Lupe Ontiveros was an American actress, best known for portraying the character of ‘Yolanda Saldívar’ in the 1997 American biographical musical drama film ‘Selena’. She was also famous among the television audience for playing the role of ‘Juanita “Mama” Solis’ in the American television comedy-drama and mystery series ‘Desperate Housewives’. As a winner of the ‘National Board of Review’ award, Lupe had worked in many television productions and had also appeared in several films during her illustrious career. She was a part of the critically acclaimed film ‘Chuck & Buck’ and won many awards and nominations for her work on the film. Lupe also had an Emmy Award nomination to her name as well as an ‘Independent Spirit Award’ nomination. Although she had not played many lead roles in her career, she was known for playing several important characters even in minor roles. One interesting fact about her was that she mostly played the characters of maids and grandmothers. A well-known personality in both the film industry and in the television world, Lupe had also acted in theaters. As a successful professional in the show business, she was considered an influential person among the Latinos. Putting her popularity to the best use, she worked very hard to promote the well-being of the underprivileged Latino community in the US.
Childhood & Early Life
Guadalupe “Lupe” Moreno was born in El Paso, Texas, on September 17, 1942, to middle-class Mexican parents Luz "Lucita" Castañón and Juan Moreno. Her parents overcame financial and educational barriers to become successful owners of a tortilla factory and two restaurants in El Paso. Their struggle taught Lupe the importance of higher education.
She went to El Paso High School for her graduation and later enrolled at the Texas Woman's University in Denton from where she received her bachelor's degree in social work.
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After completing her bachelor’s degree in social work, Lupe Ontiveros started working as a social reformer; however, after not being satisfied with her career in social work, she decided to follow a career in acting. Married by now, she received full support from her husband.
She began her acting career as a film extra and soon successfully evolved into a supporting actress. Around the same time, she also started working at Nosotros, a community theater in Los Angeles.
In 1983, she appeared in the film ‘El Norte’ as a maid who supports an immigrant girl from Guatemala as a mentor. She later admitted the film was something very special for her, something that “will always remain with her”. She also appeared as a housekeeper/maid in films like ‘The Big Fix’ in 1978, ‘California Suite’ in 1978, ‘The Goonies’ in 1985, and also in ‘Dolly Dearest’ in 1991.
She once conceded that she had played the character of a maid too many times in her life, a role she was typecast in as a result of her being a Latino. However, she happily acknowledged that she was proud to represent the section of the mass in the country who had given their all to build the nation.
In 1993, Lupe did a cameo appearance in the movie ‘Blood in Blood Out’, playing the character of ‘Carmen’, a drug dealer who gets busted in an undercover operation from the cops.
In 1997, she appeared in the film ‘Selena’ as ‘Yolanda Saldívar’ and was critically praised for her portrayal of the character. The same year she appeared alongside Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in the Academy Award-winning film ‘As Good as It Gets’.
Over the years Lupe Ontiveros went on to appear in many other films including ‘Picking Up the Pieces’, ‘Gabriela’, ‘Dark Mirror’, and ‘Universal Signs’. In the later years of her career she often played the role of a wise old grandmother.
Lupe Ontiveros had appeared in many television shows in her career and most of them were in special or guest roles. Her most important television work was the portrayal of Louisa in ‘Veronica's Closet’ which won her an ALMA Award in 1998. Her performances in ‘Pasadena’ as ‘Pilar’, and ‘Greetings from Tucson,’ where she played the role of a grandmother, were also appreciated.
She did a recurring role in the American prime time soap opera series ‘Desperate Housewives’ for which she received an Emmy nomination for ‘Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series’.
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Lupe Ontiveros was offered a role in the film ‘Chuck & Buck’ (2000) that was not defined by Hispanic ethnicity and she immediately accepted it even without seeing the scripts. She portrayed the character of ‘Beverly Franco’ and was nominated for ‘Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture’ at the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards for her outstanding work.
Awards & Achievements
Lupe Ontiveros won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the film ‘Chuck & Buck.’
She received an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in the American prime time soap opera series ‘Desperate Housewives’.
She received a Lifetime Achievement Impact Award in 2002 from the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lupe Ontiveros married Elías Ontiveros in 1966 and moved to California to start a business in the automobile industry. Her husband encouraged her to pursue the path of acting when she grew unhappy with her career in social work.
The couple had three children together, Nicholas Ontiveros, Alejandro Ontiveros, and Elias Ontiveros. Two of them are hearing-impaired.
Lupe Ontiveros suffered from liver cancer and died at the age of 69 on July 26, 2012, at Presbyterian Hospital in Whittier, California. She was buried at the Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier and was survived by her husband, three sons, and two grandchildren.
In an interview this actress admitted to having played the role of a maid for over 150 times on television, films, and stage!
She had worked as a social worker for over 18 years prior to becoming an actress.
She was a founding board member of the Latino Theater Company in downtown Los Angeles.