Ed#472: The Cisco Kid

24 November 2014 Alan Attwood

Ed#472: The Cisco Kid

During the US presidential election campaigns of 2000 and 2006 – as the likes of George W Bush, Al Gore and then John Kerry duked it out – there was always a sense that the most popular candidate was missing from the contest. Polls suggested that if only Josiah (‘Jed’) Bartlet would announce he was running, well, anything could happen. There was, however, a tricky problem here. Bartlet did not actually exist. He was the President in the long-running TV series The West Wing: cool in a crisis, resolute as the music swelled but also possessing human flaws that made him a sympathetic character. As played by actor Martin Sheen, Bartlet seemed to match the idea of what many Americans (the Democrats, anyway) want their president to be. It’s fascinating now to wonder if President Bartlet’s approval rating would have been as high had the man behind the makeup been Ramón Estevez, rather than Martin Sheen. For Sheen, like Bartlet, is an invented character. As Associate Editor Melissa Cranenburgh explains in her cover story (starting on p14), the young man who was christened Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estevez changed his name due to his belief that it was creating obstacles, both in his personal and professional lives. He later regretted this. But despite, or perhaps because of, the considerable fame he achieved as Martin Sheen, he never reverted to being Ramón.

I wonder if, today, a young Spanish-speaking actor (male or female) would be tempted to hide their heritage. I suspect not – certainly while the likes of Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Gael García Bernal are regularly spotted in the credits for successful movies. Those three, of course, feature on our cover, one that sparked quite a bit of internal debate. The problem was too many candidates. Sheen was a contender, though I might have been tempted to label him as Ramón Estevez. Some of the others in contention: Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Benicio del Toro. Their countries of origin may vary, but they share a language. And a certain style.

But I’m the only one here who, briefly, thought about a pair of western heroes, Cisco and Pancho, as cover contenders. Which probably means I’m the only one old and silly enough to recall The Cisco Kid on TV in the 1960s. Made in the previous decade, this unashamedly corny series celebrated the adventures of “the Robin Hood of the Old West”, with Cisco played by the rather dashing Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo as his trusty sidekick, Pancho. In the show they wore broad-brimmed hats and spoke English with bad Spanish accents, which might have bemused Carrillo – who could proudly trace back his roots through many centuries of Spanish history. They ended shows with a cheery “Adios, Amigos!” and their catchcry, like an affirmation of eternal solidarity, was an exchange of greetings: “Ohhhh, Cisco!”, which was always followed by “Ohhh, Pancho!”. I guess you really had to be there...

That series, no doubt, would now be regarded as a show that perpetuates stereotypes. The amiable Pancho was essentially a figure of fun. But, as played by Carrillo, he was also extremely popular. He did his bit to pave the way for all those Spanish-speaking actors featured in this edition. Including Jimmy Smits, who first became widely known playing the suave attorney Victor Sifuentes in the 1980s TV series LA Law. Later – conveniently for writers of Editorials – he starred in The West Wing as ‘Matt’ Santos, who eventually succeeded ‘Jed’ Bartlet in the White House. But, in between, he found time to take part in a made-for-TV effort that is very seldom discussed: a remake of, yes, The Cisco Kid. Smits played Cisco; the part of Pancho was murdered by Cheech Marin, of Cheech and Chong fame. Oh Cisco, oh Pancho…

Alan Attwood, Editor