Olga San Juan
The "Puerto Rican Pepper-Pot"---what a name! That was what Olga was called as she danced, acted, and made us laugh mostly in the 1940's films such as, Duffys Tavern (1945), Blue Skies (1946), and One Touch of Venus (1948).
She was born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York in 1927 to Puerto Rican parents. By age 3 she was taking dancing lessons and was almost immediately thrust into the limelight by her mother. By age 11, she (and five other young girls) had executed the Fandango for FDR at the White House. As a teenager Olga performed at such hot spots as the El Morocco and the Copacabana and subsequently earned pay as a dancer with famed jazz and mambo musician Tito Puente, who by then had earned the title of "The King of Latin Music".
After Olga became known in radio she then tried her hand at films. She made her film debut in 1943 in "Caribbean Romance". She continued on in films such as, "Bombalera" in 1945 and then "The Little Witch" also in 1945.
Her feature film debut was in "Rainbow Island" (1944), starring Dorothy Lamour. One of her finest films was "Blue Skies" (1946) with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
Olga San Juan with Fred Astaire in "Blue Skies" (1946)
She added sang such songs as, "You'd Be Surprised," "Heat Wave" and "I'll See You in C-U-B-A". When I heard the song "Heat Wave" memories flooded back to me having watching Olga sing this in this movie with my Grandma. Music is incredible for many reasons--one of them being that it can bring you back in time to a specific day that you almost forgot about until you hear it. I think that is so---magical!
"Blue Skies"~ be prepared for a "Heat Wave"!
Ironically "Blue Skies" was to be Fred Astaire's final film but New York's Paramount Theater generated a petition of 10,000 names to persuade him to come out of retirement. And the rest is history!
Because of her heavy accent Olga was restricted to certain roles and movies but she nevertheless became a commodity for Paramount. She continued to act mostly in musicals and comedies throughout the 1940's. In 1948 she married actor Edmond O'Brien with whom she has three children with.
What a super cute picture of the happy couple!
Her last hurrah in the industry came by accident when famed lyricist Alan Lerner happened to hear her sing at a festive Hollywood gathering and offered her one of the leads in his Broadway-bound musical "Paint Your Wagon" in 1951. The show was a flop, running just eight months, and Olga left the cast before the run ended, after becoming pregnant with her second child.
Because Olga was a strict Roman Catholic she decided to concentrate on her marriage and family. Aside from a smattering of TV shows, she completely retired.
Later in life Olga suffered a stroke and her health slowly declined from that point on. In 1976 she divorced O'Brien and their children all involved themselves in different facets of the business. After decades of being out of the news, it was reported in January of 2009 that Olga had died at a Burbank hospital of kidney failure following an extended illness at 81 years of age.
Pretty as a Picture!
Olga San Juan might not be a known name in the industry or the younger generation today, but she made her mark in Hollywood especially for the Latina community. I am proud someone like her went after something she loved despite the challenges she faces with her accent, looks, and background. Thank you Olga for making a difference!!