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Actory Tony Martinez Dies at 82

September 22, 2002

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LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Tony Martinez, a stage actor who became known for his television work in the 1950s, has died. He was 82.

Martinez died Monday of natural causes at a Las Vegas hospital, according to his wife, Myra.

For television viewers, Martinez is best remembered for his role playing Mexican farmhand Pepino Garcia in ``The Real McCoys″ from 1957 to 1963.

``He was just a natural, and he had this enormous sense of comedy timing,″ said Kathleen Nolan, ``The Real McCoys″ star.

Nolan, who served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1975 to 1980, called Martinez’s casting ``a major breakthrough in terms of minority representation on television.″

``It may not have been the representation that we are seeking now, but it certainly was a breakthrough to have a major character on television that was not white,″ she said.

After his television stint, Martinez spent more than four decades playing Sancho Panza in 2,245 performances of ``Man of La Mancha,″ including the national company tour of the Tony Award-winning musical in the late 1960s and two national revival tours.

The actor first joined the national ``Man of La Mancha″ company in 1967 and over the years played opposite a dozen different Don Quixotes, including Richard Kiley, Jose Ferrer and Raul Julia.

``The best time he had was spent in the theater,″ his wife said. ``That’s the reason he came back so many times.″

Born in Puerto Rico in 1920, Martinez studied music in San Juan before moving to New York to attend Juilliard.

Martinez, who played five instruments and also sang, formed his own small band in New York in the 1940s: Tony Martinez and His Mambo-USA.

He was playing at a Hollywood club when he was discovered by the writing and producing team of Irving and Norman Pincus, who were looking for someone to play Pepino.

``When they asked him to come in for the part, he didn’t bother to call back because he thought it was a joke, and then they pursued him,″ Nolan said.

In addition to his wife, Martinez is survived by five children, two grandchildren and a sister. Funeral arrangements were pending.

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