Mario Moreno 'Cantinflas'

Active - 1937 - 2013  |   Born - Aug 12, 1911 in Mexico City, Mexico  |   Died - Apr 20, 1993   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

A small man with big ears, a distinctive mustache, pants that never stayed up, and a jaunty little cap cocked upon his eternally mussed hair, comic actor Cantinflas is beloved throughout the Spanish-speaking world and considered the Mexican Charlie Chaplin. Like Chaplin, Cantinflas' frenetic brand of slapstick was as balletic as it was athletic, leading others to compare him to Buster Keaton. His ability to combine humor with pathos was also decidedly Chaplin-esque, while his portrayal of the cocky, optimistic, but naïve little guy evoked Harold Lloyd. But despite such comparisons, Cantinflas' overall style was unique. Unlike the great silent funnymen to which he is compared, Cantinflas worked during the sound era. He usually played a smart-alecky peasant or average fellow and was famous for weasling out of trouble with the authorities by overwhelming them with intimidatingly pompous machine-gun speed monologues that, while sounding gloriously informed, signified absolutely nothing.

He was born Mario Moreno Reyes and started out singing and dancing in traveling tent variety shows known as carpas. He gained a large following as a circus clown and acrobat and then became a bullfighter/bullring clown, the Mexican equivalent of American rodeo clowns who distract bulls from performers in trouble. Cantinflas made his film debut in 1936 with No te Engages Corazon. Forty-nine more films followed. His humor is deeply rooted in Spanish cultures; this combined with his unique patter did not translate well to non-Spanish-speaking audiences. He did have one English-language success when he played Passepartout, loyal valet of Phinneas Fogg, in the smash hit Around the World in 80 Days (1956). He did not make another Hollywood film until 1960's notorious box-office bomb Pepe. After that rare failure, Cantinflas returned to making Spanish-language films. Following his retirement in the late '60s, Cantinflas devoted his life to helping others through charity and humanitarian organizations, especially those dedicated to helping children. In 1988, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Mexican Academy of Cinema. In 1993, shortly before his death from lung cancer, Cantinflas was named a "symbol of peace and happiness of the Americas."

Movie Highlights

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  • There are different stories about how he adopted his professional name Cantinflas, one of which is how he shortened the name from a heckler's taunt "En la cantina tu inflas!" ("In the barroom you talk big!").
  • His films in Mexico and Spanish-speaking markets in America were so popular that when he appeared in his first American film Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), he was already a billionaire.
  • Honored in 1980 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • He was once described as "the greatest comedian in the world" by Charles Chaplin.
  • After his retirement, he devoted his life to helping others through charitable and humanitarian organizations, especially those dedicated to helping children.
  • When he died in 1993 in Mexico, thousands of people attended the funeral ceremonies, a national three-day event.
  • In the days after his death, the United States Senate held a minute of silence in honor of his memory.