Cantinflas: This month celebrates the 107th birthday of Cantinflas, one of Mexico’s most beloved figures. When we originally relocated to Puerto Vallarta, we used the television to learn Spanish; telenovelas (soap operas), dubbed foreign films, and the movies of Cantinflas, produced from 1936 to 1981. To say Cantinflas was prolific in his career is a true understatement. Born Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes, he adopted the made-up name Cantinflas to hide from his family while he worked as a circus performer, learning his performance skills as a young man.
Cantinflas sense of humor infected everyone; he was known for countless characters representing many walks of life. As a pelado (vagrant), the foremost costume of Cantinflas was baggy trousers held up with a rope and a flamboyant moustache. He well a self taught acrobat and could take on the persona of multiple identities. Charlie Chaplin called him the best comedian of all time. He was revered in Mexico but also found a home in Hollywood, winning a Golden Globe for his performance inAround the World in Eighty Days. Cantinflas costarred in the film with David Niven, which won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. This opened doors for Cantinflas and made way for other Latino actors’ acceptance and success.
Cantinflas involved himself with politics on both sides of the border. Like Groucho Marx, he made fun of the rich and authoritative; government at all levels, including police and pompous traffic cops; anyone in a powerful position. Books have been written about him, his personal life, influence on theater and politics, and actual history as it unfolds in Mexico. He was portrayed by artists such as Diego Rivera as a representation of the Mexican everyman. In the early 1960’s, he campaigned in Texas for the Democrats and helped stage an upset in the Texas State Senate that gave a seat to Henry B. González, the first Latino elected, who served from 1961 – 1999.
Cantinflas had the uncanny knack for confusing whomever he spoke, with the ability to obscure an issue to where anyone present lost the meaning of the point of the original conversation. This concept has been adopted into Mexican culture and Spanish dictionaries actually include the term Cantinflear, a manner of speech. If you hear someone in Puerto Vallarta use the term “İestás cantinfleando!” you can be sure it’s an accusation; someone is working very hard to make sure they are not being understood! Whether in a courtroom; on the streets negotiating the price of tamales; or trying to attract a date… cantinflada is common jargon.
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