Miriam Colón, the diminutive but formidable actress who founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York and whose film roles included Al Pacino’s unswayable Cuban mother in “Scarface,” died on Friday in Manhattan. She was 80.
Her husband, Fred Valle, said the cause was complications of a pulmonary infection.
Decades after she played the role, fans and journalists still asked Ms. Colón about her best-known film character. “The mother in ‘Scarface’ was my mother,” she said in an interview for the NPR program “Fresh Air” in 2003. “It was like a tailor-made dress that was made for me: the mother that also works very hard, that is very stern, that has standards in her house.”
Referring to her character and to Mr. Pacino’s, a ruthless drug dealer and killer, she said: “She’s the only one that defied him, told him, ‘Get the hell out of here,’ that didn’t wind up with her head cut off. I love characters like that.”
Ms. Colón also worked on the New York stage from the beginning of her career and, in 1967, founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, with the goal of bringing free bilingual theater to all parts of the city. In 1993 she received an Obie Award for lifetime achievement in Off Broadway theater. In 2015 President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts.
Míriam Colón Valle was born on Aug. 20, 1936, in Ponce, P.R., and grew up in San Juan. She began performing in school productions, audited drama classes at the University of Puerto Rico while she was still in high school and made her film debut, at 15, in “Los Peloteros,” a black-and-white sports drama set and filmed in Puerto Rico. At 17, she moved to New York to pursue an acting career.
Her enrollment at the Actors Studio, where she was said to have been the first Puerto Rican member, led to an abundance of roles in the early days of television, and she worked with big names from the beginning. Between 1955 and 1961, she appeared in 25 episodes of network shows, ranging from the western “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” starring Steve McQueen, to the revered anthology series “Playhouse 90,” alongside Rod Steiger and William Shatner. Her first American television role was a 1955 episode of the mystery drama series “Danger”; her director was John Frankenheimer, and her co-star was John Cassavetes.
Ms. Colón went on to appear on TV in scores of other series and movies over seven decades. She also appeared in some two dozen feature films, including early roles in “One-Eyed Jacks,” directed by and starring Marlon Brando, and “The Outsider,” starring Tony Curtis, both in 1961.
Her other movie roles included “The Possession of Joel Delaney” (1972), a thriller; “The House of the Spirits” (1993), the all-star drama based on Isabel Allende’s novel; “Lone Star” (1996), John Sayles’s modern western; “Gloria” (1999), Sidney Lumet’s remake of Cassavetes’s gun-moll drama; and “All the Pretty Horses” (2000), based on Cormac McCarthy’s cowboy novel.
One of her best-known films among Latino audiences was “Bless Me, Ultima” (2013), based on Rudolfo Anaya’s Chicano literary classic, in which she played the title character, a New Mexican healer.
She remained just as busy with her theater career, although her Broadway experience was less than stellar. Her debut, in “In the Summer House” (1953), starring Judith Anderson and directed by José Quintero, was well received, but her other two Broadway plays, “The Innkeepers” (1956) and “The Wrong Way Light Bulb” (1969), closed after only a few days of performances.
Off Broadway was another story altogether. In 1953, when she was still a teenager, she and Roberto Rodríguez founded a theater company, El Nuevo Círculo Dramatico, and produced “La Carreta” (“The Oxcart”). Ms. Colón starred.
Fourteen years later she founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, which became and remained “one of the city’s theatrical adornments,” as Mel Gussow wrote in The New York Times in 1983 in reviewing a revival of “The Oxcart.” The play itself, he said, had already “served as an object lesson to generations of Hispanic Americans.”
Ms. Colón found the company’s first permanent home in 1981, when she noticed an empty firehouse on West 47th Street, where it remains today as Pregones Theater Puerto Rican Traveling Theater. She remained the artistic director through 2014, when the company merged with Pregones and she became the artistic adviser.
Ms. Colón was 47 when she played the mother of Mr. Pacino, who was 43 at the time. In her seventh decade of acting she had graduated to grandmother roles, as the character names in her last screen roles attest. She was Chelsea’s Grandmother in the Chris Rock comedy “Top Five” (2014). The next year she played Abuelita (the Spanish diminutive for grandmother) in the AMC series “Better Call Saul”; Grandma in “The Girl Is in Trouble,” a crime thriller; and Abuelita Sanchez in “The Southside,” a murder drama.
