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Raúl Juliá: 1940-1994: Actor, Humanitarian

Fell In Love With Acting Early

Juliá got his start on the stage in first grade. While playing the devil in his school play, the usually shy five-year-old leapt onto the stage, let out an alarming howl, rolled around on the floor, and then proceeded with his lines. The audience thought he was having some kind of seizure. In the book Raúl Juliá: Actor and Humanitarian, Juliá recalled: "It was a marvelous experience. I entered and let go of myself. I became sort of possessed or something." When he saw legendary actor Errol Flynn in the movie Robin Hood, Juliá decided that acting was for him. By the seventh grade he was fluent in English, and had fallen in love with the works of William Shakespeare.

To appease his parents, Juliá enrolled in college, though he switched majors from psychology to medicine to law, finally earning a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from the Universidad de Puerto Rico. He became involved in San Juan's theater scene, appearing on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, and was part of a singing group called the Lamplighters. His parents were shocked but supportive when Juliá told them he was moving to New York City to pursue acting.

At a Glance . . .

Born Raúl Rafael Carlos Juliá y Arcelay on March 9, 1940, in San Juan, Puerto Rico; died on October 24, 1994, in Manhasset, NY; son of Raúl Juliá (an engineer and entrepreneur) and Olga Arcelay (an amateur singer); married Magda Vasallo (divorced, 1969); married Merel Poloway (a dancer-actress), 1976; children: two sons. Education: University of Puerto Rico, BA.

Career: Actor, theater, 1964-1992, film 1971-1994.

Memberships: Phoebe Brand's Theater in the Street, actor, 1964; New York Shakespeare Festival, actor, 1960s, member of the board of directors, 1980s; The Hunger Project, advocate, 1977-94.

Awards: Screen Actors Guild Award, outstanding performance by a male actor in a TV movie or miniseries, 1994, for The Burning Season; Golden Globe Award, best performance by an actor in a mini-series or motion picture made for television, 1995, for The Burning Season; Emmy Award, outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or special, 1995, for The Burning Season; Hispanic Heritage Award, lifetime achievement, 1995; inducted into Theatre Hall of Fame, 1996.

Juliá arrived in New York during a snowstorm in 1964, having never before seen snow. He struggled to get by, sharing a one-room apartment with a fellow Puerto Rican, and sold pens and worked as a telemarketer to earn a meager living. He attended the theater whenever he could afford it, went to all open casting calls, and started taking acting classes from Wynn Handman, the artistic director of the American Place Theater.

It took the young actor two months to land a role in the off-Broadway, Spanish-language play La Vida es Sueño. He reluctantly accepted an allowance from his family to help make ends meet, but a subsequent role playing Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie paid well enough for him to support himself—for the run of the show, at least. He also was involved with street theater companies, including Phoebe Brand's Theater in the Street and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, which usually performed in poor New York City neighborhoods.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dan Jacobson Biography - Dan Jacobson comments: to Barbara Knutson (1959–2005) Biography - PersonalRaúl Juliá: 1940-1994: Actor, Humanitarian Biography - Fell In Love With Acting Early, Career Ranged From Shakespeare To Soaps, Theater Career Gave Way To Movies