Elena Verdugo

Elena Verdugo, PBS Pioneers of TelevisionCalifornia native Elena Verdugo began her acting career when she was only a child, appearing in numerous studio films before her 20th birthday. As Conseulo Lopez in “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” Verdugo was nominated for two Primetime Emmys and with her warm demeanor and comedic touch, took her place as America’s favorite nurse.

When she first auditioned for the role, however, Verdugo was skeptical about ABC’s offer. She assumed since they were searching for a Latina character, they were expecting her to portray a domestic.

“They were looking for a Mexican girl,” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Forget it. I’m not playing maids and house keepers.’ You know that is all that they were showing.”

Once she learned Conseulo would be a nurse, Verdugo jumped at the chance to play the first professional Latina woman on television. The Verdugos were a proud Southern California family, tracing their roots back several generations to the 1700s when the family owned most of the area that now spans Burbank and Glendale. This familial pride fueled her determination to make visible a more progressive version of the Latina experience. “She was as American as apple pie,” Verdugo explained, elaborating on her character’s cultural complexity. “But she had this Mexican – a little bit of a fire – underneath it all.”

Nurses Don’t Pour Coffee
Unlike her male counterpart Robert Young, Elena Verdugo heeded the medical community’s criticism of “Marcus Welby, M.D.’s” fictionalized portrayal of doctors and nurses. When professional women wrote in to the show to request Verdugo’s Consuelo Lopez stop pouring Dr. Welby’s coffee for him, Verdugo immediately assessed the practice.

“[They said] ‘You stop getting him coffee in the morning, we are sick of it, now all doctors want us to get a cup of coffee for them in the morning,’” related Verdugo. “And I said, ‘I got it, I got it! I will cut it down.’”

Cut it down, she did. Verdugo seldom waiting on Robert Young’s character after the first season, choosing instead to work alongside the physicians with perspective, poise and good humor. A role model for young women everywhere, Elena Verdugo continued to break barriers on and off screen, and still continues to make public appearances today.