Arturo Tirado and the Teatro Azteca: Mexican popular culture in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Although largely absent from history textbooks, this experience has had a dramatic impact on modern-day society. Today, following decades of continuous immigration from south of the border, what residents simply call "the Valley" is home to one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the United States. (1) Towns that were only marginally Latino in the 1950s are now predominantly Spanish-speaking, and those that supported large Latino populations then are now overwhelmingly Hispanic--much to the chagrin of many of the region's long-established Anglo-American residents. (2) Even though Spanish-speaking settlers have resided in the region since the beginning of the nineteenth century--Las Juntas, near the Fresno County community of Mendota, was settled "as early as 1800" by Mexicans, making it the first non-Indian community in the Great Central Valley (3)--their history has generally been neglected by mainstream scholars. Local historical societies invariably concentrate on the "real" pioneers: the Anglo Americans who established the first Valley towns, the so-called city fathers. With few exceptions, Chicano researchers have also largely failed to address this important segment of the ethnic community. (4) This neglect is surprising, given not only the size and importance of the Valley's Mexican population, but also that so many Chicano studies scholars hail from the region, notably Alex Saragoza, Lea Ybarra, F. Arturo Rosales, Ramon Chacon, Francisco Jimenez, and Charley Trujillo. An investigation into the folkways that developed among the Valley's Mexican immigrants is particularly needed. By centering on the life of a key player in that development, Arturo Tirado, and focusing on the role of the Mexican cinema, this essay attempts to portray Hispanic popular culture at mid-century.
To appreciate how Tirado and other Spanish-speaking impresarios affected their ethnic communities, it is first necessary to examine the origins of their clientele, what is widely termed the "Hispanic market" today. The Mexican Revolution witnessed a massive influx of Mexican immigrants into the American Southwest, first into Texas and then into southern California. However, it was only in the 1920s--when the construction of Highway 99 permitted easy access from the Los Angeles basin across the Tejon Pass--that these immigrants began to enter the San Joaquin Valley in significant numbers.
By 1900, agriculture had become the leading industry in California. (5) Not yet mechanized, the harvest of fruits, vegetables, and other crops required huge numbers of people willing to work as cheap labor. Mexicans entering the Valley in the 1920s, mainly from the Imperial Valley and the Los Angeles basin, were almost exclusively campesinos. They were drawn to citrus and other orchard crops along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the grape fields in and around Fresno, and, increasingly, the cotton lands of the Westside. (6) By the early 1930S, Mexicans represented 56 percent of the agricultural work force in the Valley. (7)
During the course of the 1920s, the expanding fields of the westlands became the leading magnet for Mexicanos (the most popular self-referent at the time among the Mexican-origin population in the United States). In contrast to the small family farms east of Highway 99, large corporate holdings came to dominate this arid region of the Central Valley because of the massive capital outlay required for deep wells and expensive irrigation projects, and these "factory farms"--as Carey McWilliams labeled them--depended on whole armies of unskilled laborers. Cotton culture, moreover, as the historian Kevin Starr has pointed out, demands an abundance of labor given the multitude of tasks involved: chopping, hoeing, irrigating, and picking. (8) In time, utilizing cheap Mexican and Filipino labor, veritable economic empires were established in the western cotton belt by pioneering corporate farmers such as the Giffens and the Boswells. (9)
The Great Depression hit the Valley's Mexicans especially hard. (10) There were massive deportations. As many as half a million Mexicans living in the United States may have returned to their homeland during this time of troubles, and only about half did so voluntarily. (11) In addition, there was the intense competition represented by Dust Bowl immigrants, most of them looking for jobs in the glutted rural labor market; by mid-1934, it has been reported, there were 141 workers in the state for every one hundred agricultural jobs. (12) These setbacks, however, only served to slow down the process of Hispanic immigration from the south, not shut it off completely. Then World War II stimulated agricultural output in the state to unprecedented heights, putting a premium on Mexican farm labor. Spanish-speaking communities in the Valley were augmented, too, by an influx of braceros (contract laborers from Mexico) after 1942, many of whom stayed in the United States illegally after their contracts expired.
By the end of the war it was clear that the children of most immigrants, if not the immigrants themselves, had given up the dream of returning to the land they had nostalgically referred to as Mexico lindo ("beautiful Mexico"); they were in the Valley to stay. By mid-century, Mexicanos were found in fledgling rural communities up and down the Valley--Corcoran, Sanger, Parlier, Mendota, Huron, Turlock, and other small towns that now became the focal points for shorter migratory circuits. (13) During the 1950S and early 1960s, these colonias (Mexican enclaves) mushroomed. Thousands of families from Texas and northern Mexico came looking for work in the fields. (14) Then at its height, the bracero program was "instrumental in channeling the movement of Mexican workers away from Texas and toward California." (15) The program had the effect, too, of initiating a pattern of immigration characterized by the continual movement of sojourners between Mexico and the United States--what the anthropologist Roger Rouse has termed "transnational migration circuits" (16)--which tended to encourage an allegiance to traditional culture.
From the very beginning, though, the hub of Mexican life in the Valley was centrally located in the city of Fresno (incorporated in 1885). (17) In 1931, the budding metropolis, the agribusiness capital of the state then as now, "boasted the largest Mexican community in the Valley, with a resident population of six thousand, which grew to ten thousand each harvest." (18)
Long hours of toil in the fields left the Valley's Mexican-origin residents little time for recreation. (19) They listened to mariachi music on Spanish-language radio broadcasts early in the morning and in the late afternoon. After 1949, when Juan Mercado founded KGST in Fresno, the first Spanish-language radio station in the Valley broadcasted music, news, and religious services even during prime-time hours. (20) (Mercado's popular radio program was soon rivaled by that of Alejandro Medina, on local radio station KXEX.) La Opinion, the Spanish-language daily published in Los Angeles, was also a source of information and entertainment. After work, many Mexicans would visit relatives and acquaintances, socialize with friends in local pool halls and cantinas, and, perhaps attend church services--though these were often unavailable in isolated rural settings.
By the weekend, however, the lure of city lights was irresistible. Valley residents poured into Fresno--and, to a lesser extent, into Bakersfield and Sacramento. Patriotic holidays were the occasions for the most extravagant celebrations, with Mexican Independence Day (September 16) and the Cinco de Mayo (May 5) being practically holy days of obligation. As early as 1925, the city's September 16 celebration drew a throng of fifteen thousand; and the following year, some three thousand spectators attended the September 16 parade. (21) By the mid-1950s, following major Mexican-American participation in two wars, the Fourth of July was nearly as well attended as the fiestas patrias, the Mexican "patriotic feasts." Parades, immensely popular at this time, often featured Mexican-American veterans, none as venerated as local hero Rudy Hernandez, a Korean War Medal of Honor recipient (and a quadriplegic). The queen of the celebration, the young lady who sold the most raffle tickets, also rode on a float. And, of course, no procession was complete without the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint. As was true of the other residents of the Valley, Mexicans were deeply religious.
The circus, too, lured farmworkers to the city from far and wide. Mexican troupes such as the Circo Talamante and the Circo Escalante were smaller than Ringling Brothers or Barnum and Bailey, but no less entertaining.
Roeding Park, northwest of the city center, was always a popular destination, especially for Mexicanos from the nearby western cotton belt. Some families spent the entire day within its friendly confines, a custom that is hardly surprising since in Mexico, working-class life is routinely lived outdoors. Often it was here in the park that residents of outlying farm communities would visit relatives who lived in town; Fresno's Spanish-speaking population consisted largely of ex-farm workers, though the colonia also included a large number of railroad hands (both the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe rail lines ran though the city).
