His character captured the soul of Mexico.
August 12th marks the 100th anniversary of beloved Mexican actor and comedian Cantinflas.
Coming from an Anglo background, I wasn't introduced to his films until adulthood. I remember my Salvadoran husband early in our marriage getting very excited about a black and white movie on television which he discovered while flipping through channels. "Cantinflas!" he exclaimed, a content smile on his face. "I remember when I watched this movie with my father." I looked at the screen, not recognizing the actor with the playful little mustache at the corners of his mouth.
"Cantinflas? Who's that?" I asked, to my husband's disbelief.
Since then I have definitely spent time watching—and coming to love— Cantinflas as well.
Born Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes, "Cantinflas", helped usher in the Golden Era of films in Mexio and became a household name all across Latin America. The oldest son of eight children, he grew up in Tepito, Mexico, a Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City that has a reputation for being tough. In his early years he worked in variety shows known as "carpas" as a singer and dancer, then later moving on to the circus and working as a bullring clown - all played a part in preparing him for his onscreen acting career, which would end up spanning six decades.
Appearing in more than 50 films, Cantinflas received notoriety amongst peers and fans for his talent, originality, humor, and ability to incorporate social causes into his films. Besides winning his various awards in Mexico for his films and charitable work, he received an American Golden Globe and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Charlie Chaplin (to whom Cantinflas was often compared) called him, "the best comedian alive." Even more impressive, in 1992, The Real Academia Española immortalized Cantinflas wordy, say-nothing speech style by officially including in the Spanish language's most respected dictionary the verb "cantinflear" which means: "To speak in an absurd and inconsistent manner without saying anything."
Despite losing his life to lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 81, Cantinflas continues to enjoy a well-deserved legendary status in the hearts of not only Mexicans, but Latin Americans around the world. In a final televised appearance in 1992, Cantinflas told then Mexican President Carlos Salinas, "Don't forget to laugh. Laugh, please, whenever you can."
And that is what my husband does when he watches Cantinflas films with our children - he laughs, as he passes a family tradition onto the next generation.
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the DC Metro area and founder of Latinaish.com.
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