Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cisco Kid Was a Friend of Mine -- November 7, 2015

This post is part of  Swashathon -- A Blogathon of Swashbuckling Adventure, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently.   We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the film debut of Douglas Fairbanks.  

The Cisco Kid, the Robin Hood of the West, was unusual because he was a Hispanic hero in American movies, on American radio and television and in American comic strips and comic books.  Cisco and his trusty sidekick Pancho were a caballero, a knight, and his companion.  But that is not the way the Cisco Kid started. 

O. Henry Museum, Austin
William Sydney Porter became famous using the pen name O. Henry.  Growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, he read everything he could.  He became a licensed pharmacist before he was 20. He developed a persistent cough and moved to Texas for a change of air.  He worked on a ranch for a while and learned Spanish and German from some of the hands.  When his health improved, he moved to Austin. 

When Porter was 25, he eloped with a 17-year-old named Athol Estes.  Her family objected because Athol had tuberculosis.  Athol encouraged him to write for newspapers and magazines.  Their daughter Margaret was born in 1889.

Porter went to work as a clerk at the First National Bank of Austin.  He was not very good at it and kept the books badly.  He may have embezzled funds. In 1895, he  moved to Houston.  Auditors at the bank in Austin discovered the shortages.  He was arrested and charged with embezzlement.  Porter's father-in-law bailed him out. Porter ran off to Honduras, where he met train robber and future movie actor Al Jennings.  After learning that his wife was dying, Porter returned to Austin and surrendered himself.  His father-in-law, showing great faith, put up his bail again.  Athol died in 1897 and early the next year, Porter was convicted and sent to prison.

While serving time in the Ohio Penitentiary, Porter worked as a pharmacist and wrote stories.  He published more than a dozen, many under the pen name O Henry.  He got out in 1901 and moved to Pittsburgh, where his daughter and in-laws had moved. He continued to write, and produced stories that are still read today, like "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Ransom of Red Chief."  His stories were known for the use of irony and twist endings. 

Porter drank and took bad care of himself and died in 1910.  I won't tell you how young his daughter was when she died.  Too sad.

In the July, 1907 Everybody's Magazine, Porter published a short story, "The Caballero's Way." This story introduced the Cisco Kid, but he did not resemble the Cisco Kid many of us know from movies and television.  The story begins:

"The Cisco Kid had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forbore to count. Therefore a woman loved him."

The Cisco Kid was a murderer, was not Hispanic, was not a caballero, and was a creep.  Porter was probably inspired by Billy the Kid.  A Texas Ranger came looking for The Kid.  He met Tonia, the Kid's girlfriend.  Tonia and the Ranger fell in love.  The Kid tricked the Ranger into killing Tonia.  The only feature of the story that may have influenced the future movies and the television show was that, at the end, the Kid rode away singing a song.

Motion Picture News, 28-March-1914
The first movie featuring the Cisco Kid was "The Caballero's Way," produced in Tucson by American-Eclair.  Note that the Cisco Kid is not mentioned in this trade ad, but O Henry is.

There is some disagreement about the name of the man who played the Cisco Kid.  He's probably somewhere in this photo of the cast.

Motion Picture News, 04-April-1914
"The Cisco Kid, a young Mexican desperado, is feared by all because he does not hesitate in the taking of a life, and because his aim is unerring."  Some have written that the movie closely followed the story.  This review makes it sound as if the movie included a lot of the backstory.  It does include the Texas Ranger being tricked into killing Tonia, but then follows it with a big fight between the Kid and the Ranger.  The Kid gets arrested.

Moving Picture World, 10-October-1914
This item says that H. Stanley played the Cisco Kid, which is appropriate for the main character of a story by O. Henry.  Other sources say that William R Dunn played the Kid.

Moving Picture Weekly, 18-January-1919
In 1919, Universal released "The Border Terror," which sounds very close to the 1914 "The Caballero's Way," except that the hero is a Sheriff instead of a Texas Ranger, Tonia is only wounded, and the Kid is killed in the big fistfight.  Yvette Mitchell played Tonia and Vester Pegg may have played Cisco. Great name. 

