Late night TV showings of Lupe Velez's "Mexican Spitfire" films of the 1940s are more than a pastime for recording and film star Apollonia Kotero. They're homework for Kotero, who said she would like to portray the stormy comedienne on film.
Kotero, who gained fame as Prince's co-star in "Purple Rain," talked in an interview about her glory days, her recent fallout with mentor Prince and her tabloid-splattered drug-related arrest in 1989.
The entertainer said she is working to jump-start her once-promising career that included hit records (such as "Sex Shooter"), videos and prime-time TV appearances ("Falcon Crest").
Watching her ease in front of the camera in a photo session evoked memories of her modeling past when she was Patty Kotero, the Santa Monica native, whose Mexican parents raised her, she said, with "a ruler in one hand and rosary beads in the other."
In high school, the teen-age Apollonia entered what she called "cornball" beauty contests and reached the Miss California pageant finals in 1976. A stint as an L.A. Rams cheerleader followed, as did featured roles in a few Mexican exploitation films.
At 21, the young Mexican-American gained a feisty reputation in the local Chicano community when, as Miss Black Velvet Latina of 1980, she denounced that beauty competition for allegedly fraudulent advertising practices and broken promises.
So why hasn't the public seen Apollonia's Latina side since then? "Since I worked with Prince, people assumed that I was black," she said.
Kotero said she declined a part in the "Purple Rain" sequel, "Graffiti Bridge."
"I was under contract to do it, but with Prince writing and directing, I said, 'No, thanks.' I then spent a year getting out of all my contracts with Prince and Warner Brothers Records. That's what terminated my friendship with Prince," she said.
Stymied by the fact she wasn't being considered for Latina roles, Apollonia said she proposed her own TV movie script ("Homegirl") about a Latina involved in gangs and drugs. She maintains that her 1989 arrest for allegedly buying drugs came while researching that explicit story.
The misdemeanor drug charges were later dropped, but the bad press generated in the tabloids practically put her career, she said, "in a holding tank."
But things are looking up. An aerobics video ("Go for It With Apollonia!") is in post-production. She has been promoting her latest film, "Black Magic Woman," in which she co-stars with Mark Hamill of "Star Wars" fame. Despite the film's evocative title (taken from Santana's hit song), the thriller does not typecast Apollonia in another ethnic part. Instead, she's a sexy yet vulnerable siren hounded by Hamill as an art gallery owner and Lothario.
The richly textured paintings of local artist George Yepes provide a vital backdrop for the film and Apollonia says she's an avid fan of Yepes' artwork. "Black Magic Woman" is now available on video.
Apollonia and her husband, Kevin Bernhardt, are collaborating on a film about a female bullfighter. Then, she'd like to concentrate on the Velez project.