Saturday nights found the entire family, from toddlers to octogenarians, flocking to the ballroom. Mexican dances were typically held at the Palomar on Kearney Boulevard, the Rainbow on Broadway Street, or the Veterans' Memorial Auditorium on Fresno Street, all venues where the big band sound of local favorites Manuel Contreras and Andy Guerrero and their orchestras could be enjoyed well into the early hours of the morning. The city was also a regular stop for nationally renowned Latino bands such as those of Beto Villa, Lalo Guerrero, and Perez Prado, the mambo king. The dances were generally sponsored by mutual-benefit societies, notably the Sociedad Progresista and the Sociedad Morelos. (22)
For the Mexicanos of the central valley, however, no trip to Fresno was complete without a visit to Chinatown, in the city's southwestern district then being gradually transformed into a black and Mexican enclave. By the 1950s, the irresistible lure was not so much the Chinese restaurants and the many ethnic bars and dance clubs that dominated the Chinatown business district--as popular as those establishments were--but was instead a modest building located at 838 F Street, one of the pillars of Hispanic life in central California, the Azteca Theater. I turn now to the owner of this popular attraction, one of the most remarkable men to set foot in the Valley.
Arturo Tirado, was born into a show business family in Mexico City in 1912. (23) Natives of Spain, his parents Romualdo and Matilde were entertainers who toured throughout Latin America before the turn of the century. Born in Toledo in 1880, Romualdo Tirado Pozo met and married Matilde Linan in South America; and after several years spent in Cuba, the young couple immigrated to Mexico in 1909. (24) The outbreak of the revolution against Porfirio Diaz, two years later, found the Tirados working as stage actors in the nation's capital, where they struggled to make a name for themselves. Years later, in a 1996 interview with this author, Arturo related his father's fondest memory of this period: the biggest break of his professional career. During a musical performance at the Teatro Principal in Mexico City--with none other than generals Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in attendance--the featured star got too drunk to go on stage. As luck would have it, there was no other singer in the house, only actors. Prodded by the desperate theater owner, Romualdo was forced to substitute as an emergency replacement, singing the popular song, "Los Ojos Tapatios" ("Jaliscan eyes"). To his amazement, the crowd loved him; he was an overnight success. The performance catapulted him into national prominence, the memorable beginning of a long and illustrious career as a professional singer and actor. (25)
Despite a series of theatrical triumphs, escalating revolutionary violence soon forced the Spanish couple to emigrate once more. With their three boys, and their entire theatrical troupe, they joined the mass exodus heading north. Like many other artists in Mexico during this turbulent period of its history, the Tirados were drawn to Los Angeles, a city already emerging as the great entertainment capital of the West. After performing several months in Nogales, El Paso, and other border communities, they arrived in Hollywood in late 1919. (26) There, during the next two decades, Romualdo Tirado achieved notable success as an actor, singer, producer, director, and theatrical promoter. In fact, according to Nicolas Kanellos, one of the leading authorities on the Hispanic theater in the United States: "He is without a doubt the most important figure in the history of the Hispanic stage of this period.... In the City of Angels Tirado became a prime mover in the Hispanic theatrical and cinematic industries as a theater owner and movie producer, and, just as important, he was also one of the catalysts that brought about the writing and staging of local plays and revistas [one-act sketches]." (27)
As Kanellos indicates, Romualdo Tirado specialized in drama. Among the leading stage actors of his time, he also wrote a number of plays, including De Mexico d Los Angeles, described by a drama critic as "an immensely popular revista in Los Angeles in 1920 and 1921." (28) An impresario as well as an artist, the elder Tirado staged theatrical productions, utilizing both local talent and actors from Mexico, in his own theater, the Teatro Novel (later renamed the Teatro Mexico), on First and Main streets. (29) In addition, the Spaniard was one of the first Latino actors to appear on the silver screen, usually as a supporting comic character, eventually making a successful transition from silent to talking motion pictures (both English- and Spanish-speaking films). (30)
Arturo was the eldest of Romualdo's four children. His siblings were Rafael, Miguel, and Matilde. Six years old when the family immigrated to the United States in 1918, Arturo grew up in Los Angeles. The youth attended several schools, including St. Catherine's, a Catholic boarding school--a necessity given his parents' extended tours in the twenties. (31) As his father continued to pursue his many artistic interests, young Arturo was encouraged to follow in the family tradition. He was given small parts in plays and films. He also served as chauffeur and translator for his father, who worked in films for some of Hollywood's leading movie studios, including RKO and Universal. In 1931, then only nineteen years old, Arturo secured a studio job as an assistant director making Spanish-language films. "I was one of the youngest assistant directors," he later recalled, "not because I was good, but because I was the only one that they could reach out [to] and know that I could speak English and Spanish; as well, I knew all the actors." (32)
Meanwhile, Arturo continued to pursue a formal education. Although he never finished high school, he passed the entrance exam and was accepted into the University of Southern California, where he took accounting and other business courses. Leaving college early, in the midst of the Depression, Tirado worked as an accountant for several private firms during the next few years. (33) But show business was in his blood, and he continued to perform in both films and on the stage, occasionally under the name Romualdo Tirado Jr. For a short while--"It must have been around 1937," (34) he later guessed--he even tried his hand as a musician, playing violin in the Xavier Cugat band. (35) Deferred from World War II military service because of a broken ear drum, he continued to make his living as an accountant and, more rarely now, a part-time actor. (36) With the end of the war in sight and now in his thirties, Arturo chose to focus on the business end of the entertainment industry rather than become a full-time performer himself. Accompanied by his wife, Elena (Helen) Loaiza, a beautiful Mexican immigrant from Sinaloa whom he married in 1938, and using his father's connections in Hollywood, he set out on a career in motion-picture theater management. (37)
His initiation into the new field of endeavor came in Bakersfield, in the lower San Joaquin Valley, where he managed a small theater beginning in 1944. The growing family (daughter Virginia was born in 1940) was well accepted into the community, and Arturo was even urged to run for mayor. In 1953, tired of the Valley heat, he moved his family back to the Southland, to San Bernardino, a rapidly growing community in the citrus belt east of Los Angeles, where he managed another small motion-picture theater. (38) They didn't stay very long. Tirado was eager to acquire his own establishment; and, given an opportunity to take over a failing investment from his friend Gustavo A. Acosta, who owned a small theater chain, he jumped at the chance to lease the Teatro Azteca in 1956. (39)
Arturo Tirado's decision to venture into the film business proved to be propitious. By mid-century, a cinematic tradition was well established among Mexicans living in the United States. Like other Americans, they had fallen in love with the silver screen in the 1920s. The silent films of that era permitted immigrants to enjoy the action-packed dramas as thoroughly as their English-speaking neighbors. Lacking a formal education and thus the basic skills required to create a large reading public, Mexican audiences, both in the Old Country and in the United States, found the motion picture, with its rich visual imagery, to be irresistible. (40) By the mid-1930s, the cinema--el cho, los monos, las peliculas, and las vistas were only some of the many terms Spanish speakers employed when referring to the medium--represented their single most popular form of entertainment. (41) Among the most well-known Hollywood screen stars of the interwar period were Ramon Novarro and Dolores del Rio, Mexican factors who proved to be a great draw among their compatriots of the Southwest. (42)
Concurrently, a thriving motion-picture industry arose in Mexico itself. After an early period of artistic and financial stagnation during the Depression, the Mexican film industry started to make giant strides in the mid-1930s, the beginning of Mexico's Golden Age of cinema, an era that would continue for the next two decades. (43) This development was aided by the even more serious decline of the industry in Hollywood during the economic collapse of the Depression, which gave Mexican filmmakers a chance to exploit markets throughout Latin America; and, during the Second World War, by the massive financial aid provided Mexico by the United States, its wartime ally. (44) Dogma Barbara (1943), Maria Candelaria (1943), La perla (1945), Rio Escondido (1947), Salon Mexico (1948), and El rebozo de Soledad (1952) are only some of the many masterpieces emerging from the Mexican Republic during this innovative period. While these films often played in the very same theaters frequented by English-speaking audiences, Americanos--a term used by Mexican-origin people to designate members of the non-Hispanic population--remained almost completely ignorant of the genre. (The Mexican film remains "one of the least known and most underappreciated of all national cinemas," according to film historian Charles Ramirez Berg.) (45) By the 1950s, with substantial support by the federal government, the Mexican movie industry was able to control every aspect of the flourishing business: production, distribution, and exhibition.
