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Dan Guerrero: A Renaissance man & the son of a legend

Created: 02 April, 2010
Updated: 20 April, 2022
7 min read

First Person:
By Al Carlos Hernandez

The eclectic producer/director Dan Guerrero has been twice honored by the distinguished Imagen Foundation for his positive portrayal of the Latino culture in his work. Hispanic Magazine recognized him as, “One of the 25 most powerful Latinos in Hollywood.”

Dan began his entertainment career in New York. He was a successful theatrical agent with clients in the original casts of countless Broadway musicals in the years from A Chorus Line to Cats. He returned home to Los Angeles for an equally successful time as a casting director for stage and television before turning his talents to producing and directing.

Guerrero has long been acclaimed as a highly creative independent producer of diverse programming for network and cable television in both English and Spanish. He is internationally acclaimed for his ground braking award winning one-man Broadway show entitled Gaytino. The show covered everything from Mariachi to Merman. Sondheim to Cesar Chavez. Show tunes and canciones en español. A father/son relationship and a treasured boyhood friendship drive this 75 minute autobiographical play through decades of Chicano history and the gay experience from a unique and personal perspective.

Dan’s father, Lalo Guerrero, became internationally recognized as the “Father of Chicano Music” in a career that spanned generations. Lalo was a great entertainer and he took his guitar and music everywhere – the White House, a neighbor’s house, a concert hall or a classroom.

I worked with Lalo Guerrero on the Los Lobos Grammy Nominated CD Papa’s Dream in 1996, and was pleased to spend some time with Dan to chronicle the continuing legacy of Los Guerreros.

Al Carlos: When in life did you realize that your dad was special and that you wanted to be a special somebody as well? Who has been your greatest supporter and biggest nemesis?

I was just a kid when Mom took me to see Dad perform at the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Dad walked out on that stage and, when applause broke out, I knew he was special and not just a “regular” Dad like my friends’ dads. He belonged to a bigger audience than just Mom and me. I knew it at that moment.

My greatest supporters were certainly my parents although they tried everything to talk me out of going into show business.

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My biggest nemeses? Being gay and being Latino. When I first got to New York, you had to butch it up big time at auditions and not appear to be the flamer you really were or be too, “light in the loafers,” a popular expression of the day. So, I always felt restricted, limited and not able to be who I really was. And roles for Latinos in the early 1960s? Mighty scarce.

AC: Where did you acquire the skills in life to become a producer and director? 

I learned everything by just doing it – on the job training. I became a talent agent in the years from A Chorus Line to Cats. Learned how to be a really good one right on the job, including negotiating skills, and I always had an eye for talent.

Moved back to LA in the early 1980’s and got calls from New York casting friends who knew me as an agent with good taste in talent. Suddenly I’m doing LA casting for Broadway shows learning on the job and working with everyone from Sondheim to Tommy Tune. Was writing entertainment columns and celebrity interviews on the side for a Hollywood trade paper for lousy money, but got to see all the shows for free.

Never took any writing classes, but I’ve always been interested in people and have always been a good talker, so I asked the questions that interested me and wrote the way I talked. I learned on the job. I got a call one day and next thing I know, I’m hired as head writer on a bilingual television talk show starring comic Paul Rodriguez. That was because of the skills I had picked up in all my various careers – working with talent, writing, interviewing.

After the first year, I was bumped up to co-producer and I was off and running – producing for television through the 1990’s.

AC: You are equally adept and successful in Spanish and in English; it works for you. Do you think being Latino has been a help or a hindrance to your career considering the racial climate in Hollywood today?

This is a tough one. There is no simple answer. When I first moved back to LA from New York after twenty years away, I did it because I could see a huge Latino market on the horizon and I knew I was a rare bird at that time. In the early 1980’s, I was a Latino that was crossing over in the opposite direction. Most Latinos were trying to cross over to the mainstream. I had already spent years in the “mainstream”- a word I don’t like – and I was crossing over to a market that did not even exist. I was the only one out there doing what I did, A rare Latino writer in mainstream publications. I was one of only two Latino casting directors in Hollywood. But, as the years went on, I found I had painted myself into a corner. I had produced with major non-Latino television producers and directors that would call me instantly if they had a Latino project. But, they didn’t call when working the Oscars or on TV films that did not have a Latino theme. So it began to work against me and that’s when I left television and moved into the world of live, non-broadcast international arts and culture events. It opened up a whole new world. And, in that world, it didn’t matter if I was Latino.

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AC: On your website and in your biography you don’t mention the play you had written and performed in Gaytino. What is that?

When I decided to write an autobiographical play called ¡Gaytino! – I had never written a play. I had not performed on stage for over thirty years. I wanted to downplay it because I had no idea what was going to happen. My name and reputation meant something to some people and I was concerned about tarnishing that image. And I could hear people saying, “Oh, another producer who really wants to be a performer!” That was only partially true. I did not spend the past many years yearning for a return to the lights. But I always thought one day, when I was a feisty old codger, I would return to the stage and be the comic actor I always was, but could not be in my youth. I was a pretty boy and always got the silly juvenile roles when I really wanted the funny part. I hit a major lull in my career about five years ago and I thought, “I’m not dead yet. What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” I looked in the mirror and there was a feisty old codger looking back, so I wrote the show. It took off instantly and, at the same time, my producing/directing career came back bigger than ever. Go figure. But, the time has come to blend the two careers.

AC: What are some of the projects that you have been waiting a lifetime to do?

I want to create a theatre or dance piece using my dad’s music. Not so much a biographical evening, but like the documentary: our Chicano history through Dad’s music. And I will do it.

AC: What are you working on now and why did you choose this project?

I’m working with Linda Ronstadt on her Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival. It’s her third year as artistic director of the festival in San Jose (outside of San Francisco) that has been around almost 20 years. She’s an artist I have long admired for her talents and for her heart. I’m privileged to be working with her. And it’s my favorite kind of project. A job that celebrates my culture. And I get to play with an American music icon. How cool is that?

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