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Cantinflas in 1964
Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes

(1911-08-12)12 August 1911
Santa María la Redonda, Mexico City, Mexico
Died 20 April 1993(1993-04-20) (aged 81)
Mexico City, Mexico
Burial place Panteón Español, Mexico City, Mexico
Nationality Mexican
Other names Mario Moreno
Citizenship Mexican
Education Instituto Politecnico Nacional Chapingo Autonomous University (Agronomy, few months)
Occupation Comedian, actor, screenwriter, film producer, singer
Years active 1936–1984
Political party Institutional Revolutionary Party
Valentina Ivanova Zubareff
(m. 1936; died 1966)
Children Mario Arturo Moreno

Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes (12 August 1911 – 20 April 1993), known by the stage name Cantinflas (Spanish pronunciation: [kanˈtiɱflas]), was a Mexican comedian, actor, and filmmaker. He is considered to have been the most widely accomplished Mexican comedian and is celebrated throughout Latin America and in Spain as a popular icon. His humor, loaded with Mexican linguistic features of intonation, vocabulary, and syntax, is beloved in all the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America and in Spain and has given rise to a range of expressions including cantinflear, cantinflada, cantinflesco, and cantinflero.

Though some of his films were translated into English and French, the wordplay was so particular to Mexican Spanish that it was difficult to translate. He often portrayed impoverished farmers or a peasant of pelado origin. The character allowed Cantinflas to establish a long, successful film career that included a foray into Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin once commented that he was the best comedian alive, and Moreno has been referred to as the "Charlie Chaplin of Mexico". To audiences in most of the world, he is best remembered as co-starring with David Niven in the Oscar-winning film Around the World in 80 Days, for which Moreno won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

As a pioneer of the cinema of Mexico, Moreno helped usher in its golden era. In addition to being a business leader, he also became involved in Mexico's tangled and often dangerous labor politics. His reputation as a spokesperson for the downtrodden gave his actions authenticity and became important in the early struggle against charrismo, the one-party government's practice of co-opting and controlling unions.

Moreover, his character Cantinflas, whose identity became enmeshed with his own, was examined by media critics, philosophers, and linguists, who saw him variously as a danger to Mexican society, a bourgeois puppet, a verbal innovator, and a picaresque underdog.

Early and personal life

Predio donde nació Cantinflas
Apartment building that occupies the premises of the "vecindad" where Mario Moreno "Cantinflas" was born, former Sexta Calle de Santa María la Redonda (Sixth Street of Santa María la Redonda), today Eje Central Lázaro Cardenas 182.

Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes was born in Santa María la Redonda neighbourhood of Mexico City, and grew up in the tough neighbourhood of Tepito. He was one of eight children born to Pedro Moreno Esquivel, an impoverished mail carrier, and María de la Soledad Reyes Guízar (from Cotija, Michoacán). The others were Pedro, José ("Pepe"), Eduardo, Esperanza, Catalina, Enrique, and Roberto.

He made it through difficult situations with the quick wit and street smarts that he would later apply in his films. His comic personality led him to a circus tent show, and from there to legitimate theatre and film.

He married Valentina Ivanova Zubareff, of Russian ethnicity, on 27 October 1936 and remained with her until her death in January 1966. A son was born to Moreno in 1961 by another woman; the child was adopted by Valentina Ivanova and was named Mario Arturo Moreno Ivanova, causing some references to erroneously refer to him as "Cantinflas' adopted son". Moreno Ivanova died on 15 May 2017, of a presumed heart attack.

Moreno 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). Following his retirement, he 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.

He was a Freemason, initiated at Chilam Balam Lodge.

In 1961, Cantinflas appeared with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at shopping centers and supermarkets in San Antonio, Texas, to support the successful Democratic nominee to the United States House of Representatives for Texas's 20th congressional district, Henry B. Gonzalez, who defeated his Republican challenger, John W. Goode. Gonzalez was the first Hispanic elected to the Texas State Senate and as a U.S. congressman from Texas.

Origin of name

As a young man, Cantinflas performed a variety of acts in travelling tents, and it was here that he acquired the nickname "Cantinflas". According to one obituary, "Cantinflas" is a meaningless name invented to prevent his parents from knowing he was in the entertainment business, which they considered a shameful occupation. Cantinflas confirmed as much in 1992, in his last television interview. Of course, the relationship between Moreno's little-used first given name Fortino and the character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet Fortinbras offers a striking parallel with the stage name of much younger contemporary Chespirito ("Little Shakespeare" in a garbled Mexican pronunciation).

Entertainment career

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 in succession with the Ofelia, Sotelo of Azcapotzalco, and finally the Valentina carpa, where he met his future wife. 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 an impoverished slum dweller with baggy pants, a rope for a belt, and a distinctive mustache. In the tents, he danced, performed acrobatics, and performed roles related to several different professions.

