Friday, February 17, 2006

Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez R.I.P.

Mexican American character actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez died Feburary 6 of natural causes at the age of 80.

Gonzalez was born Ramiro Gonzalez-Gonzalez in Aguilares, Texas on May 24, 1925. He came from a family of entertainers. His father was a native Texan who played the trumpet. His mother was a dancer from Mexico. He started his career in entertainment at the tender age of 7, when his parents took him along to help entertain the inhabitants of small Southwestern towns and migrant workers. He proved to be a born comedian. Gonzalez served as a driver in World War II.

His big break came when he appeared as a contestant on the game show You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. There he proved to be one of the few contestants who could actually match wits with the legendary comedian. John Wayne happened to see Gonzalez's appearance on the show and immediately signed him to a contract. He made his first screen apperance in Wings of the Hawk in 1953 before appearing in the John Wayne move The High and Mighty. He would also appear in many other movies with the Duke, including Rio Bravo, McClintock, and Chisum. He would go on to appear in such films as The Love Bug and Support Your Local Gunfighter. He also provided the voice for Speedy Gonzales in various cartoons produced by DePatie-Freleng for Warner Brothers in the mid-Sixties.

In addition to You Bet Your Life, Gonzalez appeared on many TV series. He guest starred on several Westerns, including Gunsmoke, Laredo, and Wanted: Dead or Alive. He also appeared on many sitcoms, among them The Monkees, I Dream of Jeannie, and Mayberry R.F.D.. He also appeared in such diverse TV shows as Perry Mason, I Spy, Tarzan, and Adam-12. His last apppearance on screen was on the short lived series Land's End in 1996.

There are those that have argued that many of the characters Gonzalez played were extreme ethnic stereotypes (his character in Rio Bravo is a good example). In Gonzalez's defence, however, it must be pointed out that there were not that many roles offered to Mexican Americans in the Fifties and Sixties. In fact, it can be aruged that, regardless of how stereotypical Gonzalez's roles may have been, he did open doors for other Mexican American actors. Without Gonzalez paving the way, there might not have been careers for such actors as James Edward Olmos or Eva Longoria. Indeed, in an Associated Press article on Gonzalez's death, James Edward Olmos said that Gonzalez "inspired every Latino actor." For an actor such as Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, there can perhaps be no greater tribute.

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