276526322f88745b91ceae14f8a39e9c Miriam Colon
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Miriam Colón Valle – A Cultural Pioneer

by Jorge Cano Moreno

Miriam Colon Image 2

Míriam Colón (born Míriam Colón Valle; August 20, 1936 – March 3, 2017)

1940’s

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.

1950’s

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.

Miriam Colón also graced the Broadway stage early in her career in the role of Frederica In The Summer House (1954) written by Jane Bowles this drama about Mothers & Daughters received respectful reviews but only had a two month run in 1953-1954. Colón also had tv roles on the shows Danger (1955) and Star Tonight (1955). A couple of years later Colon was also in The Innkeepers (1956) that same year she appeared in the film  Crowded Paradise (1956). She had additional roles in The Big Story (1957), Decoy (1958), Studio One (1956-1958), Lux Playhouse (1959), State Trooper (1959), Markham (1959) and Mike Hammer (1959).
In the Summer House 1954

In the Summer House 1954

1960’s

 Colón made guest appearances in television shows such as Peter Gunn and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She appeared mostly in westerns such as Gunsmoke (1968), Bonanza (1969), The High Chaparral (1968) and Have Gun, Will Travel (1963). Colón appeared in the 1961 film One-eyed Jacks (1961) as “the Redhead”. In 1962, she was featured as the co-star in a teleplay written by Frank Gabrielsen, and produced for the TV series The DuPont Show of the Week (1962). The title of the hour-long episode was “The Richest Man in Bogota”, and it aired on 17 June 1962. It starred Lee Marvin as Juan de Núñez, and Miriam Colón as “Marina” (not Medina-Saroté, as in the original H.G. Wells story, The Country of the Blind). Colon had a supporting role in the film Battle at Bloody Beach (1961) she played Nahni. Colón has roles in the films like The Outsider (1961), Thunder Island (1963), Harbor Lights (1963) and The Appalosa (1966).  Miriam also returned to Broadway in the production of The Wrong Way Lightbulb (1969) she became a much sought after talent that kept her extremely busy in the 1960’s. In 1966 Colón married George Paul Edgar a Securities Analyst & Theater backer and they stayed married until his death 10 years later.
Battle at Bloody Beach (1961)

                   Battle at Bloody Beach (1961)

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.

Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre

 

1970’s

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).

Miriam Colon & James Arness - Gunsmoke

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.

 

1980’s

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)

Mama Montana and Tony Montana

        Mama Montana and Tony Montana: Scarface (1983)

1990’s

In 1993, she received an “Obie Award” for “Lifetime Achievement in the Theater.” Her biography, titled Miriam Colón – Actor and Theater, was written by Mayra Fernandez. In 1993 she appeared in The House of the Spirits with all Star cast which included Meryl Streep, Glen Close & Antonio Banderas based on Isabel Allende’s novel. In 1996 she also appeared in John Sayles’s modern western Lone Star. In 1999 she also appeared in Gloria the film by Sidney Lumet’s remake of Cassavetes’s gun-moll drama. She was also cast as “María” in the 1999 film Gloria, which starred Sharon Stone. Her TV career keep its stride with appearances in Law and Order (1991), L.A. Law (1991), City of Hope (1991), NYPD Blue (1994), Lone Star (1996) , Cosby (1996) and Gloria (1999) as Maria.

Miriam Colon - Actor and Theater Founder

Miriam Colon – Actor and Theater Founder

A personal note-

In 1995 I had the pleasure of meeting Miriam Colón at the Marc Anthony listening event at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (PRTT) for his album Todo Su Tiempo. She was so encouraging to me and my business partner and encouraged us to keep working on “Urban Latino Magazine” idea. That night was magical not only did we witness the early stages of Marc Anthony career and get to meet salsa legend Tito Puente, the great actor Luis Guzman and the incredible music producer Sergio George. I kept in touch with her and was given the opportunity to promote numerous productions at the PRTT. In 2007 ULM was officially hired to promote The Latina Poets Festival  and learned more about the history of PRTT and her vision. In 2008 I was asked by Don Omar’s manager to reach out to Miriam Colon and ask her if she would be interested in coaching him.  At the time Don Omar was getting ready for his role as Rico Santos in Fast & Furious 4. She agreed to meet with him and shortly after agreed to be his acting coach and get him ready for this big acting opportunity. It was a surreal moment driving up to Don Omar’s home in New Jersey a few weeks later with Tony Montana’s mother in the car. I had to stop for a minute and take in the moment it was a bit surreal to see these two artist meet and work together. Miriam also gave me the opportunity to produce a couple of plays and shows at PRTT. Not only was the experience incredible I learned some “real” hard lessons about dealing with talent and what it takes to put up a successful show. A couple of years later I had the honor of being asked to be board member of the PRTT. As a board member I meet and worked with wonderful community leaders  like Luis Hernandez and Carmen Cruz. Miriam Colón was an  inspiration to me and taught me that creating art is a marathon not a sprint and you have to be in it for the long haul. Her spirit will live forever in her TV roles, Film roles and the theater she founded.

Jorge Cano-Moreno (ULM), Miriam Colon & Rodrigo Salarza (ULM)

Jorge Cano-Moreno (ULM), Miriam Colón & Rodrigo Salazar (ULM)

2000’s

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 Colon and Fred Valle (Husband)

Miriam Colón and Fed Valle

2010’s

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 Colon receives

Miriam Colon receives 2014 National Medal of Arts

 

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.

 

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