Stars of Vaudeville #43: Leo Carillo
One of the first tv shows I remember watching as a kid was a western called The Cisco Kid. The episodes were 20 year old reruns at the time, but it was perfect fodder for a five year old, especially the lovable, funny sidekick Pancho, played by stage and screen veteran Leo Carillo (whose last name, according to the correct Spanish pronunciation, rhymes with his first, making it a better stage name to say than to read). One of the most amazing ironies about this man is that Pancho (and many of the other screen characters he played over the years) were among the most heinous Mexican stereotype characters ever. Ironic, because Carillo was an aristocrat — his ancestors were among California’s earliest settlers, and he was born and raised in comfort, attended college and all the rest. His real life identity represents the most positive possible public image of a Mexican-American. In fact, denizens of Southern California know him chiefly today because state parks and highways are named after him — he was a major conservationist and philanthropist. Someone ought to do a book about him someday.
He was born on this day in 1880. At the age of 33, encouraged by friends, he went on the vaudeville stage, doing funny impressions and character bits. By then, he was already a popular cartoonist, as well. Later he would do vaudeville-related cartoons for Variety (one of them appears in my book No Applause). He began acting in films in 1929, and appeared in the role he is best known for today on The Cisco Kid from 1950 to 1956. He rode off into the sunset in 1961.
To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.