The Cisco Kid was an uncle of mine.
This one is for motion picture fans, and movie history “buffs.” I have never worked in motion pictures, but have been an avid movie fan since childhood. That interest was undoubtedly influenced by having been raised in Simi Valley, CA, near the San Fernando Valley where there were many people associated with film and TV, to some degree or another.
My hometown of long ago, Simi Valley, provided many opportunities for kids who wanted to watch motion pictures being made. My stepfather sometimes worked at the local Corriganville Ranch where many movies, mostly Westerns, or Cowboy movies as they were called, were made.
Along with other kids who were quiet on the set I was sometimes allowed to watch a cowboy movie being filmed at Corriganville. Whenever those movies were shown in theaters, and later on television, locals would compete in identifying where in Corriganvlle a particular shot of a chase or shoot out had been shot.
Some of my neighbors and schoolmates had friends or relatives in the film and television industry. I had the movie star Duncan Renaldo who was my uncle by marriage to one of my aunts.
Some of what I know of him comes from first hand experiences. Other information comes from his second wife, my maternal, late aunt, and my relatives who also knew him, along with remembered snippets of past conversations with his children, and past associates.
I’ve heard and read all sorts of tales about his origins and why he reportedly concocted a vast number of aliases and names before he became Duncan Renaldo. Spain, Mexico, various South American nations and Romania are some of the countries mentioned.
He used the name Duncan Renault in some of his early movie work, and was later known as Renaldo Duncan, before he became popularly known as Duncan Renaldo. I don’t know why he used so many different names, or was evasive about his origins, But I heard from others that he had once been arrested for being in the U.S. illegally, and had been imprisoned, and almost deported. Maybe that was part of the reason for his evasiveness. Or maybe those changes were merely at the behest of his booking agency to enhance his audience appeal.
As far as I know, even my aunt didn’t know the real story, All I know is that long after his death she once mentioned that a woman claiming to be his sister visited her, but she made no comments as to his ancestry or country of origin. Regarding Hispanics, whatever his origins, his actions on screen and in public were honored by his conducting himself in a manner which was a credit to them all.
My uncle appeared in various movies. In most of them he played a “Latin type” cowboy. He later continued in such a role when starred in a relatively long running television series called The Cisco Kid, with Leo Carrillo as a co-star.
In that series he and Pancho always wore the same costumes. Cisco’s was the most elaborate one. From what I’ve read. Cisco’s garb was a mix of elements from Mexican Charros, Argentine Gauchos and similar South of the U.S. border “Cowboy” types.
In contrast to the usual negative typecasting of Latinos in movies of that era, and even long after, Cisco and Pancho were the Good Guy heroes who foiled the actions of the “Bad guys.” An in joke for the show was that some of the nicknames in Spanish for Francisco (Francis in English) are Cisco and Pancho.
The introduction to those shows took liberties in connecting it with a character called The Cisco Kid from a story by the writer O’Henry, and called him “the Robin Hood of the Old West.”
Both Cisco and Pancho Spoke English with a Spanish accent on their shows. Duncan’s English diction, in person and on the show (albeit slightly with a Spanish accent) was perfect in contrast to Pancho’s heavily accented speech which was often scripted to provide a comic relief of mangled English to fit the circumstances of an episode.
Cisco’s portrayal was that of a handsome, sophisticated, intelligent, Hispanic male. He was also the straight man for Pancho’s capable,yet amusing actions in those action packed episodes of playing detective before bringing the Bad Guys to justice. Often, the scenarios were set with Cisco and Pancho being mistaken for the culprits before exonerating themselves.
In various public statements, Duncan Renaldo spoke of not wishing to promote the idea to children of anyone taking the law in their own hands, shooting others or being violent without due cause. In his movie portrayals he relied more on using his head, and only using his fists or a gun as a last resort for self-preservation, or to defend those being victimized by criminals.
The Cisco Kid show’s episodes always ended with Cisco and his sidekick Pancho’s banter of each saying to the other, “Oh Cisco” and “Oh Pancho.” Then, they would usually ride off into the sunset, as most Cowboy movie heroes usually did at the end of a film.
Many people, especially Mexicans who had worked on the same movie set with him always spoke well of my uncle. Many said that he often helped them, and conversed with them in fluent Spanish.
He was always very welcoming whenever my family visited. He didn’t mind if I eavesdropped whenever he had people over to discuss business. That allowed me to listen in on things like contracts and scripts.
According to what I’ve read about him. he performed all or most of the physically demanding, and often dangerous stunts for his movie work. That included riding a horse at full gallop, since he was a very accomplished rider. I remember my aunt telling of how he was once severely injured while filming a movie, and had to undergo a lot of physical rehabilitation before he could return to work. I seem to remember that was because he was hit by a falling boulder in a landslide scene.
I also heard that he didn’t profit much from some of his acting due to not having residual profits from reruns of his shows. I think much of his fortune may have been from investments in his promoting the ventures of other actors.
He often made public appearances for parades, festivals and various events astride his horse Diablo. I don’t know if it was the same horse, but I remember seeing Diablo in a corral after my uncle retired. That was when he, his children by an earlier marriage, and my aunt lived at a large estate for a while in the Malibu hills. The home had sort of a castle motif. It even had what I believe was a drawbridge over a small gulch.
The last home he and my aunt lived in was a mansion in Santa Barbara, California where he often appeared in that city’s early California parades. He kept all sorts of his movie memorabilia from his saddle, movie costume to holstered guns at his home there. In later years when I visited the Gene Autry museum I saw a lot of those artifacts displayed for public viewing there. I don’t know whatever happened to his Cadillac automobile with its Cisco Kid Vanity, license plates though.
When the Rock group, war came out with a song “The Cisco Kid was a friend of mine,” my brothers and I would sing along and ad lib the lyrics and substitute “an uncle of mine.”
Perhaps the most important impact that my uncle and other actors of the “Hispanic Cowboy” genre for me and many other youngsters from Spanish speaking communities across the USA was that they provided positive role models for us in an era when the majority of other portrayals of us were of cowardly and vicious murderers and bandidos, or ignorant slovenly folk. A sharp contrast to the industrious people I knew.. My “uncle Cisco”, Gilbert Roland and other male and female movie actors like them were a breath of fresh air for us.
I still have some of the Cisco Kid Comic books which were part of my once extensive, childhood comic book collections. Until video tapes and compact disc recordings of old motion pictures became obsolete I used to have some reissues of my uncles old movies,some of which still appear on movie classics television programs as of this writing in 2020. There will probably always be collectors and fans of old movies.
And long after this writing I’d venture to say that there will still be future fans of Cisco Kid movies who enjoy the adventures provided by that “Robin Hood Hero of the Old West,” and others like him, as I and others enjoyed them long ago.
Copyright 2020 by Gil Chávez. All photo in the public domain.