Exhibitors Daily Review, 31-August-1928
In 1928, the Fox Films Corporation announced that Raoul Walsh would play the Cisco Kid and direct an "all-dialogue Movietone feature," adapted from "The Caballero's Way." Outdoors pictures were very rare in the early sound era.  They almost couldn't be made with Warner Brothers' sound-on-disk Vitaphone system, but it was possible with Fox's sound-on-film Movietone system.
Walsh had to give up acting when a jackrabbit hit the windshield of a car he was driving.  Shattered glass entered his right eye and destroyed it.  Irving Cummings became director or  co-director of In Old Arizona and Warner Baxter played the Cisco Kid.  When Walsh wrote his name in concrete at Grauman's Chinese Theater on 14-November-1930, he also left impressions of his feet, hands and eye patch:
As in the earlier movies, Baxter played the Cisco Kid as Latino and a bandit, but in this case not an evil person and not a killer.  He was more of a good badman, in the William S Hart tradition.  The plot, a triangle among the Kid, a Texas Ranger played by Edmund Lowe, and Tonia, played by Dorothy Burgess, was adapted from O. Henry's story.  Poor Tonia gets shot again, but not fatally.

Motion Picture Classic, February, 1929
 "The Talking Picture Reaches Perfection."

Photoplay, February, 1929

"This picture makes the most effective and intelligent use of sound and conversation yet displayed.  It points the way to bigger and better talkies ... The outstanding performance is given by Warner Baxter as the singing, laughing .Cisco Kid, a fascinating and gallant bandit"

Motion Picture News, 12-October-1929
By October, Irving Cummings was preparing to direct a sequel.
In 1931, Baxter and Lowe reunited in the first movie which had the Cisco Kid's name in the title.

The Educational News, November, 1931
"Feeble imitation of 'In Old Arizona' ... A stale story of cheap romance, sticky sentiment, labored wisecracking, threadbare bravado."  The three columns are labelled "For Intelligent Adults", "For Youth (15-20)" and "For Children (Under 15)".

Also in 1931, Warner Baxter made a brief appearance in a short, "The Stolen Jools," which was made by several studios in Hollywood to raise money for a charity.  He wore his Cisco Kid hat, spoke with a Spanish accent and flirted with Fifi D'Orsay, but she called him "Mister Baxter."  This film was thought to be lost until someone found a print in the 1990s.  I first learned about it in a book about Laurel and Hardy, who were among the many stars in this movie. 

In 1939, Warner Baxter played the Cisco Kid for the last time, in The Return of the Cisco Kid.  This movie introduced two sidekicks, Lopez and Gordito, played by Cesar Romero and Chris-Pin Martin.  The Fox Films Corporation had become 20th Century-Fox. 

Film Bulletin, 06-May-1939
"With a twinkle in his eye and a swagger to his walk, Baxter again gives an outstanding performance of The Cisco Kid.  Giving him a run for the comedy honors is Cesar Romero as a lazy brigand who hates to reform -- a gem of a characterization."

While he played the Cisco Kid, Warner Baxter appeared in two other movies where he played similar characters.  In 1930's The Arizona Kid, he was the Cisco Kid by another name.  Carole Lombard, then billed as Carol Lombard, was in the cast but not on the poster.
In Robin Hood of El Dorado, Baxter played real-life California bandit Joaquin Murrieta.  Joaquin's head, preserved in a jar of alcohol, was on display in San Francisco saloons until the Fire and Earthquake of 1906.

Warner Baxter was not of Latin descent.  During the 1940s, he dropped to the second rank of Hollywood players.  He was most famous for starring in the Crime Doctor series of "B" movies for Columbia.
Later in 1939, 20th Century-Fox produced another Cisco Kid movie, The Cisco Kid and the Lady.  This time, Cesar Romero, who had been a sidekick in the previous movie, played the Cisco Kid.  Chris-Pin Martin returned as sidekick Gordito.  Cesar Romero's father was Italian, but his mother was Cuban, a daughter of independence hero José Martí.  Chris-Pin Martin. who was born in Tucson, Arizona Territory, was of Mexican descent.  He played up all the stereotypes: his characters were fat, lazy and spoke broken English.

