Mario Alfonso Moreno, Better known as "Cantinflas"

Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes was born on August 12, 1911 in Mexico City. The son of a humble mailman and the sixth of twelve children, he suffered great poverty during his childhood. Better known as Cantinflas, he was an extraordinary Mexican actor and comedian. At the beginning of his career he attempted becoming a doctor and a professional boxer, but he ultimately became part of the entertainment world as a dancer. In 1930 he became part of the circus circuit in Mexico City, where he met his wife Valentina Ivanova Zubareff of Russian origin, who he married on October 27, 1936. They remained together until her death in 1966.

He became greatly popular by interpreting his character Cantinflas; soon he was recognized for his talent, tenderness, charm and optimism. His character dressed as a poor man with pants that never stayed up, worn out t-shirt, a dirty rag on his shoulder and scraggy moustache. Through his interpretation he always tried to educate the public on a healthy lifestyle and criticized the powerful and cheapskates in defense of the working class. This character represented Mexico’s national identity.

The origin of his nickname is lost among legends, there is a version stating that he invented it himself in order to prevent his parents from knowing he was working in entertainment, a profession they considered disgraceful. There is another version, explained by the critic and writer Carlos Monsivais, stating that during a presentation, stage fright took over him and made Mario Moreno forget his original monologue. He reacted by saying anything that came to mind in a “brilliant incoherence”. Someone from the public, annoyed at his senseless phrases, shouted: “en la cantina inflas”, meaning “you drink at the bar”, thus baptizing his character.

His special feature resided in the comic way he used language, complicating conversations to the point of intelligible. Cantinfla’s character liked to cloud language, especially when he owed money, was courting women or had problems with authorities, always trying to get out of trouble by overwhelming others with pompously incoherent verbal diarrheas at great speed while pretending to be well informed, conversations that would ultimately lack all sense.

This form of speech coined the verb Cantinflear, which was recognized by the Real Academia Española in 1992 and defined as to speak or act in an absurd and incoherent manner without saying anything.
The talent of Mario Moreno helped transform Mexico into the Latin-American capital of entertainment. His role as spokesman for the poor made him a leader of the masses, for which he became intermittently involved in politics.

He achieved the public’s attention in cinema with his film Ahí está el detalle in 1940. This title became his main phrase for the rest of his career; the film was greatly successful throughout Latin America.
In 1941 he starred in the film El Gendarme Desconocido. His character went from being a poor lower class man to a powerful public officer, which earned him the homage of all police forces in Latin America for having represented them in a positive light.

Some of his movies were dubbed to English but the word games couldn’t be properly translated for non-Spanish speaking audiences. However, he still enjoys great fame in Latin America. Despite not having great success in United States, he was honored with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1946 he rejected offers from Mexican producers and signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. The movies of Cantinflas continue generating profits for Columbia Pictures, which has reported approximately 4 million dollars from their distribution.

In 1953 he began a theater season with his play Yo Colón, in Mexico City, by personifying Christopher Columbus while “discovering America”, making comic, historic and contemporary observations, always using his word games to attack the Mexican politicians of his era.

In 1956 he filmed Around the World in 80 Days, his Hollywood debut, earning a Golden Globe nomination for best actor. This movie profited the astronomical amount of 42 million dollars in box office and Variety magazine credited Mario Moreno with the film’s success for his “Chaplin-like quality”.

Upon his return to Mexico, he created his own film producing company, called Cantinflas Films, his last film was El Barrendero in 1981.
Cantinflas did social satire, Charlie Chaplin and him h ad a profound mutual admiration. The movies of Mario Moreno El Circo and Si yo fuera diputado have a great similarity with The Great Dictator by Chaplin, who called him “the world’s best comedian” and Mario Moreno is commonly referred to as “Mexico’s Charlie Chaplin”.

The great painters Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera used the figure of Cantinflas to represent Mexicans.

Throughout more than fifty years of artistic career, Mario Moreno filmed more than 50 movies.

His attitude towards life can be summarized with his phrase: “Man’s first obligation is to be happy and the second is to make others happy”. He died on April 20, 1993.

Artículo Producido por el Equipo Editorial Explorando México.
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