Film career

Manuel Medel and Cantinflas, circa 1938
Cantinflas (left) with Manuel Medel, c. 1938

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 little attention. Reachi established Posa Films in 1939 with two partners: Cantinflas and Fernandez. Before this, 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's the rub", literally "There lies the detail"), with Sofía Álvarez, Joaquín Pardavé, Sara García, and Dolores Camarillo. The phrase that gave that movie its name became a "Cantinflas" (or catchphrase) for the remainder of his career. The film was a breakthrough in Latin America and was later recognized by Somos magazine as the 10th greatest film produced largely in Mexico.

In 1941, Moreno first played the role of a police officer on film in El gendarme desconocido ("The Unknown Police Officer" a play on words on "The Unknown Soldier). By this time, he had sufficiently distinguished the peladito character from the 1920s-era pelado, and his character flowed comfortably from the disenfranchised, marginalized, underclassman to the empowered public servant. The rhetoric of cantinflismo facilitated this fluidity. He would reprise the role of Agent 777 and be honored by police forces throughout Latin America for his positive portrayal of law enforcement.

Ni sangre, ni arena ("Neither Blood, nor Sand" a play on words on the bullfighter/gladiator phrase Blood and Sand), the 1941 bullfighting film, broke box-office records for Mexican-made films throughout Spanish-speaking countries. In 1942, Moreno teamed up with Reachi, Miguel M. Delgado, and Jaime Salvador to produce a series of parodies, including El Circo, an interpretation of Chaplin's The Circus.

The 1940s and 1950s were Cantinflas' heyday. In 1941, Reachi, the Producer rejected Mexican Studios companies and instead paid Columbia Pictures to produce the films in its Studios in Hollywood. By this time, Cantinflas' popularity was such that he was able to lend his prestige to the cause of Mexican labor, representing the National Association of Actors in talks with President Manuel Ávila Camacho. The talks did not go well, however, and, in the resulting scandal, Moreno took his act back to the theatre.


On 30 August 1953, Cantinflas began performing his theatrical work Yo Colón ("I, Columbus") in the Teatro de los Insurgentes, the same theatre that had earlier been embroiled in a controversy over a Diego Rivera mural incorporating Cantinflas and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Critics, including the PAN and archbishop Luis María Martínez, called the mural blasphemous, and it was eventually painted without the image of the Virgin.

Yo Colón placed Cantinflas in the character of Christopher Columbus, who, while continually "discovering America", made comedic historical and contemporary observations from fresh perspectives. For the first few months, he persuaded the King and Queen of Spain to fund his voyage so that he could let his wife "drive" so she could make a wrong turn and discover Mexico instead, allowing him to also discover Jorge Negrete so that the Queen – an ardent fan – could meet him. When Negrete died just before Christmas of 1953, he changed it first to Pedro Infante until his death four years later, and then finally to Javier Solis until his death in 1966.

Hollywood and beyond

Poster Cantinflas por Rufino Tamayo
Mario Moreno "Cantinflas" by Rufino Tamayo, 1948, exhibition "The Collection of Mexican Painting by Jacques and Natasha Gelman" poster, 1992, Cultural Center of Contemporary Art (defunct) City of Mexico.

In 1956, Around the World in 80 Days, Cantinflas' American debut, earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a musical or comedy. Variety magazine said in 1956 that his Chaplinesque quality made a big contribution to the success of the film. The film ultimately made an unadjusted $42 million at the box office (over $678 million in 2018 dollars). While David Niven was billed as the lead in English-speaking nations, Cantinflas was billed as the lead elsewhere. As a result of the film, Cantinflas became the world's highest-paid actor.

Moreno's second Hollywood feature, Pepe, attempted to replicate the success of his first. The film had cameo appearances by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Maurice Chevalier, Shirley Jones, Ricardo Montalban, James Coburn, Debbie Reynolds, César Romero, and other stars. His humor, deeply rooted in the Spanish language, did not translate well for the American audience and the movie was a notorious box office disappointment. He still earned a Golden Globe nomination for his part. Later in a 1992 American interview, Moreno cited the language barrier as the biggest impediment to his making it big in the United States.

After returning to Mexico, Cantinflas starred in the comic drama El bolero de Raquel (1957), the first Cantinflas film to be distributed to the United States by Columbia Pictures. The film was followed by more Cantinflas-Reachi-Columbia productions: El analfabeto (1961), El padrecito (1963), and Su excelencia (1967). After Su excelencia, Cantinflas began to appear in a series of very low-budget comedies directed by Miguel M. Delgado, which were produced by his own company "Cantinflas Films". These films lasted until El Barrendero, in 1982.

