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Man who brought theater, TV to Latino audiences dies at 85

Published: Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES – Frank L. Fouce, an impresario of Spanish-language entertainment who turned downtown Los Angeles’ historic Million Dollar Theater into a prestigious venue for a burgeoning Latino market and helped launch the television network that became Univision, died Sept. 22 in Los Angeles. He was 85.

The cause was lymphoma, said his daughter, Paula Fouce.

Fouce was a co-founder of Spanish International Communications Corp., which operated the first Spanish-language television stations in the United States, including KMEX-TV (Channel 34), Univision’s flagship outlet and the No. 1 source for Spanish-language news and entertainment in Los Angeles.

He bought the Million Dollar Theater at 3rd Street and Broadway in 1969 and undertook a major renovation, drawing huge Spanish-speaking audiences for films and live performances at a time when mainstream media largely ignored them.

“He was Spanish-language entertainment in Los Angeles,” said longtime friend and associate Bruce Corwin, whose family-owned Metropolitan Theatres ran the Million Dollar venue off and on for years. “He brought every major motion picture star from Mexico to the Million Dollar Theater for decades. Then, when he went to Channel 34, he brought them live to television. He was a one-man band bringing live Mexican talent to this community.”

Fouce learned the entertainment business from his father, Frank, a former child actor and pioneering Spanish-language film distributor. As the television industry grew, father and son recognized the potential for Spanish-language TV and in 1961 helped start the Spanish International Communications Corp. with the Azcarraga family of Mexico and other investors.

“The Fouce family saw a marketing niche and built across venues – theaters, live entertainment and television – at a time when not many Anglos were paying attention to Latinos and what we wanted to see here,” said Felix Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

In 1975 Fouce and other minority stockholders initiated what would become a 10-year legal battle to loosen the Azcarraga family’s control of the network. An investigation by the Federal Communications Commission that found that the Mexican interests had circumvented foreign ownership rules led to a sale of most of SICC’s stations. Two broadcast giants were created by the breakup: Telemundo and Univision.

Descended from Spanish immigrants who landed in Hawaii in the late 1800s, Frank Louis Fouce was born in Los Angeles on Oct. 15, 1927. A graduate of Loyola University, he served as a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne Division in Japan in the late 1940s before going to work in Hollywood as an assistant director at the Hal Roach Studios and Bing Crosby’s production company. He later earned a master’s degree in business from Pepperdine University.

The elder Frank Fouce owned or operated several downtown theaters, including the Mayan, California, Liberty and Roosevelt theaters. In 1950, he began leasing the Million Dollar Theater to show Spanish-language films and Mexican vaudeville acts.

After he died in 1962, his son succeeded him as head of Fouce Amusement Enterprises, which had offices at the Million Dollar Theater that had been used by Sid Grauman, the legendary showman who opened the theater in 1918. In 1969 Fouce bought the theater from the Popkin family for $2 million and for the next 25 years used it as a showcase for top performers from Cuba, Mexico, Spain and other countries.

“We give our people what they demand, what they like, simple musical fare featuring personal appearances of top-name Latins,” including Maria Felix, Lucho Gatica, Dolores del Rio and Lalo “El Piporro” Gonzalez, Fouce told the Los Angeles Times in 1965.

He served as president of KMEX-TV starting in 1962. After its sale in 1986, he started Burbank-based KRCA-TV (Channel 62), which offered programming in Farsi, Tagalog, Korean and Chinese. KRCA switched to Spanish-language programming after the Fouce family sold it in 1997.

Fouce also was active in politics, serving as Los Angeles County Republican Party chairman from 1989 to 1990.

Besides his daughter Paula, he is survived by his wife of 65 years, the former Betty Ballester; a son, Thomas; daughters Laura, Martha and Victoria; and four grandchildren.

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©2013 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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