Films made during the Golden Age were highly nationalistic, which helps to explain their enormous appeal to Mexican citizens then living in the United States, a population that scholars have labeled Mexico de fuera (immigrant Mexico). Impoverished and unskilled, these immigrants found life in the United States exceedingly difficult. Anti-Mexican sentiment, moreover, was rampant both during the Depression and the war that ensued. (46) The films that emerged from Mexico after the mid-1930s, therefore, as the historian Alex M. Saragoza has amply demonstrated, filled the deep psychic needs of a beleaguered immigrant population. (47) Mexican immigrants continued to identify with their homeland far longer than other immigrants in the United States. There are a multitude of reasons for this cultural persistence. One key factor was the rise of transnational communities. More important still was the influence of the cinema and other forms of mass media originating in the homeland. (48)
As Mexican films made their way across the border, Spanish-language movie houses were established throughout the Southwest and in the few places outside the region, notably Chicago, with populations large enough to support them. (49) This trend was most apparent in southern California. From World War I to the early 1930s, Los Angeles, now rapidly replacing San Antonio as the largest Hispanic market in the country, was able to sustain a score of ethnic theater houses. Mostly owned by non-Latinos, there were five major venues. (50) These included the Teatro Hidalgo, which opened in 1911, making it the first of the large houses, and the aforementioned Teatro Novel. Starting as venues for stage plays, they were gradually transformed into motion-picture theaters. The first movie theater in the country to show Spanish-language movies exclusively was the Teatro California, located near the corner of Eighth and Main streets in Los Angeles. The theater owners initiated the new policy on August 28, 1930. (51) By the 1940s and 1950s, when the number of cinemas multiplied significantly, the largest chain belonged to Hawaiian-born businessman Francisco (Frank) Fouce, St., who owned the Roosevelt, the Liberty, the Mason, and, the flagship of his growing empire, the Maya. (52) After the war, the ambitious impresario also leased one of the great movie palaces in the downtown area, the Million Dollar Theater, which then became "a premiere latino venue" in the City of Angels. (53) (Built by showman Sid Grauman, the famous theater on 307 South Broadway had its grand opening in 1918.) (54)
Movie houses catering mainly to Anglo audiences also ran Spanish-language films when there was sufficient demand, but these films were shown on a part-time basis, making them inconvenient to Latino audiences. Moreover, Anglo theaters were often racially segregated into the 1960s, which alienated Mexicanos, as well as other people of color. (55) (Cesar Chavez later recalled getting tossed out of a movie house in Delano as a youth in about 1940 for violating the segregationist policy.) (56)
However, it was the live appearance of the performers themselves, continuing a vaudeville tradition in the Old Country, that most attracted immigrant audiences to Mexican movie houses. In fact, most early movie houses had begun as venues for dramatic groups, a history that stretched back at least to the mid-nineteenth century. (57) In large cities such as Chicago, San Antonio, Tucson, El Paso, and Los Angeles, touring theater troupes, and later resident companies, had performed both Mexican and Spanish plays. Arturo Tirado's parents, as we have seen, were part of this established tradition. (Smaller towns were often visited by carpas, modest theatrical groups that performed in tents.) (58)
Interestingly, this popular stage tradition flourished throughout the West, among all kinds of audiences, Latino and non-Latino, since at least the time of the California gold rush--one of the greatest performers was Lola Montez, who incidentally was actually an Irish actress. (59) However, among Anglo Americans traveling artists performing in modest venues were largely extinct by the 1940s, superseded by the radio and the Hollywood film, as well as by the legitimate theater.
The tradition of live "serious" theater continued among Mexicans well into the twentieth century. "Indeed," writes music historian John Koegel, "the period between the 1910s and 1940s saw the highpoint of Spanish-language theatrical activity in Los Angeles, with musical and theatrical performances offered regularly to the growing Hispanic population." (60) Gradually, however, as we have seen, these theatrical performances were phased out in movie houses catering to Mexican audiences, but other forms of live entertainment continued to supplement motion pictures. In addition to the previously mentioned revistas, these included comedy acts, burlesques, and zarzuelas (Spanish musical comedies). Professional musicians, groups and individual performers, were frequently featured. Many film theaters also sponsored amateur competitions. Still, the most interesting aspect of the early Mexican cinematic tradition was the personal appearance at local movie houses of some of the biggest names in the film industry: singers, comedians, and actors. Undoubtedly the great disparity in salaries between the two neighboring countries made it profitable for major Mexican stars to tour in the United States, even in modest venues, a tradition that was maintained long after it had faded among Anglo-American audiences.
Arturo Tirado recalled in our 1996 interview that he had been very fortunate to open the Aztec Theater when and where he had, given Fresno's central importance in the 1950s to the huge Mexican working-class population in the San Joaquin Valley. (And he was not alone. The growing Mexican presence spawned the growth of a large Hispanic middle class in the city catering to its needs.) At the end of the evening, once the day's receipts were tabulated, there were times when the hardworking entrepreneur was able to put a thousand dollars in his pocket, much to his wife's amazement and delight! (61) While scholars today might find these large sums highly improbable given the modest means of the largely nomadic working-class population at that time, contemporary observers had no doubt that local impresarios made fabulous profits.
In my hometown, Mendota, for example, an impoverished Westside community much smaller than Fresno with a population at mid-century of two thousand to four thousand inhabitants, depending on the season, the finest residence did not belong to a labor contractor or even a grower (local land barons like Russell Giffen lived either in the countryside or in Fresno, thirty-five miles away). This fairy-tale brick structure, a cross between an Italian villa and a small German castle, belonged to the owner of the local theater, Tony Bo, a Spanish immigrant. This fact speaks volumes for the popularity of the silver screen among la chicanada (the Mexican masses).