Like Charlie Chaplin, Cantinflas was a social satirist. He played el pelado, an impoverished Everyman, with hopes to succeed. With mutual admiration, Cantinflas was influenced by Chaplin's earlier films and ideology. El Circo (the circus) was a "shadow" of Chaplin's silent film, The Circus and Si yo fuera diputado ("If I Were a Congressman") had many similarities with the 1940 film, The Great Dictator. Cantinflas' films, to this day, still generate revenue for Columbia Pictures. In 2000, Columbia reported in an estimated US$4 million in foreign distribution from the films.


A life long smoker, Cantinflas died of lung cancer on 20 April 1993 in Mexico City. Thousands appeared on a rainy day for his funeral. The ceremony was a national event, lasting three days. He was honored by many heads of state and the United States Senate, which held a moment of silence for him. His ashes lay at the crypt of the Moreno Reyes family, in the Panteón Español ("Spanish Cemetery") in Mexico City.

A 20-year legal battle followed between Mario Moreno Ivanova, Cantinflas' son and heir to his estate, and the actor's blood nephew Eduardo Moreno Laparade over the control of 34 films made by Cantinflas. The nephew claimed his uncle gave him a written notice, Moreno Ivanova argued that he was the direct heir of Cantinflas and that the rights belonged to him. In 2014, Eduardo Moreno Laparade won the rights at the Mexican Supreme Court to 39 films and the name. At the same time, there was another legal battle between Columbia Pictures and Moreno Ivanova over control of these films. Columbia claimed that it had bought the rights to the 34 films four decades earlier, although the court noted several discrepancies in the papers. Moreno Ivanova wanted the rights to the films to remain his, and more generally Mexico's, as a national treasure. On 2 June 2001 the eight-year battle was resolved with Columbia retaining ownership over the 34 disputed films.

Cultural impact

Meeting with Mexican president Miguel Alemán Valdés, seated from left to right: Jorge Negrete, the president Miguel Alemán Valdés, Cantinflas and María Tereza Montoya [es]
Cantinflas walk of fame
Cantinflas' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles
Hand and Foot Prints at Graumanns Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, CA. USA.

Among the things that endeared him to his public was his comic use of language in his films; his characters (all of which were really variations of the main "Cantinflas" persona but cast in different social roles and circumstances) would strike up a normal conversation and then complicate it to the point where no one understood what they were talking about. The Cantinflas character was particularly adept at obfuscating the conversation when he owed somebody money, was courting an attractive young woman, or was trying to talk his way out of trouble with authorities, whom he managed to humiliate without their even being able to tell. This manner of talking became known as Cantinflear, and it became common parlance for Spanish speakers to say "¡estás cantinfleando!" (loosely translated as you're pulling a "Cantinflas!" or you're "Cantinflassing!") whenever someone became hard to understand in conversation. The Real Academia Española officially included the verb, cantinflear, cantinflas and cantinflada in its dictionary in 1992.

In the visual arts, Mexican artists such as Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera painted Cantinflas as a symbol of the Mexican everyman.

Cantinflas' style and the content of his films have 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. Cantinflas' use of social themes and style is seen as a precursor to Chicano theater.

A cartoon series, the Cantinflas Show, was made in 1972 starring an animated Cantinflas. The show was targeted for children and was intended to be educational. The first animated version animated by Santiago Moro and his brother Jose Luis Moro for Televisa in the early 1970s (Cantinflas Show) which educated children by meeting such notable people as Chopin, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein and William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as well learning how important water and oil is and educational parodies of some of his famous movies like Su Excelencia [La Carta with incidental music from Aaron Copland's El Salón México] In the second version his character was known as "Little Amigo" and concentrated on a wide range of subjects intended to educate children, from the origin of soccer to the reasons behind the International Date Line. The second animated series animated in 1979 and dubbed in English in 1982 was a joint venture between Televisa and Hanna-Barbera and Mario Moreno voiced "Little Amigo"/Cantinflas in the Spanish version and Don Messick voiced "Little Amigo" and John Stephenson as the narrator in the English version. Both The Cantinflas Show and Amigos and Friends aired in the mid 1990s on Univision and Televisa re aired The Cantinflas Show in the mid 1990s.

Although Cantinflas never achieved the same success in the United States as in Mexico, he was honored with a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6438 Hollywood Boulevard. He earned two Golden Globe nominations (winning one) for best actor and the Mexican Academy of Film Lifetime Achievement Award. His handprints have been imbedded onto the Paseo de las Luminarias for his work in motion pictures.

The Mario Moreno "Cantinflas" Award is handed out annually for entertainers who "represent the Latino community with the same humor and distinction as the legendary Mario Moreno "Cantinflas" and who, like Cantinflas, utilizes his power to help those most in need".

