Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Actor Danny De La Paz, Whittier Native

Recently I had the good fortune to interview Actor, Producer and Whittier Native Danny De La Paz. Danny starred in his first major movie role at the age of 19, playing Chuco Avila in Boulevard Nights. He also had an unforgettable roll in the epic Chicano Drama American Me, playing Big Puppet. Danny's career has spanned over thirty five years with countless television and movie credits to his name. He even appeared in a movie with Sean Connery, the movie was titled CUBA. 

"I had to pinch myself everyday. I was walking on the Warner Bros. 
Lot on this big production movie and I was the star." DDLP

Whittier local Danny De La Paz starred in his firstfeature film at age 19 in 1979

Danny stumbled across the My Whittier blog and was stunned by all of the memories that came flooding back to him. Memories of his childhood in Whittier, memories of a different era. Danny reached out to me and was very complimentary of our blog and expressed interest in being interviewed on our podcast. I obviously jumped at the opportunity to interview and talk with one of Whittier's first sons of the cinema. 

Danny De La Paz was born at Murphy Memorial Hospital
in 1957. He fondly remembers the huge circular driveway and beautiful
trees that lined the street leading up to the hospital. 

"After they tore down the hospital I remember going up there years later. I stood on top of the broken rocks where the hospital once stood and reflected to myself, this is where my mom had me."

Danny's mom and dad were from Mexico and moved to El Paso where they fell in love and got married. Soon they decided to move to California and lived in East Los Angeles for a short time. Danny's mom wasn't comfortable raising kids in East Los Angeles. She felt there was just to much gang activity. She decided to drive down Whittier Blvd with her best friend and head east. She drove that day and passed through Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Montebello, and Pico Rivera. After passing through Pico Rivera they made their way in to Whittier. She pulled the car over and got out and decided right then and there that they would settle and raise their family in Whittier, California. 

Danny says when he was growing up in Whittier "There were Orange trees,
lemon trees, peach tress. There were trees everywhere."

When Danny is telling the story of his childhood in Whittier you could hear the adoration for the city in his voice as he is transported back in time. Danny attended Evergreen Elementary School. He lived right across the street from the school but admits he was late almost everyday. He would sheepishly walk in to class and his teacher would look at him and point to his house through the classroom window and ask how he was late everyday. He attended Sierra High School where he caught the acting bug. His teacher saw that he had talent and she nurtured his talent for the three years he attended Sierra High School. 

 Danny excitedly says, "You know that show the Wonder Years? That was my childhood growing up in Whittier."  

Danny would regularly ride his Schwinn Bicycle with the banana seat over to 
the Quad and Whittwood Mall.

Danny fondly remembers the Helms Bakery man and exclaims, "I would do anything to taste those eclairs one more time!" He remembers his bike rides to Uptown Whittier where he would visit the "lady in the basement," who sold coins and stamps. One of his favorite things to do as a kid was to find a shady tree and listen to Vin Scully call Dodger games from his transistor radio. He proudly talked about his dad. His dad helped build every school in the Whittier district. Danny passionately remembers all of the great times of his childhood in Whittier. He said, "The quality of goods back in those days was so much better. The parchment paper and pencils. Everything was such good quality in the 60's. Everything is made so cheap now." It was amazing hearing him talk about Whittier because I grew up here as well and I could relate to everything he was talking about. So cool.

"We weren't rich but we weren't poor either. We were happy." DDLP

When the Helms Bakery man would come through the neighborhood
you knew it was going to be a good day in Whittier.
Danny landed his first paid acting gig at the start of his senior year of high school. It was a Knott's Berry Farm musical review. That musical review ran twice a day, every day of the week the whole summer of 1975. Right after that he started acting in many plays in the Los Angeles area honing his craft. One night after one of his plays someone handed him a card with a phone number on it. It was the phone number of an agent. Once he landed an acting agent he was soon going up for television roles. He late found out that is was actor Damon Evans of the Jefferson's fame that left the phone number for him. 

"You know, To this day I never did get a chance to meet Damon Evans in person."

Actor Damon Evans who played one of two Lionel's
on the Jefferson's TV show 
Danny spent about a year and a half spinning his wheels. He says, "I couldn't even get arrested for about a year and a half." One day he was working at Plywood Discount in La Habra and he heard that they were auditioning for a movie called King Cobra. That was the title of the movie before being renamed to Boulevard Nights. Danny auditioned and landed the lead role. coincidentally while on the set of Boulevard Nights everyone was talking about a script that had been floating around hollywood for about four years called American Me. It was going to be an epic drama, a "Godfather for Chicano's." Everyone at the time wanted in on this much anticipated project. After Boulevard Nights Danny kept grinding appearing in movies and television roles for years completely forgetting about American Me all together. Then in the 1990's Danny ran in to Edward James Olmos at a party and Edward said, "We are going to make American Me." Danny was floored an almost could not believe it. So much time had past and playing the roll of Little Puppet was no longer an option because of his age. But Danny's early success on Boulevard Nights allowed him to work in the industry, and travel the world. His experience in the industry and in life prepared him for his role as Big Puppet. His role in American Me among fans is one of the most memorable in mafia movie history.

"Big Puppet was a much more meaty role. When I read the script I knew if this part was done right it could be memorable." DDLP

Danny gave us an unforgettable performance in American Me. His powerful performance
in this movie made fans worldwide.

Danny has so many great memories of Whittier but one of his very favorite memories of all time happen in 1985. It was a few years before the Whittier Bruen's Theatre on Whittier Blvd and Hadley St. closed down. Whittierite's know this Theatre as the "Whittier Walk In." They would show double features daily. Well one day Danny was driving down Whittier Blvd heading home and he looked over to his right and saw that the double feature for that day was, Boulevard Night's and CUBA a movie staring Sean Connery. Danny starred in Boulevard nights and had a role in Cuba. The Theatre had actually double featured a Whittier local and had no clue. He went straight home and grabbed his 35mm camera and took shots of the marquee. I could only imagine how great that must have felt for a Whittier local.

Danny was double featured at the Whittier Walk In
 and Whittier had no clue he was a Whittier local.

It was a huge honor to talk to Danny De La Paz. When you talk with Danny you get the sense that you have known him your whole life. I like to think that a small part of that comes from his up bringing here in Whittier, California. It felt good to hear him speak so highly of his childhood hear in Whittier. He said that his time spent in Whittier and the education he received in the Whittier school system prepared him for his big role in Boulevard nights. "That is the God's honest truth." His no quit attitude, hard work and positive attitude has helped him persevere and sustain a solid career. He embraces the impact his roles have had on his fans without being arrogant about it, almost down playing it. I honestly don't think he gives himself the credit he deserves for accomplishing what he has. Danny's fans continue to come out and support him at every event he attends and he is super appreciative of that.

"You tend to reflect on the past when life gets hard or doesn't go the way you would like. You have to keep moving forward but it is good to look back and know where you came from."

Danny De La Paz
A Little bit Chuco & a Little bit Big Puppet

I suggested to Danny to possibly write a one man play about  his life and take it to the stage where it all started. I really think he has a great story to tell and it could impact many people. I also think he would make a great host for a Poscast show, The Danny De La "PAZCAST." Think about it Danny! A million thanks to you Danny I appreciate you. Thank you for taking the time to call in and talk with me. I am going to try and get you a mention in the Whittier Museum. You should be represented here in your hometown bro and I am going to try and make that happen. So many are celebrated for doing far less. We need to give credit where credit is due and you are definitely deserving of that credit my friend.

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  1. Thank you so much, my brother, for the honor of featuring me on your wonderful blog. I enjoyed sharing those beautiful memories with you and I hope there are others who would appreciate them as well. I cherish each and every one, to me they are a treasure that can never be stolen. Much respect...DDLP.

  2. Hello Mr. De La Paz, my name is Anthony. I just wanted to Thank You and Mr. Yniguez for coming up to Sacramento June 1, 2017. I have always wanted to meet you and seeing you at events in SoCal. I thought if he could come to The SacTown Area. I would make sure to be there to meet him. I got to not only Meet, Talk, Take a Picture With, I am Framing the Picture with Your and Mr. Yniguez's Autographs. Thank You Again. So with Much Respect Mr. De La Paz. Your Homie Anthony.