The spirits of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were in the room as the Paley Center for Media celebrated seven decades of Hispanic achievements in television in a gala event Monday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel that brought out some of the biggest names in the business.
There was so much rich, artistic heritage to acknowledge that it was impossible to get it all into one night, although the content was nonstop.
“We will demonstrate how television shatters stereotypes and brings people together,” said Maureen J. Reidy, president and CEO of the Paley Center, which has expanded its Hispanic Collection within the Paley Archive, the nation’s largest publicly accessible archive of television and radio programming.
And with that, the parade of present-day stars began, including presentations from Andy García, Eva Longoria, Jorge Ramos, Gina Rodriguez, Prince Royce, Jimmy Smits, Lucie Arnaz, Andrés Cantor, Oscar De La Hoya, Eugenio Derbez, Horatio Sanz, Héctor Elizondo and Wilmer Valderrama.
Their heartfelt salutes to exceptional talent in the industry were presented as clips from the past 70 years rolled, featuring not only iconic television stars like Arnaz but the inspirational and memorable contributions of Latins across all television genres including drama, telenovelas, comedy, news, talk, reality, sports and music.
The evening got under way with Longoria injecting some humor — yet demonstrating how far things have come — by describing her recent directing experience on the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” “I said to Gina [Rodriguez], I think there were more Latinos on set than whites — and we’re not doing craft services.”
Boxer De La Hoya and famous soccer announcer Cantor shouted out some of the greatest Latin athletes over the decades including baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, pitching legend Fernando Valenzuela, golfer Nancy Lopez, Olympic gymnasts Trent Dimas and Laurie Hernández and soccer great Pelé — just a sampling of the sports figures who have inspired millions around the world with their achievements.
When Smits and Valderrama took the podium — and a selfie — they touched on some of their favorite memories of actors who had made an impact on them over the years, including Cheech Marin, Elizondo and Edward James Olmos.
A clip reel of classic and current shows featuring Hispanic actors elicited huge cheers from the audience with scenes from “Route 66,” “Star Trek,” “Gunsmoke,” “The High Chaparral,” “CHiPS,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Miami Vice,” “LA Law,” “Chicago Hope,” “The Sopranos,” “Power,” “Oz,” “The West Wing,” “Lost,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “The Bridge,” “Madam Secretary,” “Law & Order,” “The Affair,” “Code Black,” “Pitch,” “The Exorcist,” “Narcos,” “Mozart in the Jungle” and “Shades of Blue.”
When it came to music, performer Prince Royce noted that it is no longer crossover — it’s one audience.
“You can’t really separate Latinos from music. It’s part of our essence, part of our soul. And whether you grew up with mambo, ranchera, merengue, salsa, or bachata like me, music has connected all of us across generations,” Royce said.
He also cited noted performers we lost before their time including Ritchie Valens, Selena and Jenni Rivera.
The performance video featured dancing-to-the-rhythm moments from a wide range of artists including Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, Santana, Los Lonely Boys, Juanes, José Feliciano, Linda Ronstadt, Enrique Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, Celia Cruz, Romeo Santos, Demi Lovato, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Christina Aguilera.
Diego Scotti, chief marketing officer of Verizon, the evening’s presenting sponsor, spoke with pride about Hispanic achievements. “Through TV, you’re changing the way we are perceived. Every time you show up for work you are representing our culture,” he said. “Along the way you have allowed the rest of us to enjoy the ripple effects on our businesses, our culture, and most of all, our future.”
It was inevitable that the upcoming presidential election would be addressed again after Longoria initially exhorted everyone to vote.
Huge cheers for news anchor Jorge Ramos erupted from the ballroom audience when the infamous clip of Donald Trump kicking him out of a news conference rolled.
“Ask yourself on November 9, what did you do to prevent racism and discrimination?,” admonished Ramos, in a clear definition of preaching to the choir. He is the best-known Spanish-language broadcast journalist in the U.S., who is often referred to as the Walter Cronkite of Latino America.
Gina Rodriguez and Eugenio Derbez discussed how “I Love Lucy” had people laughing from its beginnings in 1951 — and that we haven’t stopped since. But credit was also given to other groundbreaking comedies that featured Hispanic performers including “The Real McCoys,” “The Flying Nun,” “Barney Miller,” “Chico and the Man,” “The Muppet Show,” “All in the Family,” “Will and Grace,” “Ugly Betty,” “Saturday Night Live” (on which Sanz became the first Latino regular in 1998), “Desperate Housewives,” “George Lopez,” “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Modern Family,” “Devious Maids,” “Jane the Virgin” and “Superstore.”
”Latinos have been socially and politically important since TV began. We need to make sure our story stays alive and new generations can stand on our shoulders,” said Garcia, who first made his name in 1981 on “Hill Street Blues” before becoming a star on the big screen.
He turned his attention to Arnaz, a fellow Cuban-born performer. “He was a personal hero who inspired me. He and Lucy had to do a stage show to prove to the networks and sponsors that they were viable.”
Desi’s daughter Lucie then took the stage as the capper to an emotion-filled evening, and further described her parents’ journey.
“Mixed with great writers and Mom, Dad’s heritage meant that he was intuitive and naturally funny, but he didn’t set out to change the face of TV,” said Arnaz. “Yet he turned out to be a fantastic problem solver. In 1950 my mother’s CBS radio show moved to TV and she lobbied to have Desi on it, but they first said ‘no’ to portraying the mixed marriage. You know how that went. Desi insisted it be shot on film in front of an audience, thus preserving all of it.”
And as she summed up: “First and foremost, Ricky Ricardo was successful in the music industry and that opened the doors to all the future Rickys and Glorias of the world.”