Nor was the attraction of a Mexican movie theater confined exclusively to Mexicanos. Fresno-born Japanese-American poet, Lawson Fusao Inada (1938--), testifies to this cross-cultural appeal in one of his poems:
When Teatro Azteca opened up Right there on "F" Street In the heart of "Chinatown," All us kids--"Hispanic" And otherwise--got excited-- Because with a few coins You could go in there With the Wongs and the Washingtons To enjoy some serious cinema. An "alternative," so to speak, To what was already going on In the West Side's, count em, Movie houses: Cal, Ryan's, Lyceum ... And, of course, since we were All geographically versed In advanced or at least elementary Spanish, "Hoy Cantinflas" on the marquee meant just what it said: Laughs! (62)
Reprinted with permission from Heyday Books
Most local movie houses catering to Mexicanos featured both English-language and Spanish-language films. The Teatro Azteca was an exception: All the movies were in Spanish. These would arrive from Mexico City via Los Angeles, which by the 1930s was the largest distribution center for Spanish-language films throughout the United States. (63) Tirado's booking agent in Los Angeles was the man who leased him the theater, his friend Gustavo Acosta, whose office was on Vermont Avenue. (64)
On November 14, 1961, Arturo Tirado convened a meeting in San Francisco that resulted in the creation of the Spanish Pictures Exhibitors Association (SPEA). (65) This was a state-wide--later a national--organization to promote the interests of the owners of theaters showing Spanish-language films, especially vis-a-vis the movie distributors. (66) Its primary founder, Tirado was also appropriately elected the association's first president. At its height, the SPEA represented two hundred to three hundred theaters throughout the United States (forty or fifty in California alone), from as far away as Chicago, Corpus Christi, and Miami, Florida. (67) On one occasion, threatening a boycott, Tirado, as a SPEA representative, got government distributors in Mexico City, who wanted to charge U.S. theater owners a 50 or 60 percent commission, to agree to a much more reasonable fee: 30 percent for old films, 40 percent for new but second-rate ones, and 50 percent for exceptionally fine ones. It was this tough negotiating stance, he recalled, that had won him the association's presidency in the first place. (68)
How did the Mexican stars, actors and other performers, connect with theaters in the United States? How were they recruited for personal appearances? For the most part, they were contracted in Mexico by agents who would broker the deal, arrange the tours, and often accompany and introduce the stars. While it is unclear whether he acted at the time on behalf of an association or as a private contractor, clearly Arturo Tirado was one of the most influential of these intermediaries. It was largely in this capacity, as well as his early years in Hollywood, that he came to know, personally and professionally, virtually every major artist in Mexico from the 1930s to the 1970s. There were only a handful of box-office sensations, notably Jorge Negrete and Dolores del Rio, whom the indefatigable promoter failed to entice to his theaters. In our 1996 interview, the eighty-three-year-old Tirado, still amazingly lucid in his recollections, took great delight in sharing some personal impressions of his most memorable clients. (69)
If Dolores del Rio was drop-dead gorgeous, Maria Felix (1914-2002), largely unknown by North American audiences, was even more so; she was generally considered "the most beautiful face in the history of Mexican cinema." (70) However, she was almost as well known for her libertarian lifestyle as she was for her legendary good looks. (71) Fiery and temperamental, she seemed to revel in controversy. A chronicle of her sexual affairs, Diego Rivera among them, would fill a volume. (72) On one occasion, the awe-struck promoter took her on a tour that included San Jose, where he had to rent a large ballroom to hold the overflow crowd of some four thousand or five thousand. Fans were practically spilling onto the stage. Worried, Tirado offered the pampered actress a word of caution: "Maria," as he called her, was instructed not to get too close to the edge of the stage, for some rowdy might grab "her leg or something." Nonplussed, the elegant starlet replied, as the straight-laced master-of-ceremonies recalled with some amusement, "Mire Tirado, tantos afros de chingar y no saber mover el abanico!" (A rough translation: "Look here, Tirado, after years of screwing, you'd think I'd have sense enough to move the bod!")
A true diva, Maria Felix had a reputation for being difficult, and the first time he booked her, Mr. Tirado was warned by his friends to treat the megastar with kid gloves. Apprehensive, he realized that he needed a strategy to keep her in line. Taking the initiative, he went to her before she was to go on stage, and gently let her know that if she performed as the professional that she truly was, afterwards he would throw a little party in her honor. Moreover, he added, he would try to get a studio job in Hollywood for her only son, and constant companion, Enrique, whom she adored. Now that impressed her. That evening she gave a flawless performance.
Film historians tell us that Enrique was Maria's son by the first of her four husbands, Enrique Alvarez. (73) Mr. Tirado joked that actually the diva's son was a product of one of her numerous affairs. Certainly the "kid" did not belong to Agustin Lara, her second husband (the legendary Jorge Negrete was husband number three), he hastened to add; Lara was too old for children. (74)
If not the most prolific, Agustin Lara (1897-1970) is perhaps Mexico's most beloved singer-composer, and was a matinee idol in his own right (many of Mexico's best singers appeared in movies: Pedro Vargas, Miguel Aceves Mejia, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, and others). He was a notorious skirt-chaser, though. On one occasion the renowned entertainer came to the United States for a tour; and he, Mr. Tirado, was asked to make the arrangements. A gentle man like the promoter himself, Lara was well known for his Old World charm. The two men got along famously. They shared many things in common, notably their deep admiration of Spain and its people. During the tour, however, with Tirado at the wheel, his wife was asked by the suave actor-composer, then in his sixties, to accompany him in the back seat of the car. The flattered Mrs. Tirado was only too glad to keep their celebrated guest company. So what does the Living Legend do? "He tried to hit on my wife," a bemused Tirado recalled. (75) Still, he concluded, Lara was always a huge crowd favorite; so much so that only very large theaters, those with more than one thousand seats, could be booked for his personal appearances.
Asked to name his least favorite entertainer among those with whom he had worked, the promoter demurred, insisting that they were all affable ("very nice people, all of them"). Who was his favorite? There were so many--Pedro Armendariz, Antonio Aguilar.... Pressed on the point, however, he reluctantly conceded that perhaps Pedro Infante (1917-1957) was "the nicest and most accessible--maybe number one." Their first meeting was memorable (the specific date escaped him, but it must have been at the beginning of 1952). (76) One day, Frank Fouce, Jr., who had just taken over management of the Million Dollar Theater from his father, called Tirado to Los Angeles to help resolve a problem. Once there, he was informed that Pedro Infante, a young artist from Mexico, had been contracted by the Fouce Entertainment Company to sing and play his guitar at the theater, but he had confused the date and had arrived a week ahead of schedule. The promoter was in a quandary. What to do with the entertainer? Tirado agreed to work something out. He crossed the street to the hotel where the "youth" was staying and found him half asleep in the lobby. Are you Pedro Infante? he inquired. Tirado recalled that the startled young man surprised him when he stood up straight and replied, "A servir a Vd. y a Dios" ("To serve you and God"), an archaic form of address rarely used even in Spain, where it originated. Would the performer like to earn one hundred dollars a day? "A quien hay que matar?" ("Who do I have to kill?"), the incredulous youth replied even before Tirado finished the question. A deal was struck on the spot. Soon the happy-go-lucky musician was off on a week's tour of a number of small towns, including San Bernardino, Bakersfield, and Fresno. He earned many accolades on that trip, and they were well deserved. Pedro Infante, who became a good friend and drinking companion, never really changed, Tirado mused; he always retained a child-like innocence throughout his career as a superstars. (77)
Although a much nicer person than Maria Felix, Pedro Infante was just as much of a risk-taker. He loved to live on the edge. On one clamorous occasion, the touring performer, an ex-boxer, got into a fist fight with some unruly "fans" who wondered if he was as tough as the macho characters he portrayed on the screen. (78) When his friend Jorge Negrete, his leading rival as the premier male matinee idol in Mexico, died of hepatitis in Los Angeles in December 1953, on the eve of a performance at the Million Dollar Theater, (79) Infante famously showed up at the funeral driving his Harley Davidson motorcycle. (80) (The two men were undoubtedly the greatest protagonists of the most original genre to emerge from the Mexican motion-picture industry, la comedia ranchera, the ranch-based comedy.) (81) A dare-devil pilot, the fearless singer-actor crashed single-engine planes on three separate occasions, with the last accident proving fatal. (82)
The death of Pedro Infante in 1957, at the age of forty, is often considered the end of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Thereafter, suffering from a multitude of problems, including the premature demise of several of its key protagonists, excessive government regulation, a weak national economy, and increasing competition from Hollywood and other forms of popular entertainment, notably television, the industry went rapidly downhill by the late 1960s. (83) The large audiences, both in Mexico and the United States, soon dwindled. Recognizing that the industry's golden years were clearly and irretrievably over, the sixty-eight-year-old Tirado permitted his lease on the Teatro Azteca to run out in 1980. (84)
Don Arturo could well have retired. A shrewd businessman, he had made wise investments in real estate. Moreover, in 1973, according to the historian Alex Saragoza, "Arturo Tirado was instrumental in the formation of Pacific Federal Savings and Loan, the first financial institution in the Fresno area founded by Hispanics." (85) The calculated gamble was another notable success. The great influx of Mexicans into the Valley, particularly after World War II, had provided him, and many other Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs in the larger towns and cities, a multitude of business opportunities. However, still young at heart, and a man of great energy, the ex-promoter was not about to leave the public limelight. Instead, he chose to concentrate on his numerous philanthropic activities.
