Richard Yniguez, The Original Boulevard Knight

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on July 17, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (Irreverent Homemaker @ Herald de Paris) – If you have watched TV or have gone to the movies over the last thirty years you know his face, even his voice, but may not know his name. He is Richard Yniquez, a seminal, in-demand character actor who has appeared in more than one hundred prime time television programs and feature films. In the Latino community he is legendary for his leading role in the theatrical film Boulevard Nights. Produced by Tony Bill, Nights was the first major release film to topically explore the lowrider culture in the early 70’s.

Richard explains, “I was born in Fresno County, California but was raised in Mexico by my father after my mother passed away while I was a child. I returned to the states when I was seventeen. My dad signed for me and I joined the Navy. Off I went into the Viet Nam controversy, heading overseas on the USS Yorktown for three and a half years. Saw most of Asia and lived through the tense years of war and social strife on board a ship. But we were not totally insulated; the problems at home affected us as well.

“Once back, and settled in LA, I did some odd jobs while attending East LA College in business administration. At this time I was living in a mortuary (Pierce Brothers, Simone on North Broadway) and was singing in the park while playing my guitar. During this time I learned of a new TV show that was going to cast from the real Latino community and they’d asked people to get involved in a crash course in acting. From that group of about four hundred they were going to pick a cast and create the first Latino family for a major prime time series on PBS. This was a soap-styled dramedy about the Avila famliy in East LA. The acting teachers were Victor Millian, Francisco Ortega, and Natividad Vacio. These men were primetime and film character actors. These were the men I had seen on TV while growing up and here they were actually teaching me the trade.

“They never choose the family from the neophytes. They hired pros. All of us who took the course were left out in the cold and didn’t understand why we were not used as promised. We banded together and formed The Mexican American Theatre Workshop. We performed throughout Los Angeles and held classes to keep our work alive. I was one of the teachers at that point, along with Mario Aniov. Can you imagine? I had only three weeks of acting under my belt, but felt it was worth keeping alive. Mario had already studied and performed the classics; he knew what he was doing.

“It wasn’t until weeks later that I was approached to play the youngest member of the Avila family. In 1968 I joined the cast and became a professional actor.”

For many Latinos the doors for acting opportunities started to open in the early 70’s, commensurate, and no doubt inspired, by social activism and a growing awareness of the emergence of Latino culture in the USA. So was it harder back then to get started in the business?

“Yes, it was a lot harder back then. Chicanos/Mexican Americans were not looked at in a positive way. Up to this time Latinos were played by non Latinos – mostly by Jews, Arabs, Italians, and even African Americans. It wasn’t until Ricardo Montalban, who formed Nosotros, and Ray Andrade, who formed Justica, that we started a serious trend in the industry and cast real Latinos in real Latino roles. Ricardo put his career on the line. I knew him very well and have had the chance to work with him up close and personal as an activist and as an actor. He didn’t shy away from controversy and was misquoted constantly. He never asked for actual Mexicans to play Mexicans. He only asked that we be given the opportunity to read for those important roles. They say that your ability to perform is determined by your last job. But we, Latino actors, don’t have those opportunities coming down the pike. People may read this and think it’s just sour grapes or that we have plenty of opportunities out there, just no actors to fill the parts. This is NOT true. And this is why we are creating our own films and internet websodes.”

What about working Latinos now? How is it for them?

“Hollywood gets into the rut of using the same faces over and over again despite the inroads that some actors and actresses have made with their careers. You see them once and you never see them again. We live in a youth oriented society, always looking for the young and beautiful in the eyes of the mainstream. And Latinos ain’t the mainstream. But we have an audience thirsty for stories they can relate to, hence we need to raise productions from our own community using that community’s voice. Our voice.”

Speaking of community, what did your family think about your decision to become an actor?

“My family didn’t think much about me becoming an actor. In fact I was laughed at. True story. They thought I was nuts. I don’t blame them. I thought I was nuts too. But there was something in me that persisted and I went on to work with some very wonderful people. Anthony Quinn, Robert Mitchum, Lucille Ball, Angela Lansbury, Glen Ford, Joan Plowright, and Ricardo Montalban, just to name a few. It was also nice to walk into an audition and be told that I had come highly recommended. I would ask by whom and the reply was always the same…Ricardo Montalban.

