China Zorrilla

China Zorrilla (Spanish: [ˈtʃina soˈriʝa]; born Concepción Matilde Zorrilla de San Martín Muñoz; 14 March 1922 – 17 September 2014) was an Uruguayan theater, film, and television actress, also director, producer and writer. An immensely popular star in the Rioplatense area, she is often regarded as a "Grand Dame" of the South American theater stage.[1][2]

China Zorrilla
China Zorrilla Uruguayan Actor.jpg
"China" Zorrilla in 1974
Concepción Zorrilla de San Martín Muñoz

(1922-03-14)14 March 1922
Montevideo, Uruguay
Died17 September 2014(2014-09-17) (aged 92)
Montevideo, Uruguay
OccupationActress, director, producer
Years active1947–2010

After a long career in the Uruguayan theater, Zorrilla made over 50 appearances in Argentina's film, theater and TV. Her career took off in Uruguay in the 1950 and 1960s, later she settled in Argentina, where she lived for over 35 years and was popular on TV, theater, and cinema. At 90, she retired and went back to Uruguay, where she died in 2014.

In 2008, Zorrilla was invested Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government and in 2011, the Correo Uruguayo (the national postal service in Uruguay) released a print run of 500 commemorative postage stamps dedicated to her.[3]

Early lifeEdit

Born in Montevideo into an aristocratic Uruguayan family, "China" was the second of the five daughters of Guma Muñoz del Campo and sculptor José Luis Zorrilla de San Martín (1891–1975),[2] a disciple of Antoine Bourdelle, responsible for monuments in Uruguay and Argentina. Revered as Uruguay's national poet, her paternal grandfather was Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, author of Tabaré. An artistic family, her older sister, Guma Zorrilla (1919–2001), was a theater costume designer for the Uruguayan stage.

She grew up in Paris with her four sisters. Back in Montevideo, she attended Sagrado Corazón (Holy Cross) School. In 1946, she earned a British Council scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where she studied under Greek actress Katina Paxinou.[4]


Back in her hometown, Zorrilla made her theater debut in Paul Claudel's The Tidings Brought to Mary in 1948. Immediately after, she joined the ensemble of the National Comedy of Uruguay[5] working for 10 years at the Solís Theatre, where Spanish actress Margarita Xirgu directed her in García Lorca's Blood Wedding, Fernando de Rojas' La Celestina, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and other classics[6]

During the 1950s and 1960s, Zorrilla appeared in Bertolt Brecht' Mother Courage and Her Children, "Filomena Marturano", Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tartuffe. The Seagull, Wilder's Our Town, Neil Simon's Plaza Suite, Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot, and plays by Pirandello, Peter Ustinov, Tirso de Molina, Lope de Vega, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, J.B. Priestley, and Ferenc Molnár. She received critical acclaim for her performances in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker and in Hay Fever as Judith Bliss.[7]

After a decade at the Comedia Nacional, Zorrilla went on to found the Teatro de la Ciudad de Montevideo with actor Enrique Guarnero and actor-writer Antonio Larreta. The company toured Buenos Aires, Paris, and Madrid, where they won the Spanish Critics Award for their stagings of Federico García Lorca's La zapatera prodigiosa and Lope de Vega in the summer of 1961.

Between 1964 and 1966, Zorrilla took a sabbatical year and lived in New York, where she worked as a French teacher and Broadway secretary. In New York, she staged Canciones para mirar, a children's musical based on texts by Argentine poet Maria Elena Walsh. During her stay in the U.S., Zorrilla was rumoured to have an affair with comedian Danny Kaye, who often mentioned her in interviews.

As a correspondent for the Uruguayan newspaper El País, she covered events such as the Cannes Film Festival for Homero Alsina Thevenet and other international events (later published in a book Diarios de viaje[8]) and also hosted a talk show for many years.

In opera, she directed Puccini's La bohème, Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at the Solís Theatre and the Montevideo's SODRE and Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Teatro Argentino de La Plata in 1977.

