Roberto Gómez Bolaños (Chespirito, el Chavo del 8) (1929-):
Roberto Gómez Bolaños is a Mexican writer and actor, known around the world for his characters “El Chavo del 8” and “El Chapulín Colorado,” among others. He has been involved in Mexican television for over forty years, and generations of children all over the Spanish-speaking world have grown up watching his shows.
Born into a middle-class family in Mexico City in 1929, Roberto studied engineering but never worked in the field. In his early twenties, 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, “Cómicos y Canciones” (comics and songs) and “El Estudio de Pedro Vargas” (Pedro Vargas’ study) were both written by Chespirito. 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 TIM (Televisión Independiente de México) network. 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 Number 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 eight-year old boy (played by Chespirito well into his sixties) who gets into adventures with his group of friends: he lives in apartment #8, hence the name. Like Chavo, the other characters in the series, Don Ramón, 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 had 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 1990’s, reruns are still shown regularly all over Latin America.
Chespirito, a tireless worker, has 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 has written several telenovelas (soap operas), movie scripts and even a book of poetry. In recent years, he has become more politically active, campaigning for certain candidates and vocally opposing an initiative to legalize abortion in Mexico.
Chespirito has received several awards. In 2003 he was awarded the keys to the city of Cicero, Illinois. Mexico has also released a series of postage stamps in his honor.
His movies, telenovelas, plays and books have all succeeded greatly, but it is for his work in television that Chespirito will be 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. His legacy continues today: the animated series “El Chavo del 8,” launched in 2006, is very popular. The shows continue to be aired around the world, reaching yet another generation of young Latin Americans.