Even as a businessman, Armro Tirado had made service-oriented activities one of his highest priorities. Beginning during the heyday of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, a small coterie of the city's most progressive Latino merchants and lawyers--among them, Jorge (George) Acufia, Michael Cardenas, Gilbert Lopez, Armando Rodriguez, Phillip Sanchez, and Al Villa--had been assiduous in expanding and protecting the political and cultural rights of Fresno's Spanish-speaking minorities. (86) Tirado was one of the most influential of these civic-minded leaders, all of them members of the Latin American Businessmen's Club. Countless hours were spent on community affairs. He told an interviewer in 1974, for example, that he belonged to about fourteen boards, clubs, and associations, "and I'm active in all of them." (87) Burdened by a multitude of problems, especially those related to immigration, social security, and taxes, farm workers came from all over the Valley seeking Don Arturo's advice. This was freely dispensed. Armed with forms and brochures, they were soon sent off in search of the appropriate bureaucrat, lawyer, or politician. In time, the Teatro Azteca became more of a community center and clearing house than an entertainment venue, earning its owner, an indefatigable advocate of popular causes, the unofficial title, "mayor of west Fresno." (88)
Moreover, for many years the popular Tirado had a weekly radio program on Fresno's KXEX where he counseled the Valley's Mexican community on a multitude of issues, particularly immigration. He even authored a how-to manual on gaining legal entry into the country (in Spanish), (89) and was sufficiently versed on the subject that Governor Ronald Reagan, pondering a run for the presidency, proposed that the Fresnan accompany him to Washington as his immigration secretary (an offer Tirado politely declined). (90) Other influential people sought his aid as well.
Arturo Tirado recalled how on one occasion, apparently about 1965, a young priest showed up on his doorstep, introduced himself as the head of Catholic charities in the Fresno area, and asked the theater owner for help. Rather casual in his observance of Catholicism, Tirado was nevertheless ready to do his part. But he was puzzled. Did the priest want a monetary contribution? Or, since Tirado had his radio program, perhaps the clergyman preferred a public announcement soliciting funds? No, instead the priest asked if the Teatro Azteca might be used as a platform to launch a food drive for the needy. The civic-minded businessman was only too glad to help. Following the bingo games he routinely sponsored, Tirado took the stage and appealed to his audiences for food donations, in exchange for a free theater pass. The next day, he recalled, farm workers began to arrive with their donations from all over the Valley--Tulare, Madera, Merced, Delano, Mendota. When the padrecito ("little father") returned a couple of days later with a small pickup truck, expecting to collect three or four boxes, his beaming host took him into the theater. It was filled with boxes and bags of food from the floor to the rafters! The young priest, Father Roger Mahony--now Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles--could barely believe his eyes. Overwhelmed, the grateful clergyman was forced to seek out his friends among the ranch owners for help with transportation. It took "at least fifteen semi's, those enormous trucks," a proud Tirado recalled, to haul away the bonanza. (91)
A few months later, his friends called on Don Arturo for another favor. There was a young labor organizer in Delano who was in dire need. His name was Cesar Chavez. Could Tirado help? (92) Without a moment's hesitation, Tirado drove down to Delano, where he found Chavez living in a hovel, "actually it was a garage." He was in bed, his injured leg in traction. There was no money for food or rent. "Me toco el corazon" ("He touched my heart"), Tirado recalls. (93) He wrote him a check on the spot.
Nineteen-sixty-six was the year of Chavez's famous march from Delano to Sacramento. In Tulare, Chavez and the marchers were attacked with dogs by the city police. As the protesting workers approached Fresno, Tirado feared more violence. Anticipating problems, he went to the town mayor, a friend, and asked him to intervene. What could he do? Mayor Floyd Hyde asked. The chief of police, Henry Morton, another personal friend, Tirado counseled, should go out and escort the marchers into town. "Done," was the mayor's response. The march through California's agribusiness capital went without a hitch. The next day the Fresno Bee reported that the city had received Chavez "with open arms," a proud Tirado recalled. (94)
Even in his eighties, then in retirement in Santa Barbara, a city so reminiscent of the Spain he dearly loved, the widely respected ex-business-man continued to perform works of charity in his community, regularly helping Mexican immigrants fill out immigration and tax forms. "Be a doer, and help your people," he once said, "Then automatically, someplace in your life, somebody will remember you and say, 'Well, even if some people didn't like him, I did like him.'" (95) Arturo Tirado died on January 15, 1998, after a lifetime of public service. (96) Laid to rest in Lafayette, California, he is survived by his wife Elena and daughter Virginia. (97)
The life of Arturo Tirado both reflected and influenced the Mexican culture that emerged in central California in the twentieth century. Mexican immigration into the Valley after the 1920s opened up myriad opportunities for the rise of a multitude of Mexican-owned and -operated businesses catering to an expanding Latino market. Fresno, in the geographical center of the Great Valley, was particularly affected by the demographic and economic changes. These trends soon accelerated. As the historian Mario T. Garcia and other Chicano scholars have shown, World War II greatly elevated the status of large segments of the Spanish-speaking community across the country, creating a Mexican-American middle class. The Valley was no exception. There, too, the war gave rise to a middle class of sufficient size and affluence to gain the respect of the Anglo establishment. Arturo Tirado was very much a part of this broad socioeconomic trend.
As in other parts of the Southwest, it was this fledgling middle class, consisting largely of the proprietors of small businesses, which came to champion the beleaguered ethnic community in its dealings with the outside world. It was these entrepreneurs who took it upon themselves to provide for the spiritual and material welfare of the working masses. Here, too, the civic-minded Fresnan was a representative figure.
However, Don Arturo exerted an influence on the Spanish-speaking community that went well beyond charitable works. His role as a preserver of Mexican culture, in particular, should not be underestimated. The Hollywood cinema, as many Latino and non-Latino film critics have argued, has historically misrepresented Mexicans on the silver screen. (98) The very first depictions focused on the "greaser," the lawless and profligate half-breed. Subsequent portrayals--the Latin lover, the docile peon, the gay caballero, the Mexican spitfire--were only slightly less derogatory. These simplistic images, of course, were based on racist perceptions, though only in part; stereotypes, after all, are the stock in trade of the movie industry. On the other hand, with all of its flaws, including a highly romanticized depiction of traditional society, the Mexican film industry, even during the Golden Age, presented a much more positive portrayal of the Old Country to the immigrant community north of the Rio Grande. Exploited and abused, working-class immigrants and their children looked to their homeland for a source of inspiration, and they found it in the films of Pedro Armendariz, Maria Felix, and Cantinflas. Ultimately, it is fair to conclude, Arturo Tirado and other compatriots involved in producing, distributing, and exhibiting these motion pictures provided Mexico de afuera not only entertainment, a welcome escape from a life of unremitting toil, but something considerably more important--a sense of pride and self-worth.
