March 9, 2017
Miriam Colón Valle – A Cultural Pioneer
Míriam Colón (born Míriam Colón Valle; August 20, 1936 – March 3, 2017)
Miriam Colón Valle was born on August 20, 1936, in Ponce, Puerto Rico and grew up in San Juan. She began performing in school productions, audited drama classes at the University of Puerto Rico while she was still in high school. She was a young girl in the 1940s when her recently divorced mother moved the family to a public housing project called Residencial Las Casas in San Juan. She attended the Román Baldorioty de Castro High School in Old San Juan, where she actively participated in the school’s plays. Her first drama teacher, Marcos Colón (no relation) believed that she was very talented; with his help, she was permitted to observe the students in the drama department of the University of Puerto Rico. She was a good student in high school and was awarded scholarships that enabled her to enroll in the Dramatic Workshop and Technical Institute and also in The Lee Strasburg Acting Studio in New York City.
In 1953, Colón debuted as an actress in Los Peloteros (The Baseball Players), starring Ramón (Diplo) Rivero, a film produced in Puerto Rico, and in which she played a character called “Lolita.” That same year, Colón moved to New York City, where she was accepted by Actors Studio co-founder Elia Kazan after a single audition, thus becoming the Studio’s first Puerto Rican member.
Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (PRTT)
In the late 1960s, Colón founded The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (PRTT) company. The company until this day presents Off-Broadway productions onsite and goes on tour. She was the director of the company and she has appeared in PRTT productions: The Ox Cart (1966–1967) The Boiler Room (1993) Simpson Street Señora Carrar’s Rifles. In 1981 she found an empty firehouse on West 47th Street and it has been the company’s home since. In 2014 The PRTT merged with Pregones and currently known as Pregones Theater Puerto Rican Traveling Theater. The PRTT would become a place where many actors, playwrights and producers would get a chance and an outlet to get their productions seen.
In 1970’s Colón would appear in the long running soap opera All My Children (1970), Gunsmoke (TV Episode 2, season 18) The River (1972) as Paulette. She also appeared in the comedy classic Sanford & Son (1974) as Carlotta. In 1971 she appeared in the film They Call it Murder and the film The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972) as Veronica. In 1979 Colon played Dr. Marie Santos on the TV soap opera The Edge of Night. She also appeared in TV shows like Dr. Max (1974) and The Hemingway Play (1976).
Colon and James Arness in Gunsmoke, 1970
In 1979, she starred alongside fellow Puerto Rican actors José Ferrer, Raúl Juliá, and Henry Darrow in Life of Sin, a film in which she portrayed Isabel la Negra, a real-life Puerto Rican brothel owner. The movie is about Pablo, a Caribbean peasant and Isabel, a politician’s mistress, open a brothel that becomes internationally famous. Though they gain wealth and power, the one thing that Isabel seeks continues to elude her.
In 1983 she played the mother of Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino) in Scarface. Although she only appeared for a few scenes she would be the cinematic definition of a hardworking Latina mother who would not tolerate or make excuses for her son’s criminal ways. Although she at appeared in dozen of TV roles and numerous films the role of Mama Montana would forever seal her in “pop-Culture” as Scarface went on to become a huge cult film and to this day is discovered by new generations of movie fans. She will be forever know for her role in Scarface but she also continued her TV career with appearance in Best Kept Secrets (1984), Lady Blue (1985) the tv hit Highway to Heaven (1987) and Deadline: Madrid (1988)
In 2000, she received the HOLA Raul Julia Founders Award presented by the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA). Colon keep adding to her film credits with All the Pretty Horses (2000) she played Dona Alfonsa, Almost a Woman (2001). She also played Cirita Sandoval in HBO’s For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story which starred Andy Garcia & Gloria Estefan. Colon also co-starred in Almost a Woman (2002) A young woman named Esmeralda and her family move to New York from a rural area of Puerto Rico. The transition is difficult due to the many challenges she and her family face. In 2005 Colón played the role of Mercedes in Goal ! a film about the extremely talented Santiago Munez is given a chance at professional football, after being spotted by a scout who has ties with Newcastle United which also starred Kuno Becker and Tony Plana.
Miriam Colón kept working steadily in here 70’s she played Cam’s grandmother in the HBO TV series How To Make it in America (2010-2011). She also had a role in Jada Pinkett Smith TV show Hawthorne (2011) as Mama Renata. Colon appeared in the independent film Gun Hill Road (2011) which started Esai Morales. In 2013, Colón was cast in the role of Ultima, a New Mexico Hispanic healer, in the movie “Bless Me, Ultima” based on the novel by Rudolfo Anaya. She lived the final years of her life in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband Fred Valle. One of Colon last roles was on the AMC spin-off of the hit TV show AMC’s Breaking Bad called Better Call Saul she played the Abuelita of Tuco Salamanca played by Raymond Cruz. She was Chelsea’s Grandmother in the Chris Rock comedy Top Five (2014).
On Sept. 10, 2015, President Barack Obama awards the 2014 National Medal of Arts to actress, theater founder, and director Miriam Colón of New York, during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington.
Miriam Colón died on March 3, 2017, at the age of 80, of complications from a pulmonary infection. She is survived by her husband Fred Valle also an actor, whom she married in 1987; a stepson Fabian Valle, a stepdaughter, Wendy Valle and four grandchildren.