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Column 122214 Wall

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mexico's Beloved TV Personality 'Chespirito' Passes Away

By Allan Wall

Mexican actor, screenwriter, director and author Roberto Gomez Bolaños, better-known as “Chespirito,” passed away on November 28th, 2014.  The public funeral of Chespirito was attended by 40,000 mourners in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

Chespirito’s work was loved and appreciated by several generations of Mexicans and other Latin Americans.  My two sons enjoyed his shows, even though they were produced years before they were born.  Chespirito even influenced the animated “Simpsons” program in the United States. 

Roberto Gomez Bolaños was born February 21st, 1929, in Mexico City.  While his mother was pregnant, she suffered an accident and was advised by a doctor to abort her baby, but she refused.  Years later, as part of the abortion debate in Mexico City, Gomez Bolaños appeared in a powerful pro-life video relating that story.  You can view the video here.

Before achieving fame, Gomez Bolaños studied engineering at Mexico City’s UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), as well as competing as an amateur boxer.

In the world of entertainment, he labored as a playwright and a screenwriter for movies and television, and did some acting. 

Gomez Bolaños earned the nickname “Chespirito” during the early years of his writing career. It was given to him by a producer, and derives from a Spanish pronunciation of Shakespeare – “Chespir” – to which was added the Spanish diminutive suffix -ito, constructing the meaning “Little Shakespeare.” 

Chespirito achieved his fame writing and starring in comedy programs for children.  His sketch comedy series Los Supergenios de la Mesa Cuadrada began in 1968.  The program’s name was later altered to Chespirito y la Mesa Cuadrada, and eventually it was simply called Chespirito.  The characters El Chavo and El Chapulín were introduced during the production of the Chespirito show, and were later spun off into their own shows.

The series El Chavo del Ocho, and the other entitled El Chapulín Colorado, were both Chespirito productions and both had the same cast of actors.

These shows, produced by the Televisa network, became very popular and wound up being shown in 124 countries. 

In El Chavo del Ocho, Gomez Bolaños portrayed an 8-year old boy who resides in a low-income housing complex called a “vecindad.”  The Chavo show was at its height of popularity in the mid-1970s when it was viewed by an astounding 350 million viewers per episode throughout Latin America.  

Though ending production in 1992, the program is still in syndication and it has on average 91 million daily viewers throughout the Western Hemisphere.  My sons, now 15 and 12, enjoy El Chavo del Ocho, which is now available on YouTube.

The character El Chapulín Colorado (the Crimson Grasshopper) is a comical superhero and the program is a parody of the superhero genre.  It ran throughout the 1970s and continued until 1981, being aired throughout Latin America and in Spain. 

Matt Groening, who created The Simpsons, based his Simpsons character Bumblebee Man on El Chapulín Colorado, while the costume is modeled after “Killer Bees,” from  Saturday Night Live.  Groening had learned of the Chapulín character while watching TV in a motel on the U.S.-Mexican border.

In The Simpsons, Bumblebee Man’s speech is simple and inaccurate Spanish. 

Getting back to Chespirito’s shows, like other famous children’s shows they also had adult fans.  In fact, Gomez Bolaños said in an interview that “I never wrote for children.”

Gomez Bolaños was also a composer.  Some of his compositions appear in his programs, others were theme songs of Mexican movies and telenovelas (which are like American soap operas but with definite endings).

Chespirito authored several books, including: El diario del chavo del ocho; … y también poemas; and Sin querer queriendo: Memorias (available at Amazon and Barnes & Nobel, in Spanish).

Roberto Gomez Bolaños passed away at his Cancun home on November 28th, 2014, at the age of 85.

A private funeral was held November 29th and a public ceremony was held on  November 30th in Mexico’s Estadio Azteca, with 40,000 fans present, some of them dressed up as El Chapulín Colorado. 

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.

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