Discussion:
Gregory Sierra, 83, TV actor (Barney Miller; Sanford/Son; Soap; memorable All/Family)
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That Derek
2021-01-23 13:06:43 UTC
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https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gregory-sierra-dead-barney-miller-sanford-son-actor-was-83-1215625

Gregory Sierra, Actor on 'Barney Miller' and 'Sanford and Son,' Dies at 83

3:51 PM PST 1/22/2021
by Chris Koseluk

The New York native also portrayed a Jewish vigilante on a sobering episode of 'All in the Family.'
Gregory Sierra, who endeared himself to 1970s sitcom fans as the genial Julio Fuentes on Sanford and Son and the impassioned Sgt. Miguel "Chano" Amenguale on Barney Miller, has died. He was 83.

Sierra died Jan. 4 in Laguna Woods, California, after a battle with cancer, family spokesman Rick Voll told The Hollywood Reporter.

A native of New York's Spanish Harlem, Sierra also made a memorable appearance as a radical Jewish vigilante in "Archie Is Branded," a 1973 episode of CBS' All in the Family that was one of the sitcom's most jarring episodes. And he played Carlos "El Puerco" Valdez, a Malaguayan counter-revolutionist who kidnaps Jessica (Katherine Helmond) on ABC's Soap.

His career breakthrough came in 1972 when he was cast as the easygoing Julio, junkman Fred Sanford's Puerto Rican neighbor, on NBC's Sanford and Son, developed by All in the Family creators Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear. Introduced in the second-season episode "The Puerto Ricans Are Coming," Julio was an easy target for the crotchety, bigoted Fred (Redd Foxx).

"You know what the Puerto Rican national anthem is? 'We'll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too …' " Fred complains to his son, Lamont (Demond Wilson), when he learns who's moving in next door. "Julio Fuentes? That don't sound like no name — that sounds like somethin' you get from drinkin' their water.”

After he left that series, Sierra played one of the original detectives working out of the diverse 12th Precinct in Greenwich Village on ABC's Barney Miller, joining Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda, Ron Glass, Max Gail and Jack Soo when the show premiered in 1975.

A proud Puerto Rican New Yorker, Sierra's Chano was dedicated and dauntless, a cop who emotionally invested himself in his work. Nowhere was this better displayed than in the 1975 episode "The Hero," in which his character kills two suspects while preventing a robbery. His colleagues believe he deserves a commendation, but a distraught Chano feels otherwise, and he breaks down and cries.

"I think Barney Miller is much more real than any other cop show," Sierra said in an interview for the 1976 book TV Talk 2: Exploring TV Territory. "The people in the show have real problems. Kojak never worries. He knows he's got it made. Everything is always under control on that show. You never see the frustrations of police work or the kind of joking that goes on among real policemen. Those are the kinds of things we show on Barney Miller.”

Chano was written out of the series at the end of the second season so that Sierra could star in a new sitcom from Barney Miller creator Danny Arnold, this one set in a frenetic New York emergency room. A.E.S. Hudson Street debuted in 1977 but was canceled after six episodes.

Only two weeks into shooting the series, his second wife, Susan, committed suicide. "We were separated at her wish,” Sierra said in 1978. "We had been together six years, and her death leaves me feeling guilty as well as feeling the grief.”

Born on Jan. 25, 1937, Sierra was raised by his aunt after his parents abandoned him when he was 6. "When I was a baby, we were a typical Puerto Rican family," he said. "Everybody lived together — grandmother, grandfather, aunt, two uncles, mother, father … gradually everyone went their way."

The neighborhood was rough, and Sierra flirted with gang life as a teen and once was knifed. He attended the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception, a Brooklyn prep school for boys aiming for the priesthood. "I wasn't going to be a priest!" he said. "It was hard to study to be a priest during the day and go out and plan gang warfare at night!"

