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Cantinflas: 1911-1993: Actor, Comedian

Resolved To Help More

In 1966 Cantinflas' wife was fighting cancer. President Lyndon Johnson, personal friend of the comic actor, sent a U.S. government plane to Mexico City to rush Valentina to a Houston hospital for treatment. The cancer, however, was too strong and even with treatment, Valentina died that same year. The death of his wife only furthered the resolve of Cantinflas to continue his plight for the poor. At his home in Mexico City, droves of people formed a line to his front door. He gave over $175,000 out of his own pocket annually to these people. At one time, he was the sole supporter of more than 250 destitute families in the Mexico City slum of Granjas. He later built 64 apartment houses in Granjas and then sold the apartments to poor families for a fraction of their worth.

Cantinflas also raised money for charities by performing. He appeared at dozens of these charitable benefits every year. The performances that were the most popular and raised the most money were the ones in which he performed as a comedic bullfighter. Annually Cantinflas would fill the 46,000 seat Plaza Mexico in Mexico City and climb into the bullring to perform a comedy routine with a bull. A similar performance can be seen in Around the World in 80 Days.

Towards the end of his career his movie appearances dwindled, yet Cantinflas remained involved in acting through his charitable performances. However, one of the actor's most memorable movies came late in his career. His first role in an American film, as Passepartout the valet in the film Around the World in 80 Days garnered him an Oscar nomination. His second and last American film, Pepe, highlighted the much beloved actor in the title role. Although the cast of this movie included scores of Hollywood elites, like Edward G. Robinson, Debbie Reynolds, and Frank Sinatra, it was essentially a box office flop. In 1978 Patrol Car 777 acted as a theatrical book end to the career which had spanned five decades. In 1985, the sixth decade of his career, Cantinflas appeared in his last acting role on a made-for-television movie.

Cantinflas' success as both an entertainer and a philanthropist is best noted by the droves of people who attended his wake. Lines of people filled the streets of Mexico City for days mourning the comedian after his death on April 20, 1993. He is an indelible feature of Mexican culture that is proven by his appearance in the half-block long Diego Rivera mural that depicts heroes of Mexican history. His influence has spread beyond the silver screen the halls of academe. Spanish linguists now recognize the noun cantinflada as a long-winded, meaningless speech, and the verb cantinflear as meaning to talk too much but say too little. By the wealth of his charity and the appeal of his comedy, it is clear that no one can cantinflear about Cantinflas.

Selected filmography

No te Enganes Corazon, 1936.

Águila o sol, 1938.

Siempre listo en las tinieblas, 1939.

Ahi Esta el Detalle, 1940.

Ni Sangre Ni Adrena, 1941.

Los Tres Mosqueteros, 1942.

Romeo y Julieta, 1943.

Gran Hotel, 1944.

Dia con el Diablo, 1945.

Soy un prófugo, 1946.

A volar joven, 1947.

El Supersabio, 1948.

El Mago, 1949.

El Portero, 1950.

Si you fuera diputado, 1952.

Caballero a la medida, 1954.

Around the World in Eighty Days, 1956.

Sube y baja, 1959.

Pepe, 1960.

Por mis pistolas, 1968.

The Great Sex War,, 1969.

Conserge en condomino, 1973.

El Barrendero, 1981.



Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996.


Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2001, pp. A1.

New York Times, June 15, 1941, p. X3; June 23, 1952, p. 3; December 22, 1960, p. 18; April 22, 1993, p. D26; April 23, 1993, p. A4.


"Cantinflas" Biography Resource Center, www.gale net.com/servlet/BioRC (March 10, 2003).

—Adam R. Hazlett

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) BiographyCantinflas: 1911-1993: Actor, Comedian Biography - Came From Humble Beginnings, Became The Master Of Bumbling Speech, Mexico's Answer To Charlie Chaplin