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Remembering Cantinflas

Last week Google had the one andonly Cantinflas as their Google Doodle. Every country that has a film industry has its iconic stars. Rarely are these actors known outside their countries. Can you name any famous actors from Albania? Johnny the goat? Mexico has always been a country of cinephiles, and they have produced a lot of great actors. Many of these actors are known around the world like Gael Garcia Bernal or El Santo. But few actors around the world are tied so completely to the national identity of their respective country as Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes, better known as Cantinflas. He is as important to Mexico as tortillas.

Fortino was born in Mexico City in 1911. He was seriously poor. Like, so poor he was po’, because he couldn’t afford the ‘or. His parents wanted him to be a doctor, so he could escape their life of poverty. But Fortino’s destiny lay in acting. He started performing in Mexican vaudeville in the twenties. In order to hide his acting from his parents, he took the name Cantinflas. It was during these years that he invented the iconic Cantinflas character. The persona was that of a poor pelado, or urban peasant, who only had his wits to get him out of trouble. Cantinflas would use confusing speech to obscure and throw off anyone who wanted to do him harm or get money from him. Much like his American counterpart Charlie Chaplin, Cantinflas wore the same basic costume in every movie. He wore a dirty shirt, a handkerchief around his neck, a little hat too small for his head, and his inexplicable mustache. Also like Chaplin, his films often had social commentary woven into them. He was a big advocate of labor unions and the working poor. By the way, Chaplin once said that Cantinflas was the greatest comedian in the world. Not some American superstar, Cantinflas.

Cantinflas starred in 34 films over his long career. “Ahi Esta El Detalle”, “Yo Colon”, and “Ni Sangre, Ni arena” are considered some of the best comedies from Mexico’s cinematic golden era. In 1956 he made the jump to Hollywood. co-starring with David Niven in “Around The World In 80 Days”. He won a Golden Globe, the first Latino to do so. He continued making films until right before his death in 1993. How iconic is Cantinflas? Well, when he died his body lay in state in the Mexican Rotunda De Los Hombres Illustres. Thousands lined the streets to see him off. The United States senate held a moment of silence and flew the flag at half mast. Mexico’s greatest painter, Diego Rivera, incorporated Cantinflas in a mural along with the Virgin of Guadalupe as the patron saints  of the Mexican people. If that doesn’t tell you how important Cantinflas was, nothing will.

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