Film Bulletin, 16-December-1939

"'THE CISCO KID AND THE LADY' STARTS NEW WESTERN SERIES." Budgets were lower than they had been for the Warner Baxter movies, and  20th Century-Fox regarded these as "B" pictures.  "The 'Cisco Kid' returns to the screen in person of slightly sardonic, tango-dancing Cesar Romero, who plays the role with just the right mien.  He is a better selection for the part than Warner Baxter."  I added the bold formatting.

In 1940, Cesar Romero and Chris-Pin Martin played Cisco and Gordito three times.  Their first was  Viva Cisco Kid, Jean Rogers had played Dale Arden the serial Flash Gordon

Motion Picture Daily, 14-March-1940

"The popular Romero in the title role similar to 'Don Quixote' and Chris-Pin Martin as 'Sancho Panza' are an ideal combination."  The "G" means it was suitable for a general audience.
The second was Lucky Cisco Kid.

Silver Screen, September, 1940
"Cesar Romero furnishes another effective portrayal of the Mexican Lone Ranger.  Chris-Pin Martin, as his shadow, also continues to delight, despite a wearisome plot..." 

Screenland, December, 1940

Cesar Romero had a great smile.  Definitely sardonic.
And the last for the year was The Gay Caballero.  Why did they stop using "Cisco Kid" in the title?

Film Daily, 28-October-1940
 "Best of all, the yarn appeals to reason in that Romero is portrayed as a bandit (of the Robin Hood genus), doesn't win the hand of Sheila Ryan at the finale... 'The Gay Caballero' isn't a big sagebrush saga, but has enough on the ball to play all but the snooty situations."
In 1941, Cesar Romero and Chris-Pin Martin played Cisco and Gordito for the last two times, first in Romance of the Rio Grande.

Film Bulletin, 11-January-1941
 "The liveliest and most interesting 'Cisco Kid' programmer in some time..."
They played the parts for the last time in Ride On Vaquero.

Film Bulletin, 03-May-1941
"Romero and Miss Hughes perform a graceful tango without breaking the story continuity."  Mary Beth Hughes had also appeared in Lucky Cisco Kid.

This was the end of the Cisco Kid series at 20th Century-Fox, although some comments in the trade press said there would be more movies in the new season.

Cesar Romero may be best remembered today for playing The Joker in the 1960s Batman television series.  

Broadcasting, 28-September-1942
The Cisco Kid radio show made its debut on 02-October-1942 on the Mutual Broadcasting System.  The radio show introduced Cisco's most famous sidekick, Pancho.  It also named their horses, Diablo for Cisco and Loco for Pancho.  Jackson Beck played Cisco and Louis Sorin played Pancho

Variety, 31-October-1942
I greatly enjoyed this review from Variety.  "Sooner or later somebody in radio was bound to remember sex.  It turns out to be Jules Seebach and WOR, who have resurrected red-fire and hot breath over the air... This Cisco kisser of WOR is forever nibbling at the necks of females who are forever emitting small squeals of ready acquiescence and anticipatory delight.. The playing of Jackson Beck in the brittle, essentially unbelievable role is professionally resourceful.  But never quite removes a feeling that he forgot to pull down the shades."
 Jackson Beck, the Cisco Kid on the radio.  He was probably not Hispanic.  He also narrated The Adventures of Superman and played Philo Vance.  

Variety, 31-October-1942
One more note from Variety.  "Again WOR has 'The Cisco Kid,' which is an effort to flirt with sex-just-short-of-lechery."

Film Daily, 02-June-1943
"In addition, there will be a series of Charlie Chan, Cisco Kid, East Side Kids and Bela Lugosi horror pictures."  Monogram was a studio on a lower level than 20th Century-Fox.  Its "B" pictures were often well-made, but their budgets were smaller.

Motion Picture Daily, 16-July-1943.
"Monogram added a five-picture 'Cisco Kid' series to its schedule today, clearing the rights with Fox and Doubleday-Doran for use of the title and character." 

Film Daily, 21-July-1943
"Phil Krasne and Sam Burkett have bought the rights to 'The Cisco Kid' stories from 20th-Fox.  They have not selected a star as yet."

Showmen's Trade Review, 31-July-1943

"A new film star is expected to emerge from the search now being conducted by Monogram for a man to play the title role in the forthcoming new series of Cisco Kid pictures."

