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American Masters: Six Degrees of Raúl Juliá

by Elisa Lichtenbaum

This month, in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, American Masters and Latino Public Broadcasting’s VOCES present Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage, the first documentary about the legendary and influential Puerto Rican actor whose versatile work on stage and screen includes The Taming of the Shrew with Meryl Streep, the Broadway musical Nine, films such as The Addams Family, and more.

Before you watch this film by director Ben DeJesus (Great Performances: John Leguizamo’s Road to Broadway, John Leguizamo: Tales from a Ghetto Klown), check out Raúl Juliá’s fascinating connections to other amazing icons who have been profiled on American Masters!

1) Meryl Streep

Raúl Juliá and Meryl Streep garnered rave reviews as dueling lovers Petruchio and Kate in the 1978 Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew. But what are Streep’s other American Masters connections? The Oscar-winning actress was directed by Mike Nichols, the subject of two American Masters films — Mike Nichols (2016) and Nichols & May – Take Two (2005) – in the films Silkwood, Heartburn, Postcards From the Edge, and the HBO miniseries Angels In America. She also read excerpts from Terrence McNally’s works in a 2019 American Masters profile of the celebrated playwright. (More about thoroughly marvelous McNally below!)

VIDEO: Meryl Streep and Raúl Juliá perform a scene from the 1978 Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew in this excerpt from American Master  Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage.

Meryl Streep describes working with Mike Nichols in this outtake from American Masters: Mike Nichols.

2) Terrence McNally

A kiss is just a kiss according to a famous romantic tune, but Kiss of the Spider Woman is what connects American Masters Raúl Juliá and Terrence McNally. Manuel Puig’s bestselling 1976 novel, the riveting and evocative story of two inmates in a South American prison cell, inspired a film and Broadway musical. Raúl Juliá received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Valentin, a macho political prisoner, in the 1985 film, which also starred William Hurt as Valentin’s gay cellmate and Sônia Braga as Valentin’s lover and the Spider Woman. Playwright Terrence McNally, the subject of the recent American Masters film Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life and recipient of a special 2019 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, scored a Tony for writing the book of the 1993 Kander & Ebb musical, which starred Chita Rivera and was directed by the late Harold Prince. (Broadway musical fans: for more on Prince, check out the Great Performances documentary Harold Prince: The Director’s Life.)

Watch Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life here.

3) Rita Moreno

We also love this legendary EGOT winner’s many-splendored connections to Raúl Juliá and American Masters. The Puerto Rican-born actress won a 1975 Tony Award for her portrayal of Googie Gomez, a third-rate entertainer with dreams of Broadway glory, in Terrence McNally’s farce The Ritz, reprised her role in the film adaptation penned by McNally, and is interviewed in American Masters films on Juliá and McNally. She also shares a special connection with Norman Lear – who was profiled on American Masters in 2016 – charming audiences and critics alike as Lydia Margarita del Carmen Inclán Maribona Leyte-Vidal de Riera in the Latino family remake of Lear’s popular 1970s-80s sitcom One Day at a Time.

Moreno is also the subject of her very own American Masters film, Rita Moreno: The Girl Who Decided to Go For It (working title), premiering on PBS in 2020 and executive produced by American Masters series executive producer Michael Kantor, Norman Lear, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

VIDEO: Rita Moreno explains how Terrence McNally owned who he was a time when most gay men and women were in the closet in this excerpt from American Masters — Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life.

4) Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

Raúl Juliá made his feature film debut in The Organization (1971), a cop movie about revolutionaries fighting a ruthless drug racket. The movie also starred Sidney Poitier, the subject of Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light, a 2000 American Masters film directed by Lee Grant, who acted with Poitier in the groundbreaking 1967 mystery thriller In the Heat of the Night. The Organization was the third film featuring Oscar-winner Poitier as homicide detective Virgil Tibbs, the role he played in In the Heat of the Night.

5) Sammy Davis, Jr.

Juliá appeared with Mr. Show Business – a.k.a. Sammy Davis, Jr., the subject of the 2019 American Masters documentary Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me – in Moon Over Parador, director Paul Mazurzky’s 1988 romantic comedy about a dead dictator, a sexy First Lady, and an unknown actor who gets his big break. Sônia Braga, Juliá’s Kiss of the Spider Woman co-star — who is interviewed in Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage — also starred in the film.

Watch Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me here.

6) Sydney Pollack

What do Raúl Juliá and Oscar-winning film director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, The Way We Were, Out of Africa) have in common? Juliá appeared in Havana, Pollack’s 1990 film starring Robert Redford as a professional gambler who falls for a woman involved in the revolution movement in 1950s Cuba. Pollack’s American Masters connection? There are two: he directed Sketches of Frank Gehry and narrated John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend.

Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage premieres Friday, September 13 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings),, and the PBS Video App in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #RaulJuliaPBS.

Watch American Masters — Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage, streaming until October 11.

Elisa Lichtenbaum@ElisaVonTap

Elisa Lichtenbaum, editor of the monthly THIRTEEN program guide, is also Senior Writer at WNET, a tap dancer, and theater geek.



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