Screen legends such as Fernando Lamas, Raquel Welch and Ricardo Montalban illustrate what a long history Latinos have in Hollywood. Despite this history and the number of Hispanic actors who continue gracing the silver screen today, only a handful of Latinos can be counted among those who’ve won Academy Awards for acting. Although Spaniards Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz won Oscars in supporting roles in 2008 and 2009, respectively, an actor of Latin American parentage hasn't won an Academy Award since 2000. Take a look back at the five Latinos who beat the odds to join the ranks of the acting elite—Oscar winners.
Jose Ferrer was born in Puerto Rico, in 1912. A Princeton University grad, he acted on Broadway for the first time in the 1935 production of “A Slight Case of Murder.” Although Ferrer only uttered one line in his debut, he would ultimately prove he had the chops to be a star. He made theater history in 1947, earning the first best-actor Tony for his work in “Cyrano.” His reprisal of the role in the 1950 film version of the production earned him an Academy Award. He was the first Hispanic to achieve the feat. Ferrer would go on to win an Oscar nod for his work in “Moulin Rouge” in 1952. He scored his first nomination in 1948 for “Joan of Arc.”
Born 1915 in Chihuahua, Mexico, Anthony Quinn began acting in the 1930s, playing ethnic villains—a Native American in “The Plainsman,” a French pirate in “The Buccaneer,” and a Cuban assassin in “The Ghost Busters.” Despite being typecast, Quinn continued to press for more substantial parts. His persistence paid off, earning him roles with more bite both on the screen and on the stage. When he landed the lead in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” director Elia Kazan took notice. Kazan gave Quinn the chance to star with Marlon Brando in 1952’s “Viva Zapata!” For his standout performance, Quinn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He would win his second Oscar portraying artist Gauguin in the 1956 film “Lust for Life.”
Born 1931 in Puerto Rico, Rita Moreno debuted on Broadway at 13. After signing to MGM, Moreno—like Anthony Quinn—found herself typecast in “ethnic” roles. Moreno played a series of “native girls.” But that changed when she landed a part in 1967 musical “West Side Story,” for which she won the Academy Award. Moreno has also won two Emmys (“The Rockford Files,” “The Muppet Show”), a Tony (“The Ritz”) and a Grammy (“Electric Company”). She’s reportedly the first actress to win those awards as well as an Oscar. In a 2011 interview, Moreno said Latinos have progress to make in Hollywood. “We still don’t get the really good parts, the roles that would bring on Oscar interest.”
Cuban-Irish actress Mercedes Ruehl was born in 1948 in Queens, New York. Ruehl graduated from the College of New Rochelle in 1969. She appeared in community theater productions before making a name for herself on the stage. The winner of two Obie awards and a Tony, Ruehl would add an Oscar to her list of honors after appearing in a supporting role in the 1991 film “The Fisher King” about a radio DJ whose on-air diatribe leads to a mass shooting at a bar. After “The Fisher King,” Ruehl went on to star in roles on television shows such as “Frasier” and “Entourage.” Other notable film roles include “Big,” “Gia,” “Lost in Yonkers” and “Married to the Mob.”
Born 1967 in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Benicio Del Toro studied at the Circle in the Square Professional Theater School and Stella Adler Conservatory before his acting career took off. Having started out in roles on “Miami Vice” and in the film “Big Top Pee-Wee,” Del Toro was garnering critical acclaim in 1995 thanks to his unique performance as Fred Fenster in “The Usual Suspects.” For his acting effort in the film, he won an Independent Spirit Award. He would win another such award for a supporting role in “Basquiat.” Then Del Toro picked up an Oscar for a bilingual role as a Mexican cop in the 2000 drug drama “Traffic.” He nabbed another Oscar nod for the 2003 film “21 Grams.”