Showmen's Trade Review, 01-July-1944
Duncan Renaldo, who was probably born in Romania, spent part of the 1930s in federal prison, charged with entering the country illegally.  Eleanor Roosevelt, the president's wife, had purchased one of Renaldo's paintings.  She persuaded FDR to pardon Renaldo.  The Old Corral says that "Supposedly Renaldo had input into the characterization, and wanted to do away with its shady side."

Showmen's Trade Review, 02-September-1944
The "Advance Dope" column talked about the first Monogram Cisco Kid movie, Case of the Missing Medico.  That title makes it sound like a Perry Mason movie, not a Cisco Kid movie.
The movie was released in 1945 with the more appropriate title of The Cisco Kid Returns.  Duncan Renaldo played Cisco.  Martin Gallaraga played Pancho Gonzales, the first appearance of Pancho in a movie, and the first and perhaps only time I can recall him having a family name.

Motion Picture Daily, 11-April-1945
"Duncan Renaldo makes a dashing romantic Kid, as expert with poetry and a kiss as he is with a gun.  Martin Carralgo (sic - JT) is Pancho, his stupid, uneducated, but loyal comrade."  I'm sure Martin Garralaga appreciated the mention.

Film Bulletin, 25-June-1945
"By no means up to the calibre of the Cisco Kid pictures produced by 20th Century-Fox from 1939 to 1941, Monogram's 'The Cisco Kid Returns' is merely average western fare.  Duncan Renaldo, who now plays The Kid, lacks the engaging Latin quality Warner Baxter gave to the role, and the absence of Chris Pin-Martin, who played the voluble and be-fuddled Pancho is sorely felt."  This is interesting since Chris-Pin Martin played Gordito, not Pancho.
The second Monogram Cisco film was The Cisco Kid in Old New Mexico.  Notice that Renaldo wears a mustache. Notice the prominently displayed Gwen Kenyon. 

Motion Picture Daily, 14-July-1945
"The story keeps the hero honest and a true admirer of feminine beauty... Neighborhood kids and loyal Western followers will find no fault with this one."
 South of the Rio Grande was the third Monogram Cisco Kid film.  Note Cisco serenading a senorita. 

Motion Picture Herald, 15-December-1945
"Waving a gay 'adios,' the Cisco Kid, flanked by his faithful Pancho, rides off into the distance, in search of new Robin Hood Adventures."  South of the Rio Grande turned out to be Duncan Renaldo's last appearance as the Cisco Kid, at least for a few years.

In 1946, the radio show moved from the Mutual Broadcasting System to syndication.  Jack Mather played Cisco.  Various people, including Mel Blanc, played Pancho.  The radio show continued in production until 1955, even after the Cisco Kid television show was on the air.
In 1946's The Gay Cavalier, Gilbert Roland became the Cisco Kid. Martin Garralaga, who had played Pancho with Duncan Renaldo, played Don Felipe Geralda.   Cisco's new sidekick was Baby, played by Nacho Galindo.  Interesting name.

Motion Picture Herald, 06-June-1946
"Gilbert Roland, returned from the armed forces, is now in the title role, in succession to numerous predecessors.  Aiding the Kid in his exploits, and providing some comic as well as musical pauses, is Nacho Galindo, an enjoyable buffoon."  Roland reversed some of Renaldo's character clean up.  Roland's Cisco smoked and drank tequila.
Gilbert Roland returned as Cisco and Martin Garralaga played Commandante Arturo in South of Monterey.  No sign of Nacho Galindo.  Now Baby is played by Frank Yaconelli.

Motion Picture Herald, 28-September-1946
"He goes through his portrayal, based upon an O. Henry character, with usual aplomb, making love and sidestepping danger with unruffled calm."
Beauty and the Bandit featured Ramsay Ames in her second Cisco Kid movie.  She provided the beauty.  The Monogram Cisco Kid movies were known for surrounding the star with lots of pretty actresses. 

