"I'm tired of being thought of as a big, Mexican Mary Poppins," actress Elena Verdugo said to the Chicago Daily News in 1973, right as she was in the middle of a seven-year run on "Marcus Welby, M.D." It was one of the biggest dramas of the '70s, running from 1969-76, and Verdugo played Welby's secretary and nurse, Consuelo Lopez, the friendly woman who was often the heart of "Welby." Verdugo received two Emmy nominations for her work on the series.
She had started out in B-movies in the Hollywood of the '30s and '40s, often starring as an uncredited dancer, and she moved her way up to speaking parts, appearing in such films as "Gene Autry and the Mounties," "The Lost Volcano" and "The Frozen Ghost." By far the most famous film she appeared in was Universal horror film "House of Frankenstein," where she played Ilonka. She also starred in the final Charlie Chan film "The Sky Dragon."
Verdugo soon moved over to television, where she was one of the first significant Latina actresses to regularly attract roles on assorted series. In addition to working as a regular in such shows as "Meet Millie" and "Many Happy Returns," Verdugo appeared as a guest star in numerous series, including "Rawhide" and "Ironside." But it was "Welby" that would be her largest part. Verdugo said in the interview with the Daily News that it was very different from other roles she had played.
"Actually, all my sentences on the show are so boring to me," she said. "I used to do Mexican hat dances in movies. Today I say, 'The consultation has been moved up one hour, and the prognosis is good.' That's why I smile a lot. I don't understand what I'm saying."
Verdugo died May 30, 2017 in Los Angeles. Sharon Gless, a close friend, shared the news on social media:
"My dearest friend, ELENA VERDUGO, died this morning. Wonderful actress.
Funniest woman I ever knew. The world is a less interesting place."