“There had been times when the role for a specific show was already cast. A young activist working with Ricardo would fight to get people to be seen by the production and try to get an Hispanic actor cast since the lead role was that of a Latino. All he asked for was a chance for Latino actors to read for the part. That young activist, an actor himself, was Jerry Velasco and I’ve always remembered his fight for all of us. Getting back to the family, once I started to work it was a different story. They didn’t laugh anymore. They wanted to visit the set and meet the other actors!”

What was your very first role? When did you know that you could do this?

“Cancion De La Raza, a dramedy soap for PBS. After a crash course in acting, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was actually theatre; you read the material, blocked it like a play, memorized it (I should say absorbed it) and then brought it to life for the cameras. For me acting is reacting. You listen and then react accordingly. In life and in acting there is no difference. The only thing different is that a writer took the time to create the scenario in which the character lives. The actor, with the guidance of the director, brings it to life. I love it!”

What is your favorite acting platform? Stage, screen, or TV? Why? Which is your least favorite?

“I like them all but prefer film acting. And there is a difference, believe me. I love to watch an actor think on film and wrestle with a problem. Steve McQueen was an expert at that…you watched his every move and you knew what he was thinking. There is a subtlety in working with film that you don’t have when working on the stage. Again it’s listening and reacting in character to dialogue that you’ve heard repeatedly. Yet each take it’s the first time. Taking your time is another interesting film thing for me. It’s that time when nothing is being said but there is oh-so-much happening. That’s the wonder of film and the trust one must have for the director.”

How did Boulevard Nights come along? Whose idea was it? Why did you want to do the role? Did taking the role stereotype you as a Latino actor? (I met and interviewed Tony Bill on radio when the film came out)

“Boulevard Nights is a very interesting moment in my life. I had nothing to do with the idea or the making of the film. I was merely an actor for hire. I didn’t even feel that I was right for the role. I thought I was too old and not really Chicano enough for what they were looking for. I didn’t want to do the film on that basis; I just felt I wasn’t right. But I was called back and the producer made me understand that the audience would believe what we told them and for me not to worry. I made my sentiments clear. They should market the film as a story of two brothers or as a love story between a young man and his girl. They went with the gang element which I think killed the point of the story. Tony Bill and I did not see the same opportunity. He did not include me in any promotion of the film and I would not have participated anyway. But, interestingly enough, the film has risen above all the negative sentiments in its time to bounce back as a classic. It is now seen with the proper eyes and appreciated for its message. I don’t think I was stereotyped. It’s what I am really, a Chicano actor who, given the opportunity, can play anything he is right for. In this business that’s key. They don’t use make-up to change an actor’s appearance unless it’s for age or special effects. I am ethnic looking in that I can play a person of Middle Eastern descent, Italian, Greek, you name it… The question is can they (Hollywood) get past the fact that my name is of Spanish origin? You don’t have to go back too far to see who the non Latinos were that play us on screen.”

What are you working on now? What kinds of projects would you like to do? Who would you like to work with? What are your plans for the future?

“I am very excited because I’ve been contacted by a gentleman who has been working on his own newsletter for the community and has created his own internet with programmable channels. He didn’t wait for Hollywood or investors. He put his money where he felt he could make a difference. And now he’s reached out to me. The opportunity to create content that makes a difference is just sparking my inner artist to express itself. Adrian Perez & The Latino Journal has me developing a partnership that can put together a machine not unlike the studio system of old Hollywood, where producers can interface with writers, directors, actors, etc… Some of the projects I hope to bring to the forefront will deal with aspects of our community that can make a difference in how we see ourselves:

American Anthology will focus on those in our ethnic communities who have contributed to the greatness of this country.

Divina Crane: A Latina psychologist who practices as a social worker under adverse conditions in the most dangerous areas of the inner city.

The Wanderer: An undercover Latino cop forced into retirement when hit by lightning. He survives and attains miraculous powers. He’s on the run from a high priced detective hired by a billionaire and also has a price on his head from organized crime. It’s the wanderer who can heal and bring people back from the brink of death. (Run For Your Life meets Highway To Heaven)

Soldaderas: A look into the lives of the women of the Mexican revolution. War hasn’t changed and women have always been in the forefront.

