Biography of Roberto Gómez Bolaños, Influential Mexican TV Writer

Roberto Gómez Bolaños

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Roberto Gómez Bolaños (February 21, 1929–November 28, 2014) was a Mexican writer and actor known around the world for his characters “El Chavo del Ocho” and “El Chapulín Colorado,” among many 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 programs. He was affectionately known as "Chespirito."

Fast Facts: Roberto Gómez Bolaños

  • Known For: More than 40 years of writing, acting, and producing for Mexican television
  • Born: February 21, 1929 in Mexico City
  • Parents: Francisco Gómez Linares and Elsa Bolaños-Cacho
  • Died: November 28, 2014 in Cancun, Mexico.
  • Television Programs: "El Chavo del Ocho" and "El Chapulín Colorado"
  • Spouse(s): Graciela Fernández (1968–1989), Florinda Meza (2004–to his death)
  • Children: Roberto, Graciela, Marcela, Paulina, Teresa, Cecilia

Early Life

Roberto Gómez Bolaños was born into a middle-class family in Mexico City on February 21, 1929. He was the second of the three children of Francisco Gómez Linares, a noted painter and illustrator, and Elsa Bolaños-Cacho, a bilingual secretary. He was obsessed with soccer and boxing as a child and did have some success with boxing as an adolescent, but he was too small to turn professional.

Gómez Bolaños studied engineering at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico but never worked in the field. He began writing for an advertising agency at the age of 22, but soon he was writing screenplays and scripts for radio, television shows, and movies. Between 1960 and 1965, Gómez Bolaños wrote for the two top shows on Mexican television, “Comicos y Canciones” ("Comics and Songs") and “El Estudio de Pedro Vargas” ("Pedro Vargas’ Study").

It was about this time that he earned the admiring 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 Ocho” (“The Boy From No. Eight”) and “El Chapulín Colorado” ("The Crimson 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; although slapstick and low-budget, the programs had an affectionate center and were wildly popular among adults and children.

First produced by Televisa in 1971, "El Chavo del Ocho" is about a freckle-faced 8-year-old orphan boy, played by "Chespirito" well into his 60s, who lives in a wooden barrel and gets into adventures with his group of friends. Chavo, a truth-bearing simpleton who dreams of tasty sandwiches, and the other characters in the series, Don Ramon, Quico, and other people from the neighborhood, are iconic, beloved, and classic characters of Mexican television.

El Chapulín Colorado, or "the Crimson Grasshopper," was first televised in 1970 and is about is a cocky but dimwitted superhero who foils the bad guys through sheer luck and honesty. His weapon of choice is a squeaky toy version of Thor's Hammer, called "chipote chillón" or "loud bang," and he took “chiquitolina” pills that shrank him to about eight inches tall. The program opened with the words "More agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than a lettuce, his coat of arms is a heart, it’s the Crimson Grasshopper!" American cartoonist Matt Groening created his Bumblebee Man, a character in the animated show "The Simpsons," as an affectionate version of El Chapulín Colorado. 

These two shows were immensely popular, and by 1973 they 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, most of Mexico watched his programs. Although the shows ended in the 1990s, reruns are still shown regularly all over Latin America.

Other Projects

A tireless worker, "Chespirito" also appeared in more than 20 movies and hundreds of stage performances. 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 books, including a book of poetry. Although he started out writing music as a hobby, "Chespirito" was a gifted composer and wrote the theme songs for many Mexican telenovelas—including "Alguna Vez Tendremos Alas" ("We will have wings some day") and "La Dueña" ("The Owner").

In his later years, he became more politically active, campaigning for certain candidates and vocally opposing an initiative to legalize abortion in Mexico.

"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. He joined Twitter in 2011 to stay in touch with his fans. At the time of his death, he had more than six million followers.

Marriage and Family

Roberto Gómez Bolaños married Graciela Fernández in 1968 and together they had six children (Roberto, Graciela, Marcela, Paulina, Teresa, and Cecilia). They divorced in 1989. In 2004 he married actress Florinda Meza, who played Doña Florida on "El Chavo del Ocho."

Death and Legacy

Roberto Gómez Bolaños died of heart failure at his home in Cancun, Mexico on November 28, 2014. His movies, soap operas, plays, and books all found great success, but it is for his hundreds of television programs that "Chespirito" is best remembered. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto wrote of him, "Mexico has lost an icon whose work transcended generations and borders."

"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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