Manuel G. Gonzales is professor of History at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. A specialist in both Modern Europe and the American Southwest, he has been teaching the history of Mexicans in the United States since 1971. Dr. Gonzales received a Ph.D. in Modern Italian History from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1972. He was a visiting professor of Chicano history in the Ethnic Studies department at UC Berkeley in 1993. He has published three books: Andrea Costa and the Rise of Socialism in the Romagna (1980), The Hispanic Elite of the Southwest (1989), and Mexicanos: A History of Mexicans in the United States (1999); he is also the co-editor (with Cynthia Gonzales) of En Aquel Entonces [In Those Days]: Readings in Mexican American History (2000).
(1) The southern two-thirds of the Great Central Valley of California, the San Joaquin extends some two hundred and fifty miles from the Delta in the north to the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The San Joaquin Valley consists of eight counties (from north to south): San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Kern. For the Mexican presence in North America, see Manuel G. Gonzales, Mexicanos: A History of Mexicans in the United States (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
(2) Mendota and Huron, two farming towns in western Fresno County, illustrate this demographic shift in dramatic fashion. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I lived in these communities, both were predominantly white. Massive immigration in the past forty years, however, has brought a vast sea change. According to the 2000 federal census, Latinos constitute 94.7 percent and 98.3 percent of the populations of Mendota and Huron, respectively. For a recent example of local anti-Mexican sentiment, see Victor Davis Hanson, Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003). A Selma farmer, Hanson is a retired professor from the classics department at California State University at Fresno.
(3) Frank F. Latta, "Mendota's Las Juntas: The Valley's First Settlement," Fresno: Past and Present (June 1971), Fresno Historical Society Archival Collections, http://valley history.org/PandP/lasiuntas.html.
(4) Exceptions include two brief, and nearly identical, 1980 studies: Alex Saragoza, Fresno's Hispanic Heritage (Fresno, CA: San Diego Federal Savings and Loan Association), and Lea Ybarra, Nuestras Raices: The Mexican Community in the Central San Joaquin Valley (Fresno, CA: TEACH Project, La Raza Studies, California State University, Fresno).
(5) Cletus E. Daniel, Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870-1941 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 43.
(6) Cotton cultivation in California increased by 400 percent in the 1920s. Mark Reisler, By the Sweat of Their Brow: Mexican Immigrant Labor in the United States, 1900-1940 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976), 78.
(7) Kevin Starr, Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 65.
(8) Ibid., 75. For an insightful study of the role of Mexicans in the rise of the California cotton industry before 1940, see Devra Weber, Dark Sweat, White Gold: California's Farm Workers, Cotton, and the New Deal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
(9) The Boswell empire was created by Colonel J.G. Boswell and expanded after his death in 1952 by his nephew and namesake, James Griffin Boswell. Focusing on the latter (J.G. Boswell II), Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman, The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire (New York: Public Affairs, 2003), have written an excellent family biography.
(10) Saragoza, Fresno's Hispanic Heritage, 45.
(11) According to one estimate, as many as one million Mexicans in the United States may have repatriated in the 1930s. Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), 158.
(12) Starr, Endangered Dreams, 67.
(13) The process of trading in their nomadic existence for the greater security of these farming communities can be traced back to the late 1930s. Weber, Dark Sweat, White Gold, 68.
(14) Saragoza, Fresno's Hispanic Heritage, 60.
(15) Douglas S. Massey, Jorge Durand, and Nolan J. Malone, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002), 59.
(16) David G. Gutierrez, "Ethnic Mexicans and the Transformation of 'American' Social Space: Reflections on Recent History," in Crossings: Mexican Immigration in Interdisciplinaty Perspectives, ed. Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 321.
(17) Saragoza, Fresno's Hispanic Heritage, 43.
(18) Weber, Dark Sweat, White Gold, 67. In 1930, Fresno had a total population of 52,000; the Valley population was 540,000. James N. Gregory, American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 56. "Fresno, Tulare, and Kern counties rank one, two, and three nationally as agricultural producers most years," according to one of the Valley's most distinguished authors, Gerald Haslem, who wrote the text for The Great Central Valley: California's Heartland, a photographic project by Stephen Johnson and Robert Dawson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 18.
(19) For a good first-hand account of the life of a farm worker in the Valley, see Migrant Daughter: Coming of Age as a Mexican American Woman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), by Frances Esquibel Tywoniak, written in collaboration with the historian Mario T. Garcia. Frances Esquibel, born in New Mexico in 1931, and her family worked as migrant laborers up and down the Valley before they eventually settled down in Visalia.
(20) "A History of Mexican Americans in California: Historic Sites, KGST Radio Station," Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California (Mexican Americans), http:// www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/ 5views/5views5h46.htm.
(21) Weber, Dark Sweat, Dark Gold, 251. The historian Gilbert G. Gonzalez gives a good description of the particulars of these patriotic celebrations in Labor and Community: Mexican Citrus Worker Villages in a Southern California County, 1900-1950 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 78-84.
(22) Already by 1933, there were four mutalistas in the city. Weber, Dark Sweat, White Gold, 252.
(23) Taped interview with Arturo Tirado, Santa Barbara, California, August 7, 1996, by the author. The audiotape is in the author's possession. The specific date of birth was September 3, 1912, according to Tirado's obituary in the Fresno Bee, January 21, 1998.
(24) For brief biographies of Romualdo Tirado (1880-1963), see Nicolas Kanellos, "Theater," in The Hispanic Almanac: From Columbus to Corporate America, ed. Nicolas Kanellos (Detroit, Mich.: Visible Ink Press, 1994), 493-94; and Juan B. Heinink and Robert G. Dickson, "Biografias," Part 2 of Los que pasaron por Hollywood, 2d ed. (2000), Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, http://www. cervantesvirtual.com/servlet/SirveObras/ cine/12826400880173731865846/ind ... Heinink and Dickson also include concise biographies of Tirado's wife Matilde Linan (1881-1971) and her sister Filomena Linan, both of them accomplished stage and film actresses. Romualdo, then serving in the Spanish military, was an eye-witness to the explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, according to his granddaughter Virginia Tirado Fitzpatrick, telephone interview with the author on December 29, 2004. The notes of this, and other personal interviews used here, are in the author's possession.
(25) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996. Mr. Tirado recalled that this performance attended by Villa and Zapata occurred in 1913. However, this date is almost certainly in error. The following year is a better guess; it is well documented that the two celebrated revolutionary heroes conferred on the outskirts of Mexico City in early December 1914, and apparently "the two leaders had never met before." Michael C. Meyer and William L. Sherman, The Course of Mexican History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 537.
(26) Interview with Arturo Tirado, Fresno, California, July 11, 1974, by Mary Castaneda, oral interview collection, California History & Genealogy Room, Fresno County Public Library, Fresno, California. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Ray Silvia and William B. Secrest, special collections archivists of the Fresno County Public Library, who extended me every courtesy as I researched this project.
(27) Kanellos, "Theater," 453. Once he arrived in Los Angeles, Romualdo did not waste much time before he made an impact. It was under his direction that in 1921 the Teatro Principal there launched the first competition, with prizes, to encourage Spanish-speaking playwrights to create works suitable for stage production. Leticia Urbina Orduna, "Teatro Chicano: Un Secreto que da voces," http://www.xoc.uam.mx/~cuaree/ no37/seis/antecedente.html.
(28) Catherine Wiley, "Teatro Chicano and the Seduction of Nostalgia," Melus 23 (Spring 1998), http://www.flndarticles.com/p/ articles/mi_m2278/is_1_a3/ai_53501900/.
