Edward James “Eddie” OlmosEdward James “Eddie” Olmos, D.F.A. was born on February 24, 1947 in East Los Angeles, California. His ethnically diverse neighborhood which he refers to as a “salad bowl” because each culture kept its own unique qualities, blending into a whole without losing its individual flavor contributed towards his open-mindedness and ability to welcome diversity among people.
About the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles where EJO grew up, he says, “On our small lane (Cheesbrough’s Lane) we had a Hispanic family with thirteen kids, Native Americans, Koreans, Chinese, Mexicans, Russians. It was a fantastic environment.”
Eddie’s mother, Eleanor Huizar, met his father, Pedro Olmos, while visiting Mexico City. They married and raised three children: Peter, Edward, and Esperanza. His parents divorced when he was seven, and Eddie found refuge in baseball as a means of staying away from street gangs and drugs. He was such a talented ball player that he became the Golden State batting champion.
Early in his teen years, Eddie found a new love music. He taught himself to sing and play piano, and by 1961 he was good enough to join a band, the Pacific Ocean. The band’s name was Eddie’s idea because it was “the biggest thing on the West Coast.” With waist long hair, Eddie was the band? lead vocalist. “I was a terrible singer, but, boy, could I scream and dance!”
In 1968 Eddie’s band, Pacific Ocean, made one record, “Purgatory”. It includes such classic tunes as: “Tracks of My Tears”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and “16 Tons”. On the album, credit is given to “Eddie James” as one of the musical arrangers. Eddie also was the groups’ lead singer.
In the mid 1960s, Eddie attended East Los Angeles College and California State University by day and played in local clubs most of the night. He began taking acting classes to improve the show. “I started acting to become a better singer. Then the whole thing switched on me. I discovered that the spoken word is easier to project than the sung word.”
One night a young woman walked into Gazzarri’s night club when the band was playing. The daughter of actor Howard Keel, Kaija was to become Eddie’s first wife. They were married in 1971 and had two sons, Mico and Bodie. Edward also has two adopted sons, Michael and Brandon, and two adopted daughters.
To support his family, EJO took jobs delivering antique furniture between gigs and small acting roles. Then in 1978 during an audition for another play, he was asked if he would like to try out for Zoot Suit, a musical drama about the famous 1942 “Sleepy Lagoon” case in which a group of Hispanic youths were wrongly convicted of murder.
Eddie dazzled them at the audition, speaking the part of the narrator in calo, a street jive dialect (a mix of English, Spanish, and Gypsy) from East L.A. He earned the role of El Pachuco, the strutting, posing, super macho narrator.
Zoot Suit opened in 1978 at the Mark Taper theatre with an expected run of ten days. It ran for a year before going to Broadway. By the time the show closed, Eddie had won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award, a Theatre World Award, and was nominated for a Tony Award.
Acting roles came in faster after that. In 1981 he made Wolfen with Albert Finney, and in 1982 he accepted the role of Gaff in Blade Runner with Harrison Ford. In 1984, after difficult negotiations in which he gained the right of creative control over his character of Lieutenant Martin Castillo, Eddie joined the cast of the very popular “Miami Vice”.
His popularity and fame grew tremendously with Miami Vice. However, Eddie was able to maintain a balanced approach. “You have to be able to say ‘no’ to fame and fortune before you receive it to be able to say ‘no’ again when you get older,” Eddie observes. “If not, you won’t have the strength and courage to do it. The intent must be pure.” This again became evident with his TV series, American Family and more recently with his hit series Battlestar Galactica.
Battlestar Galactica enjoyed four seasons of rave reviews and became one of the most honored science fiction shows of all time winning the Peabody Award and several Emmys. EJO played the lead character of Admiral Adama, the heart and soul of the show and of the series. He directed several episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” and, most recently, the BSG movie titled The Plan.
Eddie has often been involved in social activism, especially that affecting the Latino community. During the 1992 Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles, when many people left the city, he went out with a broom and worked to get communities cleaned up and rebuilt. In 1997, he cofounded the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival with Marlene Dermer, George Hernandez, and Kirk Whisler. That same year, he cofounded with Kirk Whisler the nonprofit organization Latino Literacy Now that has produced Latino Book & Festivals around the USA, attended by over 700,000 people. In 1998, he founded Latino Public Broadcasting and currently serves as its Chairman. Latino Public Broadcasting funds public television programming that focuses on issues affecting Latinos and advocates for diverse perspectives in public television.
In 1999, he was one of the driving forces that created Americanos: Latino Life in the U.S., a book project featuring over 30 award winning photographers, later turned into a Smithsonian traveling exhibition, music CD, and HBO special. He also makes frequent appearances at juvenile halls and detention centers to speak to at-risk teenagers. He has also been an international ambassador for UNICEF. In 2001, he was arrested and spent 20 days in prison for taking part in the Navy-Vieques protests against United States Navy target practice bombings of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.
In 1996, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from California State University, Fresno. In 2007, after a seven-year process, he obtained Mexican nationality. Also, Asteroid 5608 Olmos is named in his honor.
Watch Edward James Olmos at the United Nations and Conversations at KCTS 9: Edward James Olmos. Visit his Facebook page. Follow his Twitter feed. Read his blog.