Sierra was with a friend who was auditioning for an acting class when the teacher invited him to try some improvisation and was impressed. Eventually, he worked with the National Shakespeare Company and in the New York Shakespeare Festival, appeared in off-Broadway productions and, in one brief brush with Broadway, was a standby in The Ninety Day Mistress in 1967.

He moved to Los Angeles, made his onscreen debut in a nonspeaking role as a jewelry fence on a 1969 episode of It Takes a Thief and then appeared on other shows like Medical Center, The High Chaparral, Mod Squad and The Flying Nun. He played an Armenian on Kung Fu, an Italian on Banacek, a Native American on Gunsmoke and a Hawaiian on Hawaii Five-O.

Meanwhile, he was landing supporting roles in such features as Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Getting Straight (1970), Papillon (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974) and the long-gestating Orson Welles project The Other Side of the Wind, finally released in 2018.

Sierra modeled Julio on Sanford and Sun after an uncle who was "a very jolly and very nice man," he once said. The more Fred tried to get under Julio's skin, the more Julio got the better of him.

Sierra appeared on 12 episodes over three seasons. By the fifth season, the character had moved away. (The Sanfords bought his property and turned it into a boarding house.)

"The loss of Gregory Sierra as Julio at the start of the fifth season (he was steadily being written out even during the fourth season) spelled the first signs of trouble for the show," Paul Mavis wrote in a 2008 entry for the website DVD Talk. "His character functioned very much like George Jefferson did as Archie Bunker's next-door-neighbor — a constant racial irritant — and without the sweet-natured Julio getting one over on Fred time and again (and without being there as a setup for some of Foxx's more outrageous insults), the show lost a lot of its underlying edge.”

On his episode of All in the Family, after a swastika is painted on his front door, Archie (Carroll O'Connor) is visited by Sierra's Paul Benjamin. The vigilante wants to go after the group responsible — and Archie has no trouble with that — but gets killed by a car bomb that explodes just outside the house. It's believed to be the only episode of the famed sitcom to end with stark silence rather than applause from the studio audience.

Sierra went on to play such recurring characters as ADA Alvarez on Hill Street Blues, Commandant Paco Pico on Zorro and Son, Det. Lt. Lou Rodriguez on Miami Vice and Lt. Gabriel Caceres on Murder, She Wrote. He also showed up on Quincy, M.E., Simon & Simon, Magnum, P.I., Growing Pains, The X-Files, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Walker, Texas Ranger.

His big-screen résumé also included The Trouble With Spies (1987), Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992), Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994), Vampires (1998) and Mafia! (1998).

Survivors include his wife, Helene.
radioacti...@gmail.com
2021-02-01 04:20:28 UTC
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Okay, pretty much everyone who more than occasionally watched "All In the Family" remembers quite vividly the third season episode "Archie is Branded", which featured the late Sierra as Paul Benjamin, a member of a Jewish Defense League-like organization whose automobile is bombed at the conclusion of that positively jarring sitcom narrative.

Next to the first season--which you may recall was really only a HALF-season starting in January 1971*, before the producers for the second and ensuing seasons considerably toned down Archie's bigotry--that "Branded" story is my favorite from the entire series. (I would thoroughly lose interest in the series once Mike and Gloria moved out and were supplanted by that downright stupid story arc featuring Danielle Brisbois--or whatever her French name is--and NEVER could tolerate than a few minutes of any of the "Archie Bunker's Place" editions, so emasculated the titular character had become.)

But thankfully AITF was MOSTLY still in its wonderful original stride when Sierra guested in that historic "Branded" episode, which first aired on Saturday, February 24, 1973, the series having moved to its longtime Saturday night time-slot from its original slot on Tuesdays. But I was intrigued to learn only tonight that it was ORIGINALLY scheduled to air on January 13, 1973.

SO: does anyone herein know the backstory here? That is, if the postponement was due to any pressure--either from CBS brass or anyone else privy to the yet-to-be-aired script that represented such a comedy-to-serious pivot--or if this six-week delay merely was rooted in some mundane network-schedule conflict, etc.?

