As a kid growing up in Pueblo, Jeff Valdez would see the names on the drive-in marquee and, maybe, recognize a few. He couldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them. He had other things to do. He and his dad were there, after all, not to watch the movie. They were there early so they could clean the place---pick up the trash left from the night before. Times have changed.
Today Valdez cleans up but in a whole different way. He also has a little bit to say about the names that might go on the marquee. Valdez is a producer, writer and director in television and movies. But those jobs, as they say, only scratch the surface.
His story reads like its own Hollywood tale. He grew up in Pueblo in what might generously be called ‘modest’ surroundings. “I grew up in the Sangre de Cristo housing projects,” he said in a recent telephone conversation. From there it was on to ‘the Blocks,’ a cluster of older and, again, modest homes just south of center city Pueblo. Today Valdez lives in Beverly Hills with his wife and business partner, Ana, and their two children. But while Pueblo resides in the rearview mirror, it remains central in the way he thinks of himself. Blue-collar, hard-working, driven.
He still gets back to Pueblo, but not nearly as often as he might like. He’s kind of busy putting on blockbuster events like his big comedy special scheduled for early 2020 in San Antonio. Or finalizing a deal with Warner. Or rehabbing past-their-prime shopping malls. The idea is to spruce them up and breathe new life, new purpose into them. “We’ve figured out how malls can become social environments again, non-traditional retail,” he said.
When he’s not working on the entertainment side of things, he’s doing the entrepreneurial thing. A couple of his partners include Sol Trujillo, a former Coloradan who once ran U.S. West, and Henry Cisneros, the former Mayor of San Antonio and Cabinet member. “Sol has been a real mentor to me,” he said. Trujillo, Cisneros, Valdez wife, Ana, and himself see gold in mining the Latino market.
It’s a market Valdez has mined pretty well on his own. He co-founded and was CEO of SiTV, now NuvoTV, the first national cable network owned and run by Latinos. Today Nuvo is in more than 35-million homes. Not bad for a kid who mopped up a drive-in theater and hauled trash with his old man.
“One time I’m with my Dad,” he recalled of his trash hauling days. “He said, ‘I’m gonna put Al & Jeff’s Trash Hauling on the truck.” Flattered but not crazy about the idea, he jokes, “No, Pop. You take the credit.” Even as a kid, he didn’t think trash hauling would look good on the resume.
In short order, Valdez graduated high school early and began performing. He left Pueblo for Colorado Springs where “I bought my first home at 21,” he said. He honed his chops as a musician---drums---did standup and found his calling. From there, it was on to Hollywood where, often times, dreams go to die. But not this time.
He caught a break, a real Hollywood story kind of break. Valdez went to an agents’ office. “I literally sat in their lobby every day for two weeks.” One by one, he took each agent to lunch. That’s it. Bupkis. Nothing. Then it happened. He took the agency owner to lunch. “I told him I wanted to be an actor,” he remembered. “He said, ‘no, you’re going to be a producer.’”
Things have worked out well. He runs into well-known actors---some of whom are also neighbors---at the Whole Foods. He takes calls from Pit Bull; lunches with Carlos Santana. “We had a four-hour lunch. You get to roll with a lot of different people,” he said. But in the end, Valdez said he still puts great value in his Pueblo roots and a loving reverence in the parents who took him to the drive-in to clean it up, or up and down alleys hauling trash or into the homes of strangers where he worked side-by-side with his mother cleaning things up. He still loves Pueblo.
“When I go back, I go straight to Pass Key, get me a grinder with extra chili peppers and on to the Klamm Shell.” The ‘Klamm’ is an old steel mill bar where his Dad used to go. There he raises his glass, a schooner, to his late father who gave him love and a work ethic. “He worked graveyard---11-7---and at seven he’d go to the Mesa (drive-in) to clean it.”
For all his accomplishments, Valdez is not much different than his Pueblo roots. He says he ‘married-up’ when speaking of his wife. Of his blue-ribbon track record? He jokingly calls himself, ‘the head Mexican in charge.’ “The truth is,” he said, “there is no title on my business card. I don’t want to be limited. Titles don’t define me. I’m a Dad, first, followed by creative entrepreneur.” Just ‘Jeff, the Bronco fan.”