(29) Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974. According to Heinink and Dickson, "Biografias," Tirado owned the theater in partnership with Ernesto Gonzalez Jimenez and Arturo Pallais, Jr., from 1927 to 1936, when it closed.
(30) For a film biography of the elder Tirado, including a list of thirty-three films in which he appeared, see "Romualdo Tirado," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ name/nmo864203/. During the 1940s, Romualdo Tirado spent most of his time outside the Golden State. He worked first in Puerto Rico and then in New York City, where he was employed by the Teatro Hispano. Kanellos, "Theater," 493.
(31) Unless otherwise indicated, the biographical facts relating to Arturo Tirado's life were supplied by his daughter Virginia Tirado Fitzpatrick in the telephone interview of December 29, 2004.
(32) Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974.
(33) Telephone interview with Virginia Tirado Fitzpatrick, December 29, 2004.
(34) Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974.
(36) Interview with Virginia Tirado Fitzpatrick, Orinda, California, January 27, 2005, by the author. Among Tirado's accounting clients during the war, Mrs. Fitzpatrick recalls, was the celebrated scientist Enrico Fermi.
(39) Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974. Built by Gustavo Acosta, the Azteca Theater first opened on November 30, 1948, according to La Opinion (Los Angeles), December 27, 1948. This article was brought to my attention by Rogelio Agrasanchez, Jr., e-mail communication, January 27, 2005. My thanks to Rogelio and his wife Xochitl Fernandez for their generous help and encouragement during this project. One of his employees at the time recalls that during the late 1940s, Mr. Acosta owned a burlesque palace on F Street called the Cal Theater, which was managed by the owner's father. Jo Negrete Basham, interview with the author, Fresno, California, January 6, 2005. There were two other motion picture theaters on F Street during the 1940s: the Lyceum and the Rex. See "The Historic West Fresno," a map of Chinatown in 1941, by Norman P. Abe, California History & Genealogy Room, Fresno County Public Library, Fresno, California. (40) In Mexico, the historian David Maciel argues, films remained "the most important artistic forms of popular entertainment" up to the 1960s. "Pocho and Other Extremes in Mexican Cinema; or, El Cine Mexicano se va de Bracero, 1922-1963," in Chicanos and Film: Representation and Resistance, ed. Chon A. Noriega (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 95.
(41) Douglas Monroy, Rebirth: Mexican Los Angeles from the Great Migration to the Great Depression (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 173.
(42) For Latino actors and actresses on the silver screen, see George Hadley-Garcia, Hispanic Hollywood: The Latins in Motion Pictures (New York: Carol Publishing, 1990). Ramom Novarro (1899-1968) and Dolores del Rio (1905-1983) were second cousins. The Illustrated Who's Who of the Cinema, ed. Ann Lloyd and Graham Fuller (New York: Portland House, 1987), 118.
(43) Although the dates can be debated, in general most scholars define the Golden Age as the period between 1935 and 1962. Melissa Castillo-Garsow, "Mexico's Golden Age of Film and Screen Stars," November 12, 2004, NYU Livewire Website, http:// journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/livewire/ 000209.php. For the history of Mexican film during this remarkable period, see Jorge Ayala Blanco, La Aventura del cine mexicano en la epoca de oro y despues (Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico, D.F.: Editorial Grijalbo, 1993); Gustaro Garcia and Rafael Avina, Epoca de oro del cine mexicano (Mexico, D.F.: Editorial Clio, 1997); and Rogelio Agrasanchez Jr., Cine Mexicano: Poster Art from the Golden Age, 1936-1958: Carteles de la epoca de oro, 1936-1956 (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 200l). For the impact of Mexican films on Mexican-American audiences during these years, see the pioneering work of Alex Saragoza, "Mexican Cinema in the United States, 1940-1952," in History, Culture, and Society: Chicano Studies in the 1980s, National Association of Chicano Studies (Ypsilanti, Mich.: Bilingual Press/Editorial Biling_e, 1983), 107-24.
(44) Jennifer Liu, "A New Golden Age for the Silver Screen? The Mexican Film Industry," http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~drclas/publications/revista/mexico/Liu.html.
(45) Quoted in Charles Nafus, "Poster Art From the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema/ Carteles de la Epoca de Oro del Cine Mexicano," The Austin Chronicle, http://www. austinchronicle.com/issues/vo17/issue45/ screens.cinedeoro.html.
(46) No one has chronicled the anti-Mexican prejudice of the time better than Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, 5th ed. (New York: Pearson Longman, 2004), chaps, 10-11.
(47) "Mexican Cinema in the United States."
(48) F. Arturo Rosales uses the theater to make this same point, in "Spanish-language Theatre and Early Mexican Immigration," in Hispanic Theatre in the United States, ed. Nicolas Kanellos (Houston: Arte Publico, 1984), 15-23.
(49) The Mexican film industry, which began in 1896, made over one hundred silent films and documentaries prior to 1930. Joanne Hershfield, Mexican Cinema/Mexican Woman, 1940-1950 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996), 36. For good introductions to Mexican cinema, see Carl J. Mora, Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896-1988, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), and Joanne Hershfield and David R. Maciel, eds., Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers (Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1999).
(50) George J. Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 179.
(51) Robert G. Dickson, "Los Origenes y desar rollo del cine hispano," in Mexico-Estados Unidos: Encuentros y desencuentros en el cine, ed. Ignacio Duran, Ivan Trujillo, and Monica Verea (Mexico, D.F.: IMCINE, 1996), 55.
(52) Antonio Rios-Bustamante and Pedro Castillo, An Illustrated History of Mexican Los Angeles, 1781-1985 (Los Angeles: Chicano Studies Research Center, University of California, 1986), 171. Frank Fouce, was born in Hawaii in 1899 and died in Hollywood in 1962. "Frank Fouce Biography," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ name/nmo288224/. At the time of his death, Fouce was a business associate of Mexican media mogul Emilio Azcarraga Vidaurreta (who built the Churubusco Studios in the 1940s) in both Los Angeles and San Antonio. Kristin C. Moran, "The Development of Spanish-Language Television in San Diego: A Contemporary History," Journal of San Diego History 50 (Winter/ Spring 2004): 53. His son Frank Fouce Jr. succeeded the elder Fouce as president of Fouce Amusement Enterprises, Inc., which expanded into the television industry.
(53) "Broadway Theater Tour: The Million Dollar Theater," Rialto GMR Theater Tour, http://www.gmrnet.com/theaters.html. "As early as the 1950s, the Million Dollar became the first theater on Broadway to feature Spanish-language variety shows, including headline acts from Mexico City." Experience LA, http:/www.experiencela.com/directory. asp?start=318Category_Type=All_Categories &letter=m.
(54) Leonard Pitt and Dale Pitt, Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and the County (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 339.
(55) Juan R. Garcia, Mexicans in the Midwest, 1900-1932 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996), 194.
(56) Joan London and Henry Anderson, So Shall Ye Reap: The Story of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers' Movement (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970), 143.
(57) For a concise history of Latino theater in the United States, see Nicolas Kanellos, "Theater," in Hispanic Almanac, 443-96.
(58) Richard Griswold del Castillo and Arnoldo De Leon, North to Aztlan: A History of Mexicans in the United States (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), 79.
(59) On the enigmatic actress, see James F. Farley, Lola Montez: The California Adventures of Europe's Notorious Courtesan (Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark, 1996).
(60) "Canciones del pals: Mexican Musical Life in California after the Gold Rush," California History 78 (Fall 1999): 182. Theatrical entertainment in the Mexican-American communities of the United States generally lost out to Spanish-speaking vaudeville, films, and radio during the Depression, and it was not until the 1960s that it recovered. Elizabeth C. Ramirez, "Mexican-American Theater," The Handbook of Texas Online, http:// www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/ articles/print/MM/kkmvs.html..