Motion Picture Daily, 14-December-1946
"Action, hard riding and fights abound in this fast-paced picture which places Gilbert Roland, smooth, cocksure, affable, back in the saddle as the 'Cisco Kid.'  An ordinary vehicle involving a land-grab plot, the film is considerably aided by flashes of quiet humor with Roland giving the impression that he enjoys himself in the process."
Roland liked to do some sword fighting in his Cisco Kid movies.  In this poster for Riding the California Trail, we see him crossing swords.

Motion Picture Herald, 08-February-1947
"Gilbert Roland, as the Cisco Kid, a favorite Western performer, stars in another in the series of adventurous exploits where the hero subdues the villain in the final sequence."
Robin Hood of Monterey was set in the capital of Mexican Alta California.  Director Christy Cabanne had been a protege of DW Griffith.  Evelyn Brent had been a big star in the late silent era.  Chris-Pin Martin was back as Cisco's sidekick, this time called Pancho. 

Motion Picture Herald, 08-September-1947
"In accents of poetry, Gilbert Roland as the Cisco Kid, goes through the familiar chores of redressing injustice."
Gilbert Roland last appeared as the Cisco Kid in King of the Bandits.  Chris-Pin Martin played Pancho.  After this, Monogram dropped the series.

Showmen's Trade Review, 18-October-1947

 "This enjoyable Cisco Kid offering has plenty of laughs and excitement.  Gilbert Roland is very good in the title role and Chris-Pin Martin is a decidedly gifted comedian."

Gilbert Roland continued playing in movies and television until the early 1980s.  

Showmen's Trade Review, 05-June-1948
In 1948, Duncan Renaldo was back. The new series would be produced by Phil Krasne's Inter-American Productions and released by United Artists. Independent production was a step down from Monogram. 

Showmen's Trade Review, 25-December-1948
Producer Phil Krause was a busy guy.  He announced plans for 25 Cisco Kid movies.

Duncan Renaldo returned to the Cisco Kid with The Valiant Hombre.  His sidekick, Pancho, was played by Leo Carrillo, a California native who took great pride in the fact that an ancestor first arrived in Alta California in 1769 and was married in 1781 in a ceremony celebrated by Father (now Saint) Junipero Serra.  The leading lady, Barbara Billingsley, later played Mrs Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver.  Others will remember her as the lady who spoke Jive on Airplane

Showmen's Trade Review, 18-December-1948
"Duncan Renaldo as the chivalrous Cisco Kid gives a smooth and pleasing performance and Leo Carrillo enacts Pancho with the dumbness and unconscious humor the fans expect."
"Riding!  Fighting!  Romancing! ... there's only one man who's a match for any gang of blood-thirsty border bandits!"  Notice that Duncan Renaldo no longer wears a mustache.

Motion Picture Daily, 10-May-1949

"In view of liberties taken over the years with his softly-accented, indestructible Cisco Kid, the late O. Henry should experience only a restful half-turn over 'The Gay Amigo,' latest in the perpetual series of the good badman."
"Look Out for the Cisco Kid."  I like the colors on this poster for The Daring Caballero.

Showmen's Trade Review, 09-July-1949
"Cisco is still a good box-office draw, although the series continues to fall short of its predecessors."
Ann Savage, who had been a fairly big star, was the leading lady in Satan's Cradle.

Showmen's Trade Review, 19-November-1949
"AUDIENCE SLANT: (Family) Those two quite different western heroes, the Cisco Kid and Pancho, with action aplenty this time."  It calls Cisco and Pancho "O. Henry's brainchildren."  Remember that Pancho didn't come along until the radio show.
"Gun in Hand ... Revenge in Heart."  Jane Adams was The Girl From San Lorenzo.  This was the last Cisco Kid movie released in theaters.  The "B" movie market, like the whole movie business, was feeling competition from television.

I couldn't find a trade review for this one, so here is a photo of Jane Adams.
Back in 1944, Bailey Publishing had issued a one-shot Cisco Kid comic book.  From 1951 to 1957, Dell issued The Cisco Kid.   Since then, other publishers have released one shots or short series.
José Luis Salinas and Rod Reed drew a syndicated comic strip from 1951 to 1957.This Italian comic book reprinted some of the strips. 

Broadcasting, 11-April-1949
At the National Association of Broadcasters 1949 convention in Chicago, Ziv Radio Productions, soon to become Ziv Television Productions, unveiled The Cisco Kid, a syndicated television show shot in color.  It was a daring move to shoot in color, because there were no stations broadcasting in color in 1949, and very few by the time the show stopped making new episodes in 1956.  There were 156 episodes in the series. 

Broadcasting, 13-March-1950
The show was a big hit and continued to play on many stations into the 1970s, aided by the fact that it was in color.  Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo made many personal appearances while the show was being made and after.

Was the end of the show the end of the Cisco Kid and Pancho?  Not hardly.  In 1972, the group War released their album The World is a Ghetto.The first track on the album, "The Cisco Kid," written by band members Thomas Allen, BB Dickerson, Harold Brown, and Charles Miller, was a big hit.  The writers were all fans of the show.  Whenever I play the CD in my car, my passengers sing along.
Was the song the end of the trail for the Cisco Kid and Pancho? No again.  In 1994, I was excited to read in the San Francisco Chronicle that cable station TNT was going to show The Cisco Kid, a made-for-television movie inspired by the song.  Jimmy Smits was the latest Cisco Kid, and Cheech Marin was Pancho.  I don't remember the movie very well, but it followed many of the events in the song.  I'd like to see it again.

Was the TNT movie the end of the Cisco Kid and Pancho? I hope not.  Let's wait and see. 

In 1981, Second City adapted an episode of the television show.  It is worth a visit.

Both of the silent movies are missing, presumed lost.   Many of the talkies and many episodes of the radio and television shows are available on dvd and online. 

This post is part of  Swashathon -- A Blogathon of Swashbuckling Adventure, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently.  Thank you to Fritzi for all the hard work.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read and comment on as many posts as you can.  Bloggers love comments.  

This post is my ninth blogathon post of 2015 and my 40th since 2007.  This is my 22nd blogathon.    This page has a list of all my blogathon posts.  


  1. Fascinating and interesting entry. It's been ages since I've seen anything "Cisco" related, but recall enjoying whatever I watched.

  2. Hi Caftan Woman. I'm glad you liked it. I'll bet Cisco and Pancho are still riding around some obscure cable channel.

  3. Thanks for sharing all this history and research with us. I think you have the makings of a book about The Cisco Kid!

  4. Thank you, Silver Screenings. I had fun doing the research. A book? That is an interesting idea.

  5. Thanks so much for joining in! I too was completely captivated by the story of how the Cisco Kid became a hero. How interesting that both Fox and MGM looked to O. Henry for their early talkies.

  6. Thank you for putting this blogathon together, Fritzi. I'm glad you found the story of the transition from louse to good guy interesting. I think that today we don't appreciate how influential O Henry was in his time. I see references and comparisons to his stories all the time.

  7. Joe, your research process always amazes me. I love these archive clippings and news. I find it the most interesting that there is controversy about who played the very first Cisco Kid! I would have never thought about the Cisco Kid for the swashbuckler blogathon, but it makes perfect sense.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  8. Hi Lê - Thank for saying such nice things. I thought lots of people would do pirates and Robin Hood, so I wanted to do something closer to home. If there is a Swashathon 2, I'll have to do a post like this for Zorro. I enjoyed your post a lot.

  9. Such an interesting post - glad I waited until I had time to read it properly as there's so much history here. I love the language that's used in some of those reviews - much like the films they don't make 'em like that anymore! But by far my favourite here is the smirking Romero, he took the idea that swashbuckling should be fun to heart!

  10. Thank you, girlsdofilm. I enjoy the way people wrote back then. I like your comment on Cesar Romero -- "he took the idea that swashbuckling should be fun to heart!" I think that makes the best swashbucklers. Thanks for the kind words.

  11. Dear Sir, When Jack Mather and Harry Lang played Cisco and Poncho from 1946 -1952,on Radio, who played the Organ on those dates, and what was the name of the Theme Son?!Also, what orchestra played the Theme Song for the early 1950's Television version the theme song and what was it called! Also, who was the Announcer on the TV Version!I'm sure Charles Arlington did the late 1940's Annoucing on the radio! Do you agree?

    1. Hi Bob. Happy new year. I wish I could answer your questions, but music is not my strong point.


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