Written by Gerardo Serrano
“La primera obligacion de todo ser humano es ser feliz…La segunda, es hacer felices a los demas”
August 12, 1911 – April 20, 1993
Fortino Mario Moreno y Reyes, known as Mario Moreno, was born August 12, 1911 in Santa Maria la Redonda neighborhood, Mexico City (He grew up in the tough neighborhood of Tepito). He was one of the eight siblings that consisted of 5 brothers and 2 sisters. He made it through difficult situations with the quick street smarts he later applied in his films. His comic personality led him to a circus tent show and from there to his career in theatre and film. Before starting his professional life in entertainment, he explored a number of possible careers, such as medicine and professional boxing; before joining the entertainment world as a dancer. By 1930 he was involved in Mexico City’s carpa (travelling tent) circuit, performing at first he tried to imitate Al Jolson by smearing his face with black paint, but later separated himself to form his own identity as Cantinflas, an impoverished slum dweller with baggy pants, rope for a belt, and a distinctive mustache. In the tents, he danced, performed acrobatics, and performed roles related to several different professions.
In the mid-1930s, Cantinflas met publicist and producer Santiago Reachi and subsequently partnered with him to form their own film production venture. Reachi produced, directed, and distributed, while Cantinflas acted. Cantinflas made his film debut in 1936 with No te engañes corazón (Don’t Fool Yourself Dear) before meeting Reachi, but the film received very little attention. Reachi produced short films that allowed him to develop the Cantinflas character, but it was in 1940 that he finally became a movie star, after shooting Ahí está el detalle (“There lies the detail”), from his debut in 1936 to 1982 he did a total of 5 short films, 7 cameos and 32 films with Columbia Pictures. He won a great amount of awards that consisted of: Special Ariel and A Golden Ariel Award, Golden Globe Award for the movie Around the World in 80 days, a nomination for a golden globe award and a laurel award for the movie Pepe, a Menorah Award for El Analfabeto, and last but not least, he was honored with a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6438 Hollywood Boulevard.
Cantinflas” was the catchphrase that stayed with him for the remainder of his career. During his career he had accomplished other things that had an influence in the Latin community. He served as president of one of the Mexican actors’ guilds known as Asociación Nacional de Actores (ANDA, “National Association of Actors”) and as first secretary general of the independent filmworkers’ union Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Producción Cinematográfica (STPC). Cantinflas’ style and the content of his films had led scholars to conclude that he influenced the many teatros that spread the message of the Chicano Movement during the 1960s-1970s in the United States, the most important of which was El Teatro Campesino. The teatro movement was an important part of the cultural renaissance that was the social counterpart of the political movement for the civil rights of Mexican Americans. Cantinfla’s use of social themes and style is seen as a precursor to Chicano theater.
Following his retirement, Moreno devoted his life to helping others through charity and humanitarian organizations, especially those dedicated to helping children. His contributions to the Roman Catholic Church and orphanages made him a folk hero in Mexico.
This Latinx historian is well-known in many LATINX Communities because of the laughter he brings in the home. He is a person who is dear to my heart because he not only brought laughter into my home but created a bond between me and my father; a bond that I will always cherish and never forget.