Thanks in advance, Y'all!

BRYAN STYBLE/Florida
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* Loyal viewers identify those early episodes as visually distinctive because the Gloria character sported curly hair only (excepting a few flashback episodes) during that half-season...a quite handy fact I pointed out to Sally Struthers when I ran into her at Greenblatt's Deli one Tuesday night in 1988 when I was MCing open-mic night at The Laugh Factory next door on The Sunset Strip. To my utter astonishment, Struthers responded she had never thought of that before. (And she sure didn't seem to be fibbing!)
That Derek
2021-02-01 04:59:37 UTC
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IMHO, "Archie Is Branded" is the most powerful episode of AITF as it showed Archie what bigotry could lead to. I think it belongs in the all-time Top Ten AITF episodes -- but it never ranked in all those anniversary countdowns and such.

The JDL organisation was fictionalised to become the HDA, the Hebrew Defense Association,

Jean Stapleton's adolescent son John Putch portrayed the Boy Scout in the episode's beginning. In a non-audience last season Danielle Brisebois episode, she played both herself and a German woman who was the new flame of Theodore Bikel's recirring German butcher character. Jean Stapleton's name was Italianized in the closing credits as "Giovanna Pucci."

More IMHOs: 1) the show didn't go downhill when Mike-and-Gloria left the show but, rather, when they moved next door; 2) in spite of the foregoing statement, the last "great" episode was when Archie and Meathead were locked up together in the saloon's storeroom.

Goodnight, Shoebooty,
radioacti...@gmail.com
2021-02-01 05:31:09 UTC
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I was imprecise, while you are correct, Derek: the sharp decline in the series WAS when Mike and Gloria moved next door! But who was responsible for that dimwitted story-line centered around the Brisbois character?

Oh, and have y'all ever noticed the parallel between Carroll O'Connor's Bunker character being slowly but surely watered down over the seasons--to the point where by "Archie Bunker's Place" he wasn't a bigot anymore!--and how O'Connor played Bill Gillespie in "In the Heat of the Night", compared to Rod Steiger's Gillespie character in the film (and original) iteration? (ITHOTN The TV Show was ANOTHER series--just like M*A*S*H--which I could NEVER watch fully through ANY episode, simply because it so mishandled and/or transmogrified the premise/characters of the original*, a film that I've seen well over a dozen times, yet never tire of.)

STYBLE/Florida
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* The Warren Oates, Scott Wilson, William Shallert and Larry Gates characters are my faves, but jeez, EVERYONE in that landmark film is fantastic, including Lee Grant!
Adam H. Kerman
2021-02-01 07:54:03 UTC
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Post by ***@gmail.com
I was imprecise, while you are correct, Derek: the sharp decline in the
series WAS when Mike and Gloria moved next door! But who was
responsible for that dimwitted story-line centered around the Brisbois
character?
Oh, and have y'all ever noticed the parallel between Carroll O'Connor's
Bunker character being slowly but surely watered down over the
seasons--to the point where by "Archie Bunker's Place" he wasn't a bigot
anymore!--and how O'Connor played Bill Gillespie in "In the Heat of the
Night", compared to Rod Steiger's Gillespie character in the film (and
original) iteration?
Yes. That was immediately apparent. They also completely changed the
character of one of the deputies they kept from the movie too.

I much prefer O'Connor in Marlowe (The Little Sister) as a cop.
Post by ***@gmail.com
(ITHOTN The TV Show was ANOTHER series--just like
M*A*S*H--which I could NEVER watch fully through ANY episode, simply
because it so mishandled and/or transmogrified the premise/characters of
the original*, a film that I've seen well over a dozen times, yet never
tire of.)
The Korean War to Hawkeye Pierce was very much like the Civil War was to
Scarlett O'Hara: A personal inconvenience.

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