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By Margaret Toal
Fpr the Record 

West Orange actress to return home for festival


Last updated 1/23/2024 at 9:25pm

Dolores Cantu got a job at the old Strand movie theater in the 1960s when she was 14 years old. At the time, she could only dream she would one day be on the big screen.

She ended up on the big screen and TV screens for decades and has gone down in film history as the only woman who ever beat up John Travolta in a movie. It was the classic "Saturday Night Fever."

Cantu, a 1968 graduate of the old West Orange High School, will be returning home to be featured at the Boomtown Film and Music Festival in Beaumont February 23-24.

She will appear at the Jefferson Theater's Classic Movie Night on Friday, February 23, for a 7 p.m. showing of "Saturday Night Fever" and then speak at a festival forum at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, February 24.

In addition, Cantu has been nominated to be in Port Arthur's Museum of the Gulf Coast's Hall of Fame, though board approval may not come in time for her to be inducted during her February visit back home.

The Boomtown Film and Music Festival will have an Orange County flavor with Penny LeLeux of Orangefield serving a second year as chair of the festival.

LeLeux has been a writer for The Record Newspapers and has branched out into film-making. She wrote a short "Shhh" that was filmed in Orange and won numerous awards at film festivals across the country and was nominated for an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France.

Since then, she has acted in and helped produce a short "Death by King Cake" by a Lake Charles filmmaker she has gotten to know.

LeLeux said Cantu, who will turn 75 later this year, is a great fit for the regional film festival because she has been in Hollywood for more than 50 years. Not only has she acted in dozens of TV shows, films, and national commercials, she is also a talent manager.

Cantu is of Spanish descent and was born in Refugio, Texas. She didn't speak English until she was in the second grade. Her parents moved the family to West Orange when she was 13. She helped the family with her job at The Strand Theater on Front Street in downtown Orange, where she worked for four years making $5 for an eight-hour shift.

Even though she loved watching the movies, she didn't set out to be an actress. Cantu has said she got a job at Prudential Insurance in Houston after graduating from high school. Someone noticed her striking looks and bubbling personality and suggested she become an airline stewardess.

Those were the days when airlines hired only attractive women who met certain standards to serve as what are now known as "flight attendants." She got a job with Eastern Airlines and was able to travel the world.

The airline company chose her to appear in national commercials and then to represent them in the Miss USA-Miss Universe contest. Judges there suggested she go into acting.

Through the years she appeared in a number of popular television shows in roles like playing J.R. Ewing's secretary on "Dallas," or being one of Mr. Roarke's beauties on "Fantasy Island."

"When she went to Hollywood, there weren't many roles for Hispanic women beyond being a housekeeper or gang member," LeLeux said.

Cantu was a ground-breaker. Back in the 1970s, she starred in the first McDonald's commercial featuring a Hispanic. She made the spot in English and Spanish.

However, she did portray a gang member when she beat up John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever."

Other television roles included "Falcon Crest," "Benson," "Diff'rent Strokes," and "Quincy M.E." She did the voices of several characters on Saturday morning cartoon series.

LeLeux said Cantu also started a floral and entertaining company to help her make it through the times when the acting jobs were lean. She became known through the L.A.-Hollywood area for her floral arrangements and would appear as a guest on local TV talk shows giving demonstrations.

More than 20 years ago, Cantu decided to use her knowledge of Hollywood business to help others and started Candu Management, a company to manage the careers and help others steer through the business. Her clients have included renowned game show host and TV producer Wink Martindale.

LeLeux said she was surprised to learn Cantu was not in the Southeast Texas Hall of Fame at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur. She learned no one had nominated Cantu, so LeLeux has.

Hall of Fame nominations need only three letters of recommendation. LeLeux collected 15, including praise from Martindale and others in the business like a producer on "E.T." LeLeux is still hoping the museum board votes for an induction soon so a ceremony can be held while Cantu is in the area for the film festival.

LeLeux said she became the director of the Boomtown Film and Music Festival last year when the festival started up again after a hiatus because of the Covid pandemic. LeLeux is on the board of directors of the non-profit Southeast Texas Arts Council as a representative of Orange County. The arts council works with the regional film and music festival. Because LeLeux had been traveling the country as "Shhh" appeared in other film festivals, she had learned how festivals are run.

Festivals for a variety of new artworks are held in different cities for all types of short and full-length movies and documentaries. The Boomtown Festival features new films and music from a variety of genres. The festival allows independent filmmakers a chance to show off their skills to an audience, including producers and distributors.

Tickets to the two-day Boomtown Festival are available online. A festival ticket will allow the ticket holder access to all the events, including screenings, performances, and lecture series. A festival ticket will also give admission to the Jefferson Theater's screening of "Saturday Night Fever" with Cantu, but tickets may also be purchased individually through the theater.


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