Circus World: A circus clown is saddled with his three nephews after an auto accident takes the life of their parents.

Ku Kul Kan (mythical Mayan hero) is a super hero living in the inner city. He uses the powers of stealth, levitation and the super human strength of the ancient aboriginal Mayan people.”

In the promotion for the film Boulevard Nights it says:

“Everything happens on the boulevard – and the boulevard happens at night.”

The question for Latino artists remains. Who’s boulevard is it?


Comments
Joe Camareno July 18, 2009

Loved this article. I happen to know Richard and he is every bit a gentleman and classy as a living Hollywood legend should be. Having grown up with actors of his merit in my sights, he set an example of greatness to aspire to.

I recently had the pleasure of working with Richard, I directed him as a Guest Star on a webseries I am producing called “Ylse,” he played the father to the show’s protagonist, a complicated role because of the relationship between the two characters. He brought a sincere level of depth that was so inspiring to witness as the cameras rolled. Such a natural quality with incredible subtlety, a rarity in much of the film and TV we are exposed to with characters of Latino backgrounds. This of course referring to many of the stereotypes to which we are still exposed. Yes, we have come a long way from the days of when Richard started his career, but I am certainly excited about the possibilities of the business as we inch further along. We are definitely becoming more the “norm” as we see more “familiar” faces, faces that resemble us on the big and small screen.

I am grateful to my predecessors and proud of the rich heritage that is our gente. It’s time for our stories to come to light and I am honored to have had the distinction of having worked with such a star of his caliber and esteem.

Thanks to Mr. Hernandez and this publication for their enthusiasm in bringing a story such as this to the forefront. Your readers are appreciative, I know I am.

Hector Herrera July 19, 2009

Great article. Richard you’ve had an interesting journey. Yes! …we need more stories about who we are, where we came from and our influence in today’s United States One of my first acting teachers in Mexico, Sergio Bustamante, would also remind us about the fact that we are only as good as our last performance. He also mentioned Seki Sano, a Japanese acting teacher who taught in Mexico City; Mr. Montalban was one of his disciples along with Sergio Bustamante. I’d like to know more about your webisodes.

Pedro Olivares July 19, 2009

Thank you Ricardo,

I have read your story and your struggles in the film industry. I am mainly a screenwriter and have 16 screenplays with a Latino Lead actor/actress. My scripts show the agony of many stories we sometimes ignor. Some of my stories are science fiction and action. Others are love stories with Latinos in the Military. I even go back to the American Civil War and the Navy…Ironclads, sloops and frigates.

I was a history teachers for 30 years. Now a retired K-12 teacher and former National University professor.

My new career is to be an actor/Voice Over and continues to writes our stories as they should be on the big screen. I do need a producer and an agent that can beleive in my work. I know you had your times in the seventies because I used to see you in Police Stories.

I have joined Nosotros and NALIP to advance my career and have a commercial agent but need theatrical agent.

It is good to you have some contact with Mr. Vallejo an actor and is a memmber of Nosotros… Jerry Velasco.

Pedro Olivares

talent.lacasting.com/polivares123

ALLAN PACHECO July 20, 2009

You are very perceptive Richard. In how the studio game is played and what makes a fine actor. McQueen’s greatness was in how he let the viewer see what he was thinking. I might add, your portrayal of Ramiro Martinez in “THE DEADLY TOWER” is a unsung performance. Your body lingo and eye movement were so believable! You are a first rate actor and a classy guy, wishing you the best in your upcoming internet project! ALLAN PACHECO

Marie Monsalve July 20, 2009

Bravo! I have been a fan of Richard Yniguez for quite a long time. I can actually say that I have had the pleasure of knowing him personally for over 20 years and he has always brought his touch of brilliance to any artistic work he puts his skill and gifting to. Richard, along with some of the other noted artists he mentioned has made a way for all Hispanic artists in every area. He continues to make important strides to not only better his own career with works of excellence but brings forth opportunity for others to succeed as well. He is truly the much loved Artista of our time. I had the pleasure of working with Richard on various projects through Nosotros, and through music and I value my time with such a wonderful and gifted man.

