimination.

She was already in her 40s when she made her bigscreen debut in the very early Michael Douglas effort “Hail, Hero!” (1969) and her TV debut the next year in “The Bold Ones: The Protectors.”

The actress also appeared in series including “Room 222,” “Bonanza,” “McMillan & Wife,” “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Mod Squad,” “Adam-12,”  “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “Kojak,” “McCloud.” Frustration with ethnic typecasting led her to seek creative outlets outside the conventional paths, but she continued in TV: The 1980s saw her in roles on “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “Fantasy Island” and in her recurring role on “Santa Barbara.”

With the gravitas that comes with age and her own sense of dignity, Zapata began playing judges: On “Falcon Crest” and the series “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill” in the TV movie “Secrets” and in the “La Femme Nikita” feature remake “Point of No Return,” starring Bridget Fonda. She even voiced a jurist for “Batman: The Animated Series.”

She did more feature work in her later years, including “Death in Granada” in 1996, “The Egg Plant Lady” in 2000 and “The Sleepy Time Gal” in 2001.

But Zapata’s real focus during this time and later was a lecturer at universities and theater conferences across the U.S.

Carmen Margarita Zapata was born in New York City, the daughter of a Mexican father and Argentine mother.

The actress received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003 (pictured above).

More Film

  • Ordinary Justice

    Berlin: 'Ordinary Justice' Director Chiara Bellosi on Fascination With Courthouses

    Young Italian director Chiara Bellosi is at the Berlinale with “Ordinary Justice” which examines the lives of two families on opposite sides of a murder case who intersect on the benches outside the room where the case is being tried. This first work, screening in Generation14Plus, is produced by Carlo Cresto-Dina who discovered Alice Rohrwacher (“The Wonders,” “Happy [...]

  • The Invisible Man

    Elisabeth Moss in 'The Invisible Man': Film Review

    These days, the horror-fantasy thriller tends to be a junk metaphysical spook show that throws a whole lot of scary clutter at the audience — ghosts, “demons,” mad killers — without necessarily adding up to an experience that’s about anything. But in “The Invisible Man,” Leigh Whannell’s ingenious and entertaining update of a concept that’s [...]

  • Nora Arnezeder

    Berlin: Wide's Thriller 'Blast' Sold to Japan, Latin America at the EFM (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Blast,” a high-concept thriller produced and represented in international markets by Paris-based company Wide, has sold to several territories at the EFM in Berlin. Vanya Peirani-Vignes’ feature debut, “Blast” takes place Parisian parking lot where Sonia finds herself trapped in her car with her son while her boyfriend’s daughter has been left outside to deal [...]

  • digger

    Greek Director Grigorakis Saddles up 'Western' 'Digger' at Berlin

    For a feature debut that he describes as a contemporary Western, Greek director Georgis Grigorakis settled on a familiar archetype — “a lonely guy with his horse, with his shotgun” — who, in keeping with the genre’s conventions, is drawn into a confrontation and is prepared to fight to the bitter end in the defense [...]

  • North Macedonian directors Ljubo Stefanov (R)

    Berlin: 'Honeyland' Directors Prepping New Projects (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, the Macedonian directors of the dual Oscar-nominated documentary “Honeyland,” are prepping several new projects, Variety has learned exclusively. The directing duo are looking to build on the success of their debut, a moving portrait of a lone beekeeper struggling to preserve a traditional way of life, which was nominated for [...]

  • David-Casademunt-and-Joaquin

    Rodar y Rodar Boards “The Beast” (EXCLUSIVE)

    Barcelona-based Rodar y Rodar, producer of Spanish horror titles such as J.A. Bayona’s “The Orphanage” and Oriol Paulo’s “The Body, has thrown its weight behind David Casademunt’s “The Beast,” boarding it as its main producer. “The Beast,” which participated in Filmarket Hub’s 2017 Sitges Pitchbox event as well as Ventana Sur’s 2017 Blood Window, it [...]

  • Bad Tales

    Italy's Pepito Prods. Shines With 'Bad Tales' (EXCLUSIVE) Trailer

    Italy’s Pepito Prods., at Berlin with competition drama “Bad Tales” by Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, is emerging as a new home for the country’s auteurs.  The company, headed by former RAI head of drama Agostino Saccà in January, scored more than $6 million in Italian cinemas with veteran Gianni Amelio’s “Hammamet,” a biopic of disgraced [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content