(61) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996.
(62) "Elementary Spanish," in Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California's Great Central Valley, ed. Stan Yogi (Berkeley: CA: Heyday Books, 1996), 131-32.
(63) Antonio Rios-Bustamante, "Latino Participation in the Hollywood Film Industry, 1911-1945," in Chicanos and Film, 23. The distribution of Mexican films in the United States, a subject about which virtually nothing had been written before, is the main focus of a forthcoming book (August 2006) by Rogelio Agrasanchez Jr., Mexican Movies in the United States: A History of the Films, Theaters and Audiences, 1920-1960. The original manuscript was titled "Tears, Passion and Rage: The Heyday of Mexican Movies in the United States." I was graciously given access to this manuscript by the author, who is owner and curator of the Agrasanchez Film Archives, located in Harlingen, Texas, the world's largest private collection of Mexican cinema.
(64) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996. Tirado purchased a second theater, the Lyceum, in the Mission district of San Francisco, in the late 1950s. His daughter, who worked there in the summers, recalls that he held on to Lyceum "for about two years." Interview with Virginia Tirado Fitzpatrick, January 27, 2005.
(65) See Spanish Pictures Exhibitors Association: Its Purposes, Its History, Its Aim (n.p., ), a brochure belonging to Mrs. Virginia Tirado Fitzpatrick.
(66) One of the association's main "purposes" was "to encourage and foster the understanding and cooperation between Distributors and Exhibitors." Ibid.
(67) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996.
(69) The anecdotes on Felix, Lara, and Infante that follow were related by Tirado in the August 7, 1996, interview.
(70) Sheila Whitaker, "Maria Felix: Mexico's Iconic Beauty On and Off the Screen" (obituary), Guardian (U.K.), April 10, 2002, http://film.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,43 90850-100948,00.html. On Dolores del Rio: "Her legendary beauty allowed her to survive the passage from silent film to talkies. It was a beauty still admired in films made in the 1970s." Nicholas E. Meyer, The Biographical Dictionary of Hispanic Americans (New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1997), 69. Refusing to learn English, the independent-minded Felix pretty much blew Hollywood off, which accounts for her anonymity among American audiences. In Mexico, she is revered as a great actress. Somos, the prestigious Mexican film journal, devoted three issues exclusively to her life and work, the last published posthumously in April 2002.
(71) "Maria Felix, Who2, http://who2.com/mariafelix.html.
(72) Whitaker, "Maria Felix."
(74) The year may have been 1959, when Tirado brought not only Agustin Lara but also Pedro Vargas, Antonio Aguilar, and El Mariachi Vargas, "among others," to his theaters in Fresno and San Francisco. Tirado letter to the editor, La Novela Cine-GRAFICA (Los Angeles), December-January 1960, 26. Rogelio Agrasanchez Jr. supplied me with a copy of this letter.
(75) Mrs. Tirado must have remembered the episode with less amusement than her husband; some years later she threw an autographed picture of Lara into the garbage can. Telephone interview with Virginia Tirado Fitzpatrick, December 29, 2004.
(76) It was at this time that Pedro Infante, a box-office hit throughout the 1940s, made an appearance at the Million Dollar, shortly after Frank Fouce Sr. leased the famous theater. Agrasanchez, "Tears, Passion and Rage," 54.
(77) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996.
(78) Interview with Carmen Acuna, Fresno, California, January 7, 2005, by the author.
(79 "Espectaculos: Se fue un idolo que le cantaba a su Mexico lindo y querido," Azteca21, http://www.aztecaz21.com/noticias/antes/ especta061202-01.html.
(80) Raymundo Eli Rojas, "A Tribute to Pedro Infante," Fiesta Del Mariachi, http://www. fiestaweb.org/Biographies/Pedro.cfm.
(81) The widespread adulation of Pedro Infante in the Spanish-speaking world is reflected in the title of a recent novel, Loving Pedro Infante (New York: Washington Square Press, 2002), by the Mexican-American author Denise Chavez. Infante has been called "the most idolized human being in the recent history" of Mexico (my translation). "Estrellas del Cine Mexicano: Pedro Infante," Cine Mexicano, http://cinemexicano.mty.itesm. mx/estrellas/infante.html. For the significance of the comedia ranchera in Mexican cinema, see Carlos A. Gutierrez, "Hegemony and Resistance in Mexican and Brazilian Popular Cinemas," La Vitrina, http://www. lavtrina.com/html/film/film%2012/filmmex-bra.html.
(82) Rojas, "Tribute."
(83) Liu, "A New Golden Age."
(84) Amy Pyle, "Arturo Tirado: Counselor, Comedian and Compadre," Fresno Bee, June 7, 1987. Apparently, the Azteca continued to operate under new management to 1986, when it finally went out of business. CinemaTour: Cinemas Around the World, "Azteca Theatre," http://www.cinematour. com/tour.php?dh=us&id=16831.
(85) Fresno's Hispanic Heritage, 66. Tirado served first as president and later vice president of the financial institution. Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974.
(86) It has not been uncommon to see the Latino business elite come to the defense of the more vulnerable members of the ethnic community. For one well-known instance, in late nineteenth-century Tucson, see my biographical article, "Carlos I. Velasco and the Defense of Mexican Rights in Territorial Arizona," in En Aquel Entonces: Readings in Mexican-American History, ed. Manuel G. Gonzales and Cynthia M. Gonzales (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 96-103.
(87) Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974.
(88) Pyle, "Arturo Tirado."
(89) Facil inmigracion a los Estados Unidos ["Easy Immigration to the United States"] (Los Angeles: Orbe Publications, 1981).
(90) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996. Governor Reagan did appoint Tirado to the State Social Welfare Board, the Advisory Committee to the Preschool Educational Programs, the California Civil Rights Advocacy Committee, and the Advisory Council to the State Fair Employment Practices Commission. Perhaps best described as a Reagan Democrat, Mr. Tirado always remained ambivalent about his political party affiliation. A pragmatist, he was apparently willing to work with both major parties to ameliorate the plight of the underprivileged. An early leader of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), formed in Fresno in 1960, he later expressed regret that the state-wide civil rights organization had completely abandoned working with the Republicans, thereby forsaking its initial bipartisan stance. Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974.
(91) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996.
(92) Father Mahony, a strong supporter of the farm worker cause, delivered Chavez's funeral oration in 1993. "The Story of Cesar Chavez," UFW, http://www.ufw.org/cecstory. htm.
(93) Interview with Arturo Tirado, August 7, 1996.
(94) Ibid. Fresno's most progressive Latino civic leaders, almost all of them Democrats, were so grateful for Mayor Hyde's willingness to assist Chavez on his 1966 march that they generally supported the Republican mayor during his remaining years in office. Interview with George Acuna, Fresno, California, January 6, 2005, by the author.
(95) Interview with Arturo Tirado, July 11, 1974.
(96) See Tirado obituary, Fresno Bee, January 21, 1998.
(97) He was predeceased by his son Denis, who died in a car accident in his early twenties, a tragedy that left Arturo "devastated," according to one of his best friends. Interview with George Acuna, January 6, 2005.
(98) See, for example, Arthur G. Pettit, Images of the Mexican American in Fiction and Film (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1980). The history of negative stereotyping of Latinos by Hollywood is graphically illustrated in a 2003 documentary film, The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in American Cinema, produced and directed by Susan Racho, Nancy de los Santos, and Alberto Dominguez.
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|Author:||Gonzales, Manuel G.|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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