A little known fact about my mom, Marilyn Martinez (neé Lewis), is that she was part of the cast in Kent MacKenzie’s ‘The Exiles’ (1961). In fact, I didn’t find out about this until just a few weeks before she passed away in August 2010. My mom casually mentioned this to my wife Sharon while she was staying with us. When I learned of this, I immediately looked up the title and found it had been released on dvd just a few months earlier in November 2009. According to the product description: “Originally completed in 1961 but never released theatrically, The Exiles is a rediscovered masterpiece that lay dormant in the archives for over 45 years. The Exiles chronicles one night in the lives of young Native American men and women living in the Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles. A formally wealthy neighborhood of decayed Victorian mansions and skid-row apartment buildings. Gritty, realistic and far ahead of its time made in a period when Hollywood films featured Native Americans as noble savages. Using a script created exclusively from recorded interviews with the participants and their friends, the film follows a group of exiles – transplants from Southwest reservations – as they flirt, drink, party, fight, and dance.” My mom said she enjoyed participating in making the film, especially since she got to “act with her friend, Yvonne,” who’s also the film’s protagonist. My mom also liked the director, who she thought was a nice man “with a British accent.” As for why my mom never mentioned this part of her life before, she explained that when her parents saw it, her mom (my grandmother) reprimanded her for smoking, which she does as part of her character’s role. Consequently, my mom felt ashamed and, I guess, because the movie was never officially released, she simply forgot about it in time. With regard to how she felt about the finished product, she said that she liked seeing her friends and her neighborhood, including her apartment, however, she thought the story was a little too dark, that their lives weren’t like that “all the time!” Still, my mom looked back fondly on her brush with film stardom. She was an independent woman working for Max Factor, who had met the man she’d marry, a handsome former Army Ranger named Martin Martinez. Unsurprisingly, the same day my mom told me about her filmmaking experience I ordered a copy from amazon.com As I waited for my purchase to arrive, we had to get a room at a nursing home on the Gila River Pima-Maricopa reservation southeast of Phoenix, AZ. Called “The Caring House,” it was a state-of-the-art facility where my mom got the 24hr nursing care she needed then. It would also be here, surrounded by people from our community, where she would finally see ‘The Exiles’ for the first time in nearly fifty years. She passed away about three weeks later. Today would have been her 80th birthday.
[photo credit: David Martínez]