James Victor, Cassavetes Protege and 'Zorro' Actor, Dies at 76

James Victor - P
Photo by Tim Considine

He played Sgt. Jaime Mendoza on the Family Channel series after working with the independent-film pioneer on 'Shadows,' 'Too Late Blues' and 'Faces.'

James Victor, the actor best known for portraying the buffoonish Sgt. Jaime Mendoza on the popular 1990s Family Channel action-adventure series Zorro, has died. He was 76.

Victor, a protege of famed independent auteur John Cassavetes, had heart disease and died June 20 in his apartment in Hollywood, his longtime friend Joe Perez told The Hollywood Reporter.

Duncan Regehr starred as Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro on the Family Channel adaptation of Zorro, which aired in several countries and for three seasons (1990-93) in the U.S. At first, Victor's Mendoza, who always enjoyed a good meal, tried to capture the masked man before realizing that he's not a criminal, and they became pals.

Victor also had regular roles on three short-lived ABC series.

On Viva Valdez, a pioneering 1976 summer replacement show about a Mexican-American family in East Los Angeles, his character ran a plumbing business with his father (Rodolfo Hoyos Jr.). On 1983's Condo, starring McLean Stevenson, Victor played the grandfather of a Latino clan that lived next door to a white family. And on the 1987-88 series I Married Dora, he appeared as Elizabeth Pena's dad.

Victor played the angry father of one of the students in Stand and Deliver (1988), which starred Edward James Olmos in an Oscar-nominated turn as an East L.A. high school math teacher.

Victor also portrayed a barroom brawler who battled William Devane in Rolling Thunder (1977), a shady lawyer in Curtis Hanson's Losin' It (1983) and a smuggling truck driver in Borderline (1980), starring Charles Bronson.


The youngest of six children, he was born Lincoln Peralta (he took the name James Victor in honor of his oldest brother) on July 27, 1939, in Santiago, Dominican Republic. He and his family came to New York when he was four.

He graduated from Haaren High School in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in 1958, worked in the mailroom at a Disney office in New York and joined a bilingual theater company, El Nuevo Circulo Dramatico.

A chance meeting with Cassavetes led Victor to study with the actor at a workshop he had co-founded with theater director Burt Lane (actress Diane Lane's father). That earned Victor screen time in Cassavetes' directorial debut, Shadows (1959), and in Too Late Blues (1961), and he served as an assistant director on Faces (1968).

He developed a lifelong friendship with Cassavetes, who died in 1989, and referred to him as his "godfather."

Victor appeared on a 1962 episode of The Lloyd Bridges Show, in which he and Cassavetes guest-starred, and went on to work on such series as My Three Sons, I Spy, Family Affair, Adam-12, Kung Fu, The White Shadow, Falcon Crest, Remington Steele and Murder, She Wrote.

On the big screen, Victor, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, also was in The President’s Analyst (1967), Little Fauss and Big Halsey (1970), Fuzz (1972), Defiance (1980), Will Ferrell's Casa de mi Padre (2012) and Bless Me, Ultima (2013), directed by Carl Franklin.

Victor starred in the acclaimed Luis Valdez satirical comedy I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!, which premiered and played for many weeks at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1986.

Survivors include his nephews and nieces — Franklin, Luperon, Jaime, Rafael, Ariosto, Ibelka, Mercedes and Elsa — and several aunts and cousins.

A funeral service will take place at 1 p.m. on July 10 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.