On August 12, 2018, the Google Doodle paid homage to Cantinflas on his 107th birth anniversary.


Moreno's life is the subject of the biographical film Cantinflas (2014, directed by Sebastian del Amo). It stars Óscar Jaenada, who portrays a young Mario Moreno attempting to gain respect and make a living as an actor, and award-winning actor Michael Imperioli as Mike Todd, an American film-producer struggling to film his masterpiece. The film is centered in Moreno's personal life, and in the development of Todd's Golden Globe Award-winning 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days.


Cinema of the United States
Year Director Title Role Notes
1956 Michael Anderson Around the World in 80 Days Passepartout
1960 George Sidney Pepe Pepe
1969 Norman Foster The Great *** War General Marcos
Cinema of Mexico
Year Director Title Role Notes
1937 Miguel Contreras Torres Don't Fool Yourself, Dear Canti
1937 Arcady Boytler Such Is My Country El Tejón
1937 Arcady Boytler Heads or Tails Polito Sol
1939 Chano Urueta The Sign of Death Cantinflas
1939 Fernando Rivera Siempre listo en las tinieblas Chencho Albondigon Short
1939 Fernando Rivera Jengibre contra Dinamita Cantinflas Short
1940 Juan Bustillo Oro You're Missing the Point Cantinflas / "Leonardo del Paso"
1940 Carlos Toussaint Cantinflas y su prima Cantinflas Short
1940 Fernando Rivera Cantinflas ruletero Cantinflas Short
1940 Fernando Rivera Cantinflas boxeador Cantinflas Short
1941 Alejandro Galindo Neither Blood Nor Sand El Chato / Manuel Márquez "Manolete"
1941 Miguel M. Delgado The Unknown Policeman Badge Number 777
1942 Carlos Villatoro Carnival in the Tropics Himself Cameo
1942 Miguel M. Delgado The Three Musketeers Cantinflas / D'Artagnan
1943 Miguel M. Delgado The Circus Cantinflas
1943 Miguel M. Delgado Romeo and Juliet Romeo de Montesco / Abelardo Del Monte
1944 Miguel M. Delgado Gran Hotel Cantinflas
1945 Miguel M. Delgado A Day with the Devil Juan Pérez
1946 Miguel M. Delgado I Am a Fugitive Cantinflas
1947 Miguel M. Delgado Fly Away, Young Man! Cantinflas
1948 Miguel M. Delgado The Genius Cantinflas
1949 Miguel M. Delgado The Magician Cantinflas
1950 Miguel M. Delgado The Doorman El Portero
1951 Miguel M. Delgado El Siete Machos Margarito
1952 Miguel M. Delgado If I Were a Congressman Cantinflas
1952 Miguel M. Delgado The Atomic Fireman Agente 777
1953 Raúl Medina Bella, la salvaje
1953 Miguel M. Delgado The Photographer Cantinflas
1954 Miguel M. Delgado A Tailored Gentleman Cantinflas
1955 Miguel M. Delgado Drop the Curtain Cantinflas
1957 Miguel M. Delgado El bolero de Raquel El Bolero
1958 Tulio Demicheli Ama a tu prójimo Luis
1959 Miguel M. Delgado Sube y baja El falso Jorge Maciel
1961 Miguel M. Delgado The Illiterate One Inocencio Prieto y Calvo
1962 Miguel M. Delgado The Extra Rogaciano
1963 Miguel M. Delgado Immediate Delivery Feliciano Calloso
1964 Miguel M. Delgado El padrecito Sebastián
1965 Miguel M. Delgado El señor doctor Salvador Medina
1967 Miguel M. Delgado Su excelencia Lopitos
1968 Miguel M. Delgado Por mis pistolas Fidencio Barrenillo
1969 Miguel M. Delgado Un Quijote sin mancha Justo Leal, Aventado
1971 Miguel M. Delgado El profe Sócrates García
1973 Roberto Gavaldón Don Quijote cabalga de nuevo Sancho Panza
1973 Miguel M. Delgado Conserje en condominio Úrsulo
1976 Miguel M. Delgado El ministro y yo Mateo Melgarejo
1978 Miguel M. Delgado El patrullero 777 Diógenes Bravo
1982 Miguel M. Delgado El barrendero Napoleón

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Film Outcome
1952 Ariel Awards Special Ariel Won
1987 Golden Ariel Won
1957 Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actor
in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Around the World in 80 Days Won
1961 Pepe Nominated
1961 Laurel Awards Top Male Comedy Performance Nominated
1962 Menorah Awards Best Comic Actor El analfabeto Won

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Cantinflas para niños

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