Her survivors include Mr. Valle, an actor, whom she married in 1987; a stepson, Fabian Valle; a stepdaughter, Wendy Valle; and four grandchildren. She was married to George Paul Edgar, a securities analyst and theater backer, from 1966 until his death 10 years later.
Ms. Colón was a vocal advocate of both funding for the arts and personal self-reliance, as she explained in a 1992 article in The New York Times about overcoming her troupe’s financial difficulties (including a New York State cut in financing) that year.
“I’m not saying the government shouldn’t support us,” she was quoted as saying. “They should. We are just as entitled to that money as the people who build roads.
“But we must not count on it. Through no fault of our own, it can vanish.”
Míriam Colón (born Míriam Colón Valle;[note 1] August 20, 1936 – March 3, 2017) was a Puerto Rican actress. She was the founder and director of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York City.
Colón was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on August 20, 1936. She was a young girl in the 1940s when her recently divorced mother moved the family to a public housing project called Residencial Las Casas in San Juan. She attended the Román Baldorioty de Castro High School in Old San Juan, where she actively participated in the school's plays. Her first drama teacher, Marcos Colón (no relation) believed that she was very talented; with his help, she was permitted to observe the students in the drama department of the University of Puerto Rico. She was a good student in high school and was awarded scholarships that enabled her to enroll in the Dramatic Workshop and Technical Institute and also in The Lee Strasburg Acting Studio in New York City.
In 1953, Colón debuted as an actress in Los Peloteros (The Baseball Players), starring Ramón (Diplo) Rivero, a film produced in Puerto Rico, and in which she played a character called "Lolita."
That same year, Colón moved to New York City, where she was accepted by Actors Studio co-founder Elia Kazan after a single audition, thus becoming the Studio's first Puerto Rican member. In New York, Colón worked in theater and later landed a role on the soap opera Guiding Light. On one occasion she attended a performance of René Marqués' La Carreta (The Oxcart). That presentation motivated her to form the first Hispanic theater group, with the help of La Carreta's producer, Roberto Rodríguez, called "El Circuito Dramático".
In 1954 she appeared on stage in "In The Summer House" at the Play House in New York City. Between 1954 and 1974, Colón made guest appearances in television shows such as Peter Gunn and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She appeared mostly in westerns such as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The High Chaparral, and Have Gun, Will Travel.
Colón appeared in the 1961 film One-eyed Jacks as "the Redhead". In 1962, she was featured as the co-star in a teleplay written by Frank Gabrielsen, and produced for the TV series The DuPont Show of the Week. The title of the hour-long episode was "The Richest Man in Bogota", and it aired on 17 June 1962. It starred Lee Marvin as Juan de Núñez, and Miriam Colón as "Marina" (not Medina-Saroté, as in the original H.G. Wells story, The Country of the Blind).
In 1979, she starred alongside fellow Puerto Rican actors José Ferrer, Raúl Juliá, and Henry Darrow in Life of Sin, a film in which she portrayed Isabel la Negra, a real-life Puerto Rican brothel owner. In 1983, she played the mother of Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino) in Scarface. She was also cast as "María" in the 1999 film Gloria, which starred Sharon Stone. In 2013, Colón was cast in the role of Ultima, a New Mexico Hispanic healer, in the movie "Bless Me, Ultima" based on the novel by Rudolfo Anaya.
Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
Main article: Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
In the late 1960s, Colón founded The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater company on West 47th street in Manhattan, New York. The company presents Off-Broadway productions onsite and goes on tour. She was the director of the company and she has appeared in these PRTT productions:
Personal life and death
Colón was married to George Paul Edgar from 1966 until his death in 1976. She lived the final years of her life in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her second husband Fred Valle. Colón died on March 3, 2017, at the age of 80, of complications from a pulmonary infection 
- Los Peloteros (1951) as Lolita
- Danger (TV 1955)
- Star Tonight (TV 1955)
- Crowded Paradise (1956)
- The Big Story (TV 1957) as Esperanza Martinez
- Decoy (TV 1958) as Maria
- Studio One (TV 1956-1958) as Mrs. Talavera / Rosie
- Lux Playhouse (TV 1959) as Mrs. Flores
- State Trooper (TV 1959) as Francesca
- Markham (TV 1959) as Esperanza
- Mike Hammer (TV 1959) as Tarano
- The Outsider (1961) as Anita
- Battle at Bloody Beach (1961) as Nahni
- One-eyed Jacks (1961) as "Redhead"
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Episode - Strange Miracle (TV 1962)
- The Defenders (TV 1962)
- Doctor Kildare (TV 1962)
- The New Breed (TV 1962)
- The Richest Man in Bogota on The DuPont Show of the Week (TV 1962) as Marina
- The Dick Van Dyke Show (TV 1963)
- The Great Adventure (TV 1963)
- Ben Casey (TV 1963)
- Death Valley Days (TV 1963)
- Laramie (TV 1963)
- Have Gun - Will Travel (TV 1963)
- Thunder Island (1963) as Anita Chavez
- Harbor Lights (1963) as Gina Rosario
- Slattery's People (TV 1964)
- The Nurses (TV 1964)
- The Legend of Jesse James (TV 1966)
- The Appaloosa (1966) as Ana
- Christmas in the Marketplace (TV film 1967)
- The Virginian (TV 1967)
- The Fugitive (TV 1967)
- N.Y.P.D. (TV 1967)
- Gunsmoke: Episode – Zavala (TV 1968) as Amelita Avila
- The High Chaparral (TV 1968)
- One Life to Live (TV soap opera 1968)
- Desperate Mission (TV film 1969)
- Bonanza (TV 1969)
- All My Children (TV soap opera 1970)
- They Call It Murder (1971)
- Gunsmoke (TV, Episode 2, Season 18) "The River" (1972) as "Paulette".
- The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972) as Veronica
- Sanford & Son: Episode - Julio and Sister and Nephew (TV 1974) as Carlotta
- Dr. Max (TV 1974)
- The Hemingway Play (TV film 1976)
- A Life of Sin (1979)
- The Edge of Night (TV soap opera 1979) as Dr. Marie Santos
- ABC Afterschool Specials (TV 1981)
- Back Roads (1981) as Angel
- Scarface (1983) as Mama Montana
- Best Kept Secrets (TV film 1984)
- Lady Blue (TV 1985)
- Kay O'Brien (TV 1986)
- Highway to Heaven (TV 1987)
- Deadline: Madrid (TV film 1988)
- Lightning Field (TV film 1991)
- Law and Order (TV 1991)
- L.A. Law (TV 1991)
- City of Hope (1991) as Mrs. Ramirez
- Murder, She Wrote: Episode - "Day of the Dead" (season 8.19) (1992) as Consuela Montejano
- The House of the Spirits (1993) as Nana
- NYPD Blue (TV 1994)
- The Cosby Mysteries (TV 1994)
- Streets of Laredo (TV mini-series 1995)
- Sabrina (1995) as Rosa
- Lone Star (1996) as Mercedes Cruz
- Cosby (TV 1996)
- Mistrial (TV film 1996)
- Edipo alcalde (1996)
- Gloria (1999) as María
- All the Pretty Horses (2000) as Doña Alfonsa
- For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (TV film 2000)
- Almost a Woman (2001)
- Third Watch (TV 2001)
- The Blue Diner (2001) as Meche
- Guiding Light (TV soap opera 2001)
- Goal! (2005) as Mercedes
- Jonny Zero (TV 2005)
- Goal! 2: Living the Dream... (2007)
- The Cry (2007)
- Goal! 3: Taking on the World (2009)
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (TV 2009)
- How to Make It in America (TV 2010-2011)
- Foreverland (2011)
- Hawthorne (TV 2011)
- Gun Hill Road (2011)
- The Bay (2012)
- The Girl Is in Trouble (2012)
- Unhallowed (in production 2013)
- Bless Me, Ultima (2013)
- On Painted Wings (not distributed 2014)
- The Southside (2014)
- Top Five (2014) as Chelsea's Grandmother
- Better Call Saul (TV 2015)
- In The Summer House (1954)
- The Innkeepers (1956)
- The Wrong Way Lightbulb (1969)
In 1993, Colón received an "Obie Award" for "Lifetime Achievement in the Theater." Her biography, titled Miriam Colón - Actor and Theater, was written by Mayra Fernandez.
In 2000, she received the HOLA Raúl Juliá Founders Award, presented by the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA).