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Ramiro Gonzalez Gonzalez

10 Jun

Ramiro Gonzalez Gonzalez was an actor in films for many years. He usually played comedic and dramatic roles of a certain type and would be considered a character actor. His name was Gonzalez Gonzalez because both his parents had the same surname. He also was a comedian and made personal appearances as such.

Gonzalez Gonzalez was born in Aguilares in far South Texas in 1925 to a family of entertainers, including his Spanish mother, a dancer, and his Mexican American father, a trumpet player. He left school at age 7 to perform with his family in a traveling group and was involved in some aspect of entertainment for almost his entire life. He is said to have gotten his break in films after appearing in 1953 on a segment of Groucho Marx’s television quiz show “You Bet Your Life.” Gonzalez Gonzalez’s witty and quick responses caught the eye of actor John Wayne, who then signed him to a seven year contract leading to Gonzalez Gonzalez’s appearance in many movies including “The High and the Mighty,” “Rio Bravo,” “McLintock!,” “Hellfighters” and “Chisum.”

The actor served in the United States Army in World War II as a driver while stationed in the United States. Few who were not acquainted with him would have known that he never learned to read or write English and that as such, he was considered functionally illiterate. The lines he recited in his films were mostly memorized by hearing them read to him by another English speaker, often his wife. Other reports say that occasionally he was just allowed to improvise his lines.

He also had a long career as a comedian, with comedic stories directed at himself. A typical anecdote related in a 1959 issue of the El Paso Herald-Post after a local appearance centered around his picking up the English language. He said at a restaurant in Hollywood, he could not read the menu but had overheard someone order cake and coffee. So for a week, he ordered cake and coffee. After tiring of cake and coffee, he overheard someone order a ham sandwich and decided to try that. The waitress came back with a question, “white or rye” and he replied “cake and coffee.”

Back in the day, he was asked to do the voice of a Frito Lay character they called the Frito Bandito. He was not able to do it, and the voice role fell to cartoon creator Mel Blanc, but in a San Antonio Express interview in the late 1960s he discussed the move to get rid of stereotypes like this. A group named IMAGE (Involvement of Mexican Americans in Gainful Endeavors) was active in convincing the Rainbo Baking Company to abandon advertisements with “El Sapo,” a Mexican frog puppet speaking broken English while wearing a sombrero and serape. The company had planned to debut the character at Hemisfair in San Antonio, where Gonzalez Gonzalez still maintained a residence. The actor was aware of the movement and commented on it. In the interview, Gonzalez Gonzalez also talked about his family, including his two daughters and one son, who was currently serving in the United States Navy in Vietnam. He was proud of his family and of his long marriage which he joked was a record for Hollywood.

Gonzalez Gonzalez was friendly and well liked. As a result, he had a steady stream of television and film appearances his entire career. His last film role was in 1998. Pedro was the younger brother of Jose Gonzalez-Gonzalez, also an actor, who died in 2000 from complications of cancer.

Some today would criticize his choice of roles, but he broke into films at a time when less stereotypical roles were simply not available. Nevertheless, he made a strong and honorable career as he supported himself and his family. Few people would know that he also made volunteer appearances along with many other actors and singers on behalf of West Texas Rehabilitation Center, a charitable medical center in Abilene, Texas that offers no cost medical rehabilitation services to clients. Gonzalez Gonzalez supported the organization’s fund raising events for many years in the 1970s. He is shown below with actor Slim Pickens as they were pictured at the Abilene airport arriving for the event.

Image credit: Abilene Reporter News

Pedro and his wife Leandra Aguirre were married for at least about sixty years. Pedro died of natural causes in 2006 at the age of 80. The actor-comedian is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Leandra survived him another fourteen years and passed away in 2020.

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