2011 – The voice of the narrations of OTRA VIDA by the English composer Clive Nolan and the writer Elizeth Schluk



China Zorrilla as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, 1980

Summoned by actor and director Lautaro Murúa to appear as Donna Natividad in the third movie version of Un Guapo del 900, China Zorrilla's film debut came late in 1971 at age 49. The following summer she made replaced actress Ana María Campoy in Butterflies are Free, which was performed in Mar del Plata. She settled in Buenos Aires. Her stay coincided with the civilian-military dictatorship in Uruguay (1973–1985), which forced her to stay abroad. Zorrilla expressed her solidarity by protecting and helping Uruguayans flee the dictatorship. During that period, she was banned by the military regime from performing in Uruguayan theatres. After the country's return to democracy in the 1980s, Zorrilla made a triumphal comeback at the Teatro Solís as Emily Dickinson.[9]

During the mid-1970s and 1980s, Zorrilla toured and performed nationally and internationally, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

On stage she has portrayed historical figures such as Emily Dickinson in William Luce's The Belle of Amherst, Monica Ottino's Victoria Ocampo, Mrs. Patrick Campbell in Jerome Kilty's Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters. Zorrilla performed in plays by Jean Cocteau, Lucille Fletcher, Oscar Viale, and fellow countryman Jacobo Langsner who wrote several plays for her. She reprised one of her theater earlier successes, the part of Judith Bliss in Hay Fever.

In 1995, she appeared in Buenos Aires's main opera house, the Teatro Colón as Persephone in Stravinsky and Gide's Perséphone.

Zorrilla adapted, directed, and produced plays and musicals: Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters, Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men, Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear and Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers.

In the last decade, she won four awards as sculptor Helen Martins in Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca and as Eve in an adaption of Mark Twain's Eve's Diary.

Film and TVEdit

After her debut in 1971 as Mother Natividad in Murua's Un guapo del 900, Zorrilla appeared in more than 40 Argentinian movies. In 1973, she became a popular star in Alberto Migré's soap operas. In 1984, she won Best Actress at the La Habana Film Festival for "Darse Cuenta".[10] She performed in Summer of the Colt (a Canadian coproduction), Maria Luisa Bemberg's Nobody's Wife, The Jewish Gauchos, the coproduction The Plague (starring William Hurt and Raúl Juliá), Edgardo Cozarinsky's Guerriers et captives, Manuel Puig's "Pubis Angelical",[11] Adolfo Aristarain's Lasts Days of the Victim, and in the Argentine black comedy Esperando la carroza (Waiting for the Hearse).

Later, Zorrilla earned international recognition for her performances in Conversaciones con mamá in 2005 (2004 Best Actress Award at the 26th Moscow International Film Festival[12] and the Málaga Film Festival) and in Elsa & Fred,[13][14] which won her several awards, including the Silver Condor for Best Actress.


Zorrilla died on 17 September 2014 from pneumonia in a hospital in Montevideo, Uruguay, aged 92.[15] The government of Argentina and Uruguay declared two days of national mourning defining her as "a true representative of River Plate culture". She was waked at Montevideo's Congress. Before reaching the cemetery, the procession made a brief stopover at the Teatro Solís.[16]


  • Orden de Mayo by the Argentine government
  • Orden Gabriela Mistral by the Chilean government
  • Illustrious Citizen of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and other Argentine cities, and two theaters bear her name
  • Knight (Chevalier) of the Légion d'honneur by the French Government[17]
  • Honorary Medal, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento del Senado de la Nación Argentina 2010[18]
  • Commemorative Postage Stamp, Uruguayan Post[3]


  • Miguel Ángel Campodónico, Nuevo Diccionario de la Cultura Uruguaya, Librería Linardi y Risso, 2003, S.361
  • Diego Fischer, A mi me aplauden, 2012, Uruguay, ISBN 9789974 701 22 9
  • China Zorrilla, Diario de viaje, Ediciones La Plaza, 2013, Uruguay, ISBN 9789974482265




