How Cantinflas Impacted American Elections as a Mexican Comedian

Known best for his comedy performances during the Golden Era of Mexican Cinema, Mario Moreno Reyes, who went by the name Cantinflas, was also involved in politics. The famed comedian was celebrated on Sunday as a Google Doodle commemorating his 107th birthday, but his influence extends beyond film: he also helped Texas’ first Hispanic Representative get elected.

In 1961, the US House of Representatives office for Texas’ 20th congressional district, based primarily in the West Side of San Antonio, was vacant after the resignation of Paul J. Kilday on September 24. In a special election, Democrat Henry B. Gonzalez went up against Republican John W. Goode. Both candidates held their own rallies to garner support from voters. For Goode, he had former President Dwight D. Eisenhower come to speak at his rally. However, in attendance for Gonzalez’s rally was local Revered C. W. Black, then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and the comedy movie star himself, Cantinflas.

An article about Henry B. Gonzalez' rally with Cantinflas in attendance on Nov. 4, 1961.

The rally took place at an H-E-B, a Texas grocery store chain, on November 4, 1961, according to a newspaper article from SNAP News. Even though Cantinflas was best known in Mexico, his popularity spilled across the border into South Texas and its large Hispanic population.

Gonzalez ended up winning the election by a slight margin, making him Texas’ first Hispanic Representative. He was then re-elected for the next three decades until he decided to not run for his 19th term, and was succeeded by his son, Charlie Gonzalez in 1999.

It’s unclear whether Cantinflas’ fame was what gave Gonzalez the win. However, considering the opposition had a former US President come to support the candidate, having a Mexican movie star at a rally may have helped with the win.

Google celebrated Cantinflas’ 107th birthday with a Google Doodle on Sunday. Called the “Charlie Chaplin of Mexico,” some of his iconic films can be seen on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes.

Photos via Trinity University Special Collections and Archives, Wikimedia / Rec79

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