Karl Carrasco July 21, 2009

Great article Richard! You are one of the best in your field – I’ve had the pleasure and honor of knowing you for sometime – I’ve been a professional composer and musician since 1965′ – and I’ve been lucky to been involved with some of Hollywood’s elite during the past forty years or so – and like you,
I realize that we (Chicanos’ in the Arts) need more time on the screen/TV/Stage
and on the concert circuit to let the people know that we are a creative force to be reckoned with – I hope to work on one of your plays/films in the future and contribute my musical talents to help you tell your story – Stay in touch my brother from another mother – and may the Lord shine His face upon you and your works! Te mando un abrazo!

Mary Mora Cordova July 22, 2009

Thank you so much for this enlightening article. I am so excited for Richard as I feel the acting community has come to realize that there is not only a place for us, but a need. I met Richard back in 1994 when the then esteemed Director/Actor Mauricio Jara was attempting to introduce him to the community of Hemet to be his replacement for the Official State of California Outdoor Play, RAMONA. Mauricio was retiring. I played the first Hispanic Senora in more than decades, for two years. (This is about Richard so I won’t elaborate.)
Richard has always been a kind, humble influence and has been so encouraging to me. He has taken his valuable time to attend my grass roots benefits/screenings in my area too.
I am an actress who is grateful for those of you, like Richard who have used their voices and talents. I look forward to seeing much more on Richard on the big screen too. Richard Yniguez is a great writer/actor…individual, and I commend him. Thank You!

Cynthia Calderete July 23, 2009

I thought the article was very interesting and informative. I have known Richard for many years and have worked with him behind the scenes. I would like to thank Richard for the opportunity to experience some of the exciting and fun projects he has asked me to work on with him. I hope to continue this journey with him in many of his coming endeavours and he knows he can always count on me to be there in a pinch.

Cathy July 23, 2009

I love it when great Latino actors like Richard are profiled. It’s great for us fans, and it introduces his work to new fans. Awesome!

Ruth Livier August 1, 2009

Al,
Thank you so much for sharing Richard’s story!! He is an amazing talent, a generous human being and a true role-model. It is an honor to work with and to get to know Mr. Yñiguez:)…..Since we don’t generally get many opportunities to congregate during jobs (heaven forbid there be too many Latinos on one project…oy)…we miss out on getting to know each other’s stories. It’s empowering to know we have shared experiences as a community. Thank you for bringing Richard’s story to light. He is a treasure!!

Stephen Blackburn August 3, 2009

Dear Mr. Hernandez,

This is a very interesting and informative profile of Richard. I met him last year at an ALMA awards dinner. He’s a great guy who deserves more recognition than he generally gets for his busy acting career full of an array of roles. Here’s hoping we see him in many more roles to come!

Soraya Andrade August 9, 2009

I’ve know Richard for some years and I’ve always hoped he would get the recognition he so well deserves and has worked so hard for. I hope this look at his life and career will put Richard back to being a working actor, producer, director. Richard is someone that is 110% dependable, a hard working artist and a joy to work with. I’m honored to call him my friend.

Larry Bradfield August 11, 2009

Richard has been my good friend for over twenty years. We first met when he was the co-star on the tv series O’HARA and I was the Police technical advisor. He is one of the few real friends one makes in a lifetime. He has all the qualities a great film star should have. He is talented, passionate about his craft, creative, easy to work with and a true gentelman. I wish him all the best with his current projects. He still has the talent and creativity to continue on with his amazing career.

Richard Yniguez August 18, 2009

I am humbled with such praise by wonderful people…thank you all for those lovely words! And thank you Paris Herald & Al Carlos Hernandez for letting me tell my brief story!

I’m working hard to bring our stories to the masses in a very entertaining way for all to appreciate!

Big hug,

RY

Isaac D. Barcelona December 11, 2009

What a refreshing treat! I had the pleasure of knowing Richard back in 1985 when I was an entertainer doing a show at El Cache by Dodger Stadium. I am so glad he is still around fighting the good fight. Your interview with him was very insightful. If you can please forward my e-mail and message to him, I would love to re-establish contact with him after all these years. I’m confident he will remember me. Best regards to you and your Newsletter and to Richard. Isaac D. Barcelona

Maria Richwine December 7, 2010

Great article Richard, thank you so much for introducing me to Al Carlos and for casting me in your new project. Yu are truly an Icon in this business I have seen how many fans you have around the country – and I am proud to be a part of your circle.
Hoping that the next year brings you much love, happiness and prosperity and all the success that you deserve.
~Maria

anthony garcia ( hoss imperials car clube) February 8, 2011

dont think you would rember me.i was the owner of the monte carlo that was used in boulvard nights. just wanted to say .hi

Jose Martinez March 26, 2011

Hey just got a copy of boulevard nights that was a movie we enjoyed back in the day I am in Phoenix Arizona and did like the idea of getting out and moving to do better so Richard ever in the Phoenix area like to meet you impalalow@gmail.com or we could cruze down your way and to Anthony Garcia hey bro where is the Monte Carlo that was on the movie?

Thanks all peace and unity

Mike Chinea December 8, 2011

Great article on a superb person.

Eddie Martinez December 9, 2011

Thank you Carlos for your wonderful profile of a grand Latino Star, Richard Yniguez, whom I’m proud to call my friend.

Jimmy Espinoza January 10, 2012

Hello Richard,
It has been a while since we communicated. I enjoyed reading your interview. Yes you have accomplished wonderful things and I am proud to call you my friend.
So many memories of the Industry in Hollywood, Nosotros, The Golden Eagle Awards, Our little theatre on Wilton Place, our stints and presidents of Nosotros, etc. Well my friend, life and time moves on and we move ahead with it. As always I wish you all the best that life has to offer and hope to see you one of these days. Be well and see you in the movies.
Un Abrazo,
Jimmy

Richard ..I too was aboard the USS Yorktown CVS10 62-66 in CR Div. Radio. I have been getting requests from your old shipmates in Gb Div. to locate you…But so far this is as close as I’ve been able to let you know…”They still care about you”.
Contact me sometime…I have more information about Gb Div. shipmates to share with you. God Speed and Smooth Sailing Shipmate.

Lydia Duran July 4, 2012

Mr. Yniquez. Wow and here we are 2012, thirty some years later and what is it we observe today? Together we are able to appreciate the fruits of your labor. What a blessing you along with your mentors are to the latino community. You are a true testiment of the struggling latino actor.

Today unlike some latino actors that gave up their true name for the sake of acting you did not. I am proud of you and what you stand for.

Many Blessings to you…
Lydia

Johnny Hernandez August 21, 2012

Love the article and Richard!! Can’t wait to see his future projects come to fruition. Gracias Dr. AC!

ED DERMEDY March 30, 2013

Hi me hoe…..I am in Canada….Things hit bottom…I have been involved in helping latins whom family members have been slayed in there youth as members of the gangs noth and south california…as u know over a pair of shoes……well I left this letter..just talking to some young latins in a McDonald..about life…I am good..now coming back big time again..even money…need to talk to u..cant get u …your phone does not work..GBU..ED

Albert Obregon August 27, 2014

As an American of Hispanic ancestry, who was born and raised in East L.A – I find most of the Movies and TV shows about Mexicans sad. – Looking at the poster of Boulevard Knights, I’m reminded of “Zoot Suit” and the rest of the stuff out there about Mexicans. We have now progressed to either being a gardener, laborer, house cleaner, or a “Pachuco.” We have taken over the jobs of the Blacks and Asians – What we need is a Mexican family on TV like Cosby’s Huxtables. – My family dates back in the South west, when it was Spain. Yet immigrant Europeans in this country look at me like a foreigner. – I wrote a book on it “An Obtuse View on Racism” and “who and what is an American.”

Rose Rivera August 28, 2014

I enjoyed reading this article about a great person and talented actor……Very happy for you, Mr. Yniquez……..One of the qualities that I like most is…..your humbleness.

Loretta Gomes Steele February 1, 2016

I purchased Boulevard Nights today with my 23 year old son. I told him this is a classic with Richard being such an amazing actor. Him along with many of his generation have never got to experience cruising. We watched it together and he loved it. I love this article. I am a huge fan of Latino movies. Our culture is beautiful and Richard is one of the best we have working in the industry.

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