China Zorrilla, 1975
Year Title Role
2008 Sangre del Pacifico
2007 Tocar el cielo Imperio
2005 Elsa y Fred Elsa
2004 Conversaciones con mamá Mamá
2003 Margarita Xirgu, la desterrada Herself
1997 Sin querer
Entre la sombra y el alma (short film)
1996 Besos en la frente Mercedes Arévalo
Lola Mora
1995 Fotos del alma Esthercita
La nave de los locos Dr Marta Caminos
1994 Guerriers et captives
1992 Cuatro caras para Victoria Victoria Ocampo IV
La Peste Emma Rieux
1991 Dios los cría
El verano del potro Ana
1989 Nunca estuve en Viena Carlota
1986 Pobre mariposa
1985 Waiting for the Hearse Elvira Romero de Musicardi
Contar hasta diez
1984 Darse cuenta Nurse Agueda
1982 La invitación
Pubis angelical
Últimos días de la víctima Beba
Señora de nadie Madre de Leonor
1975 Los gauchos judíos Sarah
Triángulo de cuatro
Las sorpresas
1974 The Truce
1973 Las venganzas de Beto Sánchez Teacher
1972 La Maffia Asunta Donato
1971 Un Guapo del 900 Dona Natividad


Year Title Role
2005 Mujeres asesinas Inés Quinteros (1 episode)
2004 Los Roldán Mercedes Lozada
Piel naranja años después Doña Elena
2003 Son amores Margarita (uncredited)
2002 099 Central Dora (uncredited)
2001 Enamorarte Mercedes "Mechita" Dugan viuda de Juarez
Las amantes
1998 Gasoleros Matilde
1997 El arcángel
Ricos y famosos Catalina
Rodolfo Rojas D.T. Tina
Noches Chinas Hostess / as herself
1996 La salud de los enfermos (TV film) Mother
1995 Leandro Leiva, un soñador
1990 Atreverse
1980 El solitario (miniseries) Melani Duvalie
1979 Chau, amor mío Ana
1976 Los que estamos solos Doña Barbarita
1975 Piel naranja Elena
1974 Mi hombre sin noche Casilda
1973 Pobre diabla Aída Morelli
1972 Esperando la carroza Elvira
1971 El tobogán Rosa


  • Fischer, Diego (2012). A mí me aplauden. Las historias que China no contó. Montevideo: Editorial Sudamericana.


  1. ^ Blau, Eleanor (28 October 1983). "Spanish 'Emily' at Hunter". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 September 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Fischer, Diego (2012). A mí me aplauden. Uruguay: Sudamericana. p. 450. ISBN 978-9974-701-22-9.
  3. ^ a b "Serie Mercosur – Actores Nacionales – Homenaje a China Zorrilla" (in Spanish). Correo Uruguayo. 18 October 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Farewell to a grand dame of the stage, screen". Buenos Aires Herald. Retrieved 9 October 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "China Zorrilla" (in Spanish). Comedia Nacional. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "El paso de China Zorrilla por la Comedia Nacional". Montevideo Portal. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ "Allá lejos y hace tiempo: China Zorrilla". Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "El regreso de China Zorrilla tuvo un claro valor simbólico: Al estrenar Emily tendió un puente para el reencuentro de todos los uruguayos – Catálogo Acceder" (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^
  11. ^ Levine, Susan. Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 2000. ISBN 978-0-299-17574-0. p. 421
  12. ^ "26th Moscow International Film Festival (2004)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (27 June 2008). "Marching Noisily Toward Late Middle Age". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Stein, Ruthe (18 July 2008). "'Elsa & Fred' explores love after 80". San Francisco Chronicle.
  15. ^ "China Zorrilla falleció hoy a los 92 años". El País (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 17 September 2014.
  16. ^ "Saying goodbye to China Zorrilla". Buenos Aires Herald. 19 September 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ "China Zorrilla recibió la mayor distinción que otorga Francia". El País (in Spanish). 6 September 2011.
  18. ^ "Mención de honor para China Zorrilla". El País. 26 July 2010. Retrieved 9 October 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit