A Life's 'Journey'

A Life's 'Journey'

Walter Dominguez and wife Shelley Morrison team up for the very personal documentary ‘Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery’

By Carl Kozlowski 08/14/2014

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In Hollywood, a town filled with notoriously fleeting romances and headline-grabbing breakups, actress Shelley Morrison and her filmmaker husband Walter Dominguez are anomalies. They celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary Monday, which Morrison laughingly notes “is 150 years in Hollywood time.” 


The couple lives in the same house that Morrison moved into in 1946, when she was 10 years old. In other words, Morrison — who shot to fame in 1998 as the maid Rosario on the groundbreaking NBC sitcom “Will & Grace” — prizes her roots and having long-term connections above all else. And that love that she and Dominguez have for their personal histories has resulted in the production of the new documentary “Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery,” which opens Friday for a week-long run at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 theater in Pasadena. (Please see a review of the film on page 31.)


“You’re looking at the staff of the movie,” says Morrison. ”“We financed it ourselves. I’d like to thank NBC and ‘Will & Grace’ because playing Rosario funded this. It’s for people who want to connect again with their families, not always talking on the computer or cell phone. Young people after screenings come up to us and say they want to talk to their elders and get their stories before they’re gone.”


“Weaving” follows Dominguez’s search for the truth about his grandfather Emilio, a man Dominguez knew as a peace-loving Methodist minister he nicknamed “Tata,” but, he learned, also spent years as a Mexican revolutionary fighting against the notorious dictator Porfirio Diaz. He spent 13 years on the film, uncovering new layers of Emilio’s life at every turn as he tried to reconcile the two sides of the man he lovingly called “Tata.” 


“It shows humans are very complex and have a lot of sides and we grow through our lives,” says Dominguez. “As young men we’re very idealistic and hot-headed sometimes, and in time he gained some perspective including the tragic situations in which his revolutionary comrades went through tremendous suffering and death. It really transformed him and the revolution turned out to be one of the worst in the history of the world. One in five Mexicans was killed.”


Morrison herself has experienced some pretty dramatic chapters in her own life as well, starting with her earliest days as a child in the Bronx before her family moved to Los Angeles. Her first big break came in playing a nun alongside Sally Field in “The Flying Nun” in the late 1960s, shortly before she met Dominguez and they shared a rather unusual honeymoon. 


“We worked on a film at Lake Arrowhead for seven weeks in a cult horror film called ‘Devil Times Five,’” says Dominguez. “Shelley was one of the leads, so she arrived and wanted to meet the director. I took her and that was it — I fell in love with her eyes and her dimples.”


”A few months later, we eloped and went to Reno,” adds Morrison. “My mother was elated because she said the bigger the ceremony, the shorter the marriage. So we got married, went camping and dropped acid.”


“We’re old hippies,” adds Dominguez. “Ever tried mescaline?”


That surprising frankness is part and parcel of the couple’s rapport, a nonstop back-and-forth between the soft-spoken Dominguez and the squeaky-voiced Morrison, who sounds like an older Betty Boop in private conversation. Whether they are talking about practicing Sioux Indian religious traditions, including an annual pilgrimage to a sweat lodge, or Morrison is feistily recounting her battles against four types of cancer and resulting appreciation and daily use of medical marijuana, they are incapable of having a dull moment. 


Perhaps the most surprising part of Morrison’s life story is the fact that she faced death threats during the making of “Will & Grace.” Speaking from a vantage point 16 years from that sitcom’s debut, amid a national climate in which nearly 20 states now offer same-sex marriage, it’s striking to hear her describe the dangers she faced simply for making people laugh. 


“We had to have police protection, because we had bomb threats on taping nights, with policemen from SWAT teams at three or four entrances to the stage,” says Morrison. “People would sneak on and run up to us, put hands on our heads and say ‘You’re going to burn in hell for doing this.’” 


Now largely retired from acting, Morrison is excited to be already working on another documentary with her husband. Together, they are a happy team, but one that has a steady fire burning at all times both romantically and politically, as evidenced by Dominguez’s closing thoughts on “Weaving the Past.”


“You get tired of decades of hearing about ‘the Mexican problem,’” says Dominguez, referring to the never-ending battles over immigration. “Today I even know Latino people against immigrants, which is crazy to me, but that’s how it is. This movie doesn’t take a side. It gives a perspective from a personal point of view of one man’s journey from Mexico under the worst conditions a hundred years ago. And it completely parallels the lives of so many people crossing our borders today.”

“Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery” opens Friday at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Morrison and Dominguez will host a Q&A session after the 4 p.m. Sunday screening before leading the audience to a tequila-tasting reception at El Portal, 695 E. Green St., Pasadena. Call (626) 844-6500 or visit Laemmle.com

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