Antonia Rey will forever be remembered as a pioneer for Hispanic actresses. The performer, who had played on stages and sets across the world, passed away on February 21 at the age of 92. The New York Times confirmed the sad news on Friday, March 22, relishing in the inspiring footsteps the star now leaves behind. From fleeing communist dictatorship to starting life anew in the United States, Antonia’s life is an extraordinary story of perseverance and passion.
Antonia with Antonio Banderas at the 4th annual Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors Awards
In the 1950s, Antonia ruled the theatre scene in Cuba. Her flourishing career there included many leading lady roles, such as the title character in George Bernard Shaw’s Candida and playing Elizabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller’s iconic play The Crucible. However, things took a turn for the worse when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.
As Fidel began his dictatorship, Antonia and her husband Andres Castro, who was not related to Fidel, but a well-known theatre director, had two options: they could stay in the world they’d always known, but under tyrannical leadership, or venture to the “home of the free” United States. They ended up being amongst the first people to leave Havana in 1961.
Though they got out safely, Antonia and Andres were unfortunately still met with obstacles in America. They entered a society where Latinos were not given prominent roles in entertainment. However, the Cuban couple pounded the pavement and worked hard until they broke through.
Antonia in the film To Find A Man
Not long after, Antonia began to book work as an actress. She went on to establish herself in New York, playing in Broadway shows like 42 Seconds From Broadway, the revival of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Ritz which featured Rita Moreno in the title role.
Antonia also lit up the screen in big movies like Hair, Klute (with Jane Fonda) and, more recently, Match starring Patrick Stewart. Her television appearances, included: Happy!, Madam Secretary and a recurring stint playing Abuela on Dora the Explorer, a role reinvented by Adriana Barraza for the new live-action version, which also stars Eva Longoria. In 2003, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.
Born as Maria Antonia Rey on October 12, 1926, she always wanted to be an actress. She was raised in Havana by her grandmother, while her mom Emilia studied to be a nurse - her father Antonio passed away before she was born. Her mother eventually remarried a banker named Rafael Rangel, who had two sons. Antonia is survived by her niece Nina Rangel and one of her stepbrothers, Emilio Rangel.