Hechter Ubarry


Me with my mother and stepfather
I grew up in Harlem where music was ever present in our home. My mother had sung on the radio and our apartment in New York was frequently filled with musicians with whom she often sang. My grandmother didn't sing, but she was a staunch fan of Lawrence Welk and Astaire-Rogers movies on TV, so they were a constant part of my young life as well. (At left with my mother and stepfather on the apartment roof.)

I made my first stage appearance in the 4th grade at PS 119, playing Prince Charming in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". That was all the encouragement I needed - my future beckoned. In the 5th grade I formed a singing group. I taught the others harmony while I, of course, sang lead. We used to rehearse in the project hallways. We would sing at parties - doo wop being our style. It was a great way to impress girls. (On the left my mother, grandmother and grandfather, Vincente Martinez, fondly known in the neighborhood as "Machete, the Bookie".)
Mother, grandmother and "Machete"

Trying to be "Elvis"
I became a big Elvis fan. He was "KING!" so I sang like him, curled my lip like him and, of course, tried to comb my hair like him. As you can see, I wasn't too successful with the latter. In spite of using a lot of pomade, my hair would still fall flat. I once wrote a letter addressed to me from Elvis and all of my friends believed that he had actually written it to me. (Here I am, on the left, doing my best to look like Elvis).

The West Harlem neighborhood in which I grew up was tough. There were a lot of gangs, so I stayed with my group for protection. (We were sort of a singing gang). Some of my friends eventually became drug addicts or went to jail but I kept saying to myself - "this is not for me" - and would escape to the movies. I'd spend the whole day at the movies. In those days they played three films, plus coming attractions and ten cartoons - a child's paradise. I kept day-dreaming about one day getting out of this neighborhood and having a career in show business. (At right in the projects).
"Home Sweet Home"

Theatre and music focused my life. My grandmother was in love with Spanish-speaking entertainers and I would go with her to see the Latino stars in the Spanish-speaking movies. These people were wonderful, they became my heroes - and I became a fan of Arturo de Cordoba, Jorge Negrete and, of course the greatest of charros, Miguel Aceves Mejía. They had a profound effect on me. Until I saw these movies I hadn't liked the way I looked but seeing these "heroes" made me change my mind and comfortable with who I was.

Curly and Laurey in "Oklahoma"
During my junior high school years I continued to sing. I was in the Manhattan Borough-wide chorus directed by John Motley. We loved to sing and we were good. We would perform anywhere - from the subways to that Mecca of concert halls, Carnegie Hall. That was a real high point. In my junior high school production of Rodger's and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma", I got to play Curly, the lead. So music was always a big, daily part of my life. (At left Curly and Laurey riding in "The surrey with the fringe on top". As you can see, it was a very low-budget production.)

When I was getting close to entering high school, I decided to audition for the High School of Performing Arts choosing to do a monologue from "Macbeth". I am not sure whether I was displaying unbelievable naiveté or unbelievable "chutzpah". I had never seen Shakespeare performed on stage or film and I had a street-wise inner-city accent, but I was always imitating what I heard in the movies and, apparently, youth has no fear. When the audition was over, they asked me who my favorite performer was and I answered "Elvis Presley". They accepted me anyway. (As you can see on the right, I eventually got to meet my hero - well, sort of.).

Being surrounded daily by others who loved music and theater as much as I did, I immediately felt at home at this school. Among, my classmates were Ben Vereen, Pinchas Zuckerman, Gerard Schwarz, Pricilla Lopez and Glynn Turman. At this time I started developing an interest in classical music. I also started to learn about Calypso music as I was now living in Brooklyn with a classmate's family from Trinidad since my mother had moved to Connecticut. In the meantime, I kept performing outside of school and appeared at a local night spot called "Ye Olde Triple Inn" where a rising, young comedian, Freddie Prinze, was also doing his comedy act. (At right, a class reunion at the High School of the Performing Arts, where I was delighted to meet up with two former teachers - dance instructor, Bella Malinka and drama teacher, Mordecai Lawner).

Three months out of high school, I landed my first Broadway show: "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" starring Christopher Plummer and David Carradine. I auditioned with - what else - Shakespeare (Hamlet's "To be or not to be"), and was cast as an Inca Indian. My second Broadway show was "Man of La Mancha" starring Richard Kiley. (Here I am on the right with Richard Kiley and then U.S. President, Jimmy Carter, after a performance. Not bad company for a young Puerto Rican kid raised in Harlem).
Hechter and "friends"

It was at this point I was encouraged to study opera, and so I did with a cantor named Maurice Jampol. He believed in me and encouraged me, refusing to let me stop lessons simply because I did not have the money. He always said - you will pay me when you can - and I did, every penny. He was a wonderful man who became a dear friend as well as a mentor.

As Rico in "Crocodile Dundee II"
My film career was now beginning to take off. My first movie was "The Cross and the Switchblade" with Pat Boone and Erik Estrada where I played Moonlight, a tough gang kid. In "McBain", with Christopher Walken and Maria Conchita Alonso, I was the infamous drug kingpin, Simon Escobar. But it was as the South American drug kingpin, Rico, in "Crocodile Dundee II" (see right) that I had my biggest role, which led to others.

I returned to Broadway in the musical "Chu Chem" playing a Jewish-Chinese prince (now that's inspired casting). Some other theatre credits include "Bye, Bye, Birdie", "Romance Language", "West Side Story", "The King and I", "The Me Nobody Knows" a musical version of "Gone with the Wind" and the Broadway revival of "Man of La Mancha" with my long-time friend, Raul Julia. (To the right, a photo of me and Raul singing together off-stage as well.)
With friend, Raul Julia

I continued making films but one I particularly enjoyed was "The Ardent Heart", a German made-for-television film, because I got to sing in that one. In the year 2000 I was invited by singer-songwriter, Paul Simon, to sing on the CD of his Broadway production, "The Capeman". When I am not working in a show or on a film, I have my own cabaret act which I have been doing since 2000 as well.

My daughter, Degan and wife, Carmen
I had a full career under my birth name Hector Mercado. Later discovering that there was another performer in the union with the exact same name, in 1983 I decided to change my name to Hechter Ubarry to avoid confusion. I consider myself very fortunate. In spite of humble beginnings, I have happily made my life in New York and have been able to spend my life doing the one thing I have always wanted to do. (In the photo on left you can see my daughter, Degan and wife, Carmen while in France for a wedding).

I have also had the good fortune to make many good friends over the years. (Two of those friends are that fine actor,Tony Martinez and baseball Hall-of-Famer, Orlando Cepeda who flank me in the photo at right). I hope that by coming to my website, you will enjoy making the journey of that life with me.
Tony Martinez, me, Orlando Cepeda