The Story of "Chespirito," Mexico's Roberto Gomez Bolanos

He Was the Country's Most Influential TV Writer and Actor

chespirito3.jpg
Chespirito. photo from taringa.net

Roberto Gomez Bolanos ("Chespirito") 1929-2014

Roberto Gomez Bolanos was a Mexican writer and actor, known around the world for his characters “El Chavo del 8” and “El Chapulín Colorado,” among others. He was involved in Mexican television for more than 40 years, and generations of children all over the Spanish-speaking world grew up watching his shows. He was affectionately known as Chespirito.

Early Life

Born into a middle-class family in Mexico City in 1929, Bolanos studied engineering but never worked in the field.

In his early 20s, he was already writing screenplays and scripts for television shows. He also wrote songs and scripts for radio shows. Between 1960 and 1965 the two top shows on Mexican television, “Comicos y Canciones” ("Comics and Songs") and “El Estudio de Pedro Vargas” ("Pedro Vargas’ Study") were both written by Bolanos. It was about this time that he earned the nickname “Chespirito” from the director Agustín P. Delgado; it is a version of “ Shakespearito,” or “Little Shakespeare.”

Writing and Acting

In 1968, Chespirito signed a contract with the newly formed network TIM  -- "Television Independiente de Mexico." Among the terms of his contract was a half-hour slot on Saturday afternoons over which he had complete autonomy -- he could do with it whatever he wanted. The brief, hilarious sketches he wrote and produced were so popular that the network switched his time to Monday night and gave him a whole hour.

It was during this show, simply called “Chespirito,” that his two most beloved characters, “El Chavo del 8” (“The Boy From No. Eight”) and “El Chapulín Colorado” (The Red Grasshopper) made their debut.

The Chavo and the Chapulín

These two characters were so popular with the viewing public that the network gave them each their own weekly half-hour series.

El Chavo del 8 is an 8-year old boy, played by Chespirito well into his 60s, who gets into adventures with his group of friends. He lives in apartment No. 8, hence the name. Like Chavo, the other characters in the series, Don Ramon, Quico and other people from the neighborhood, are iconic, beloved, classic characters of Mexican television. El Chapulín Colorado, or the Red Grasshopper, is a superhero but an exceedingly dimwitted one, who foils the bad guys through luck and honesty.

A Television Dynasty

These two shows were immensely popular, and by 1973 were being transmitted to all of Latin America. In Mexico, it is estimated that 50 to 60 percent of all televisions in the country were tuned into the shows when they aired. Chespirito kept the Monday night time slot, and for 25 years, every Monday night, most of Mexico watched his show. Although the show ended in the 1990s, reruns are still shown regularly all over Latin America.

Other Projects

Chespirito, a tireless worker, also appeared in movies and on stage. When he took the cast of “Chespirito” on a tour of stadiums to reprise their famous roles on stage, the shows sold out, including two consecutive dates at the Santiago stadium, which seats 80,000 people.

He wrote several soap operas, movie scripts and even a book of poetry. In his later years, he became more politically active, campaigning for certain candidates and vocally opposing an initiative to legalize abortion in Mexico.

Awards

Chespirito received countless awards. In 2003 he was awarded the keys to the city of Cicero, Illinois. Mexico even released a series of postage stamps in his honor.

Legacy

Chespirito died on Nov. 28, 2014, of heart failure, at the age of 85. His movies, soap operas, plays, and books all found great success, but it is for his work in television that Chespirito is best remembered. Chespirito will always be known as a pioneer of Latin American television and one of the most creative writers and actors ever to work in the field. 

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Minster, Christopher. "The Story of "Chespirito," Mexico's Roberto Gomez Bolanos." ThoughtCo, Oct. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/biography-of-roberto-gomez-bolanos-chespirito-2136129. Minster, Christopher. (2017, October 2). The Story of "Chespirito," Mexico's Roberto Gomez Bolanos. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-of-roberto-gomez-bolanos-chespirito-2136129 Minster, Christopher. "The Story of "Chespirito," Mexico's Roberto Gomez Bolanos." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-of-roberto-gomez-bolanos-chespirito-2136129 (accessed November 18, 2017).