Elena Verdugo, Emmy-Nominated Actress on 'Marcus Welby, M.D.,' Dies at 92

Elena Verdugo - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

She also sang with Xavier Cugat and played a gypsy girl who befriends Lon Chaney Jr. in 'House of Frankenstein.'

Elena Verdugo, who portrayed the devoted office assistant and nurse Consuelo Lopez opposite Robert Young on the 1970s ABC drama Marcus Welby, M.D., has died. She was 92. 

Verdugo died Tuesday in Los Angeles, a representative for actress Sharon Gless told The Hollywood Reporter. Early in her career, Gless had a recurring role as hospital worker Kathleen Faverty on Marcus Welby, M.D., and she and Verdugo had been extremely close ever since.

On Facebook, Gless called Verdugo "my dearest, longest-time friend … wonderful actress, funniest woman I ever knew. She was mischief till the end. It is not just the end of an era. It is the end of an epoch. The world is a less interesting place."

Verdugo replaced Audrey Totter as the star of the CBS Radio comedy Meet Millie and continued to play the wisecracking Brooklyn secretary Millie Bronson on the CBS television version — one of the first shows to be broadcast live from Hollywood — that ran for four seasons, from 1952 through 1956.

On the big screen, Verdugo appeared opposite Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1945 Universal horror films House of Frankenstein (as the sympathetic gypsy girl Ilonka) and The Frozen Ghost and in the adventure tale Thief of Damascus (1952).

Verdugo also was a singer and dancer. She performed in the 1940s with the Xavier Cugat Orchestra and handled the vocals on his hit "Tico Tico," which was used in the finale of the 1945 Sonja Henie film It's a Pleasure!.

The 5-foot-2 Verdugo received supporting actress Emmy nominations in 1971 and 1972 for playing the warmhearted Consuelo, whom many consider to be the first working-professional Latina woman to be portrayed on series television. Marcus Welby aired for seven seasons, from 1969-76.

Early in the medical drama's run, Consuelo would pour Dr. Welby a cup of coffee when he arrived at the office, but Verdugo said that changed after working women wrote in to complain.

"[They said,] 'You stop getting him coffee in the morning, we are sick of it, now all doctors want us to get a cup of coffee for them in the morning,'" she once recalled. "And I said, 'I got it, I got it! I will cut it down.'"

A native of Los Angeles, Verdugo was a descendant of Jose Maria Verdugo, a Spanish army officer who in 1784 was granted grazing rights to a 36,000-acre area that included much of what is now Glendale, Burbank, Eagle Rock and La Crescenta.

Verdugo finished high school on the Fox studio lot and appeared as a dancer in the Don Ameche-Betty Grable studio musical Down Argentine Way (1940).

Her film résumé also included Rainbow Island (1944), starring Dorothy Lamour; Song of Scheherazade (1947), with Yvonne De Carlo; Gene Autry's The Big Sombrero (1949); the Charlie Chan mystery The Sky Dragon (1949); and Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), starring Jose Ferrer.

Before running Dr. Welby's office, Verdugo had recurring roles on the short-lived TV series Redigo, The New Phil Silvers Show, Many Happy Returns and the Juliet Prowse starrer Mona McCluskey.

While filming the Abbott & Costello comedy Little Giant (1946), she met screenwriter Charles R. Marion, who also wrote for the comedy team's radio show, and they married. After a divorce, she wed Charles Rosewall, a doctor, in 1972, and they were together until his death in 2012.

Verdugo's son, actor Richard Marion (Pharmacist's Mate Williams on TV's Operation Petticoat), died at age 50 of an apparent heart attack in 1999.