Miriam was one of those stars of the community that frequently crossed over. Whether it was recently, like her appearances on Better Call Saul, or classic appearances in films like Scarface, she was one of those hallowed figures in the community who would visit the top of the mountain. And yet, she never forgot about her roots. She actually founded, operated, and ran the aforementioned PRTT: The Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre. It's still up and running, on 47th Street, just off of 8th Avenue. For you non-New Yorkers out there...that location is unbelievable. That put her company right in the heart of New York's legendary theatre scene, next to all of the major Broadway theaters.
Miriam was a titan.
And yet she was always just a smiling, approachable figure. I grew up in that world, just a kid hanging out with all of these grown-up artists. Everyone in the community felt like an Aunt or an Uncle, including Miriam. I remember speaking to her when I was trying to get my own acting career off the ground. I had gotten my SAG card; I had recently joined AFTRA (this was before the merger); And now it was time to try and get into Actor's Equity. I gave her a call and she spoke to me about the process, offered her sage advice, and volunteered to help me get into Equity- which is the union that covers stage actors.
That's the kind of person she was.
She was one of those people who I'd see on TV growing up and be like, "That's Miriam, who lives two blocks away." Because she did. I was raised on 96th and Columbus. She lived on 94th.
Her passing yesterday, at age 80, struck a very personal chord. It brought me back to aunt, my Ñaña, Elizabeth Peña, who left us in 2014. I'd often think of the two in similar ways, in terms of their success in the arts. To me, they were role models. To each other they were friends, and they were often collaborators.
Many moons ago, their friendship began not unlike that phone call I had with Miriam about joining Equity...
In the early 1970s, Miriam was already a notable figure for having worked with Marlon Brando and for having appeared on beloved TV series like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Gunsmoke. My aunt, barely 13 years old, saw her at one of the very kinds of functions I described earlier, and had the gumption to go ask her a couple of questions:
- "Do you know David Cassidy?"
- "How do I make it in Hollywood?"
I suppose the two of them now have an awful lot to chat about.
When I think of Miriam, I think of her warm smile and approachable spirit. I shall miss bumping into her at future "family gatherings."
R.I.P. Miriam Colón
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