The Cisco Kid was given life in literature long before he came to the small screen. In 1907, O Henry published a short story “The Caballero’s Way” which introduced The Cisco Kid to the world.
The Cisco Kid Was Originally a Bad Guy
That Cisco Kid was a desperate 25-year-old criminal who engages in some cruel trickery which convinces the local lawman to shoot and kill his own girlfriend, believing her to be The Cisco Kid.
The transformation to being a good guy took place when The Cisco Kid was picked up for movies, radio, and television. After all, it’s rare that the star of a show is an evil villain.
The Cisco Kid Movies Came First
The very first Cisco Kid movie was called The Caballero’s Way after the short story by O Henry. It was a silent film produced in 1914 and starred William Robert Dunn as the Kid. Warner Baxter would win an Oscar for his portrayal of The Cisco Kid in 1928’s In Old Arizona. This was when the character was first revised to become a good guy rather than a bad guy. This too was a silent movie but it was remastered with sound in 1931.
Then between 1939 and 1949 more than 20 Cisco Kid movies were made with Cesar Romero, Duncan Renaldo, and Gilbert Roland all taking turns to play the lead role.
The Cisco Kid Comes to Television
The Cisco Kid began filming for television in 1950. O Henry, J Benton Cheney, and Barry Cohon were the writers and Duncan Renaldo moved from the silver screen to the small one to continue playing the lead role.
No longer was The Cisco Kid a swaggering outlaw with blood on his hands and evil in his heart; in the show, he was more akin to the Robin Hood films of early cinema. The character was there wherever the poor and downtrodden were being mistreated by the law or the establishment. It proved to be a hugely popular show from the day it began on TV.
The Show Was in Color, but Most People Didn’t Know
In the 1950s, having a color television was the purview of only the wealthiest of folks. The vast majority of people tuned in to watch television on a black and white TV set and that meant The Cisco Kid is often remembered, incorrectly, as a black and white show.
In fact, it was the first program in history to be filmed in color, but it would be more than a decade before many people got to see it that way. MGM Television had obviously predicted that color TV would fall in price more rapidly than it did. It wasn’t until the 1960s that most people could afford color at home.
Duncan Renaldo Didn’t Know Where He Was Born
In one of the most peculiar moments in immigration history, Duncan Renaldo claimed he had no idea where he was born when he arrived in the United States. He said that though he has a Romanian birth certificate which states his parents are Dumitru and Teodora Cugheanos, he thought he had been born in Camden, New Jersey.
He also said that he had never met his biological parents and was in fact raised in many different European nations. He then emigrated as an adult to the United States in 1917 when he claimed to be Greek. Fortunately for him, he was still granted U.S. citizenship.
Renaldo Wanted to Paint
The Cisco Kid’s lead star, Duncan Renaldo, had never intended to be an actor at all. He actually wanted to be a portrait painter, but he failed to turn that into a paying career. He then moved into producing movies, though he produced nothing of note and then finally, turned to acting through desperation.
His first appearance on screen was in the movie The Bridge of San Ray Luis in 1928. Incredibly, in 1934 he was arrested and convicted as an illegal immigrant and was then pardoned by the President Frankin D. Roosevelt so that he could return to acting…
Duncan Renaldo’s Success and Death
Renaldo’s career blossomed when he was picked to play The Cisco Kid in the long-running movie series. When it was decided to move the role to the small screen, he was chosen out of the three actors playing the role in films to be the star of the show.
It is for The Cisco Kid which he is best known. His other achievements of note include illustrating a book of poetry called Drifter’s Dreams and appearing on the cover of the band War’s 1974 album “War Live.” He passed away in 1980 at the age of 76 from lung cancer in Goleta, California.
Leo Carrillo Was Pancho
Leo Carrillo played The Cisco Kid’s sidekick Pancho in the TV series. He was 20 years older than his onscreen partner Duncan Renaldo. Unlike Renaldo, Carrillo was very aware of his roots. He was Castillian Spanish and could trace his family history in Spain back to the 14th century.
His family migrated to America very early and his great-grandfather was the Governor of Alta California. Leo had had a successful career as a newspaper cartoonist before he took up acting and then starred in over 90 movies before taking on the role of Pancho. However, it is for Pancho that he is best known.
California Is Lovely because of Leo
Well, it might not all be down to Leo, but Leo Carrillo was a famous conservationist in California and spent nearly 20 years serving on the California Beach and Parks commission. He was instrumental in the creation of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the state acquisition of Hearst Castle at San Simeon.
The state was so grateful for his contribution that they need a beach after him, the Leo Carrillo State Park. In a strange twist of fate, this is one of the most popular beaches for film shoots in the United States because of its weather and dramatic cliff and rock formations.
Leo’s Personal Life Was Uneventful
Leo Carrillo was a one-woman-man offscreen. He met his wife to be, Edith Shakespeare Haselbarth, in 1913 in New York. He’d been performing in a play and she came backstage to meet him after seeing him perform. They were together for the next 40 years until her death in 1953. They had a daughter together, Marie Antoinette.
The Carrillos owned a huge 4,500-acre ranch in Carlsbad and are well remembered for allowing local Boy Scouts complete access to their grounds for camping. Leo passed away in 1961 at the age of 81 from cancer. His grave is in Santa Monica’s Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.
The Cisco Kid Was Played by a Body Double for Nine Episodes
During the filming of The Cisco Kid in 1953, things went tragically awry and Duncan Renaldo was seriously injured. They were on set when he was caught in a rockfall and ended up in the hospital.
The bad news came back that he would not be ready to return during the shooting of the next 9 episodes. Rather than replace him with a new actor and risk alienating the audience, they used a body double and had him wear masks, ghost outfits, etc. to disguise his face. They also used any footage they could find that hadn’t made it into previous episodes. Duncan Renaldo would record all his lines for these episodes in his hospital bed.
The Cisco Kid Was a Breakthrough for Hispanic TV Stars
Until The Cisco Kid appeared on America’s screens, there had been no regular Hispanic actors in any lead role on TV. Many people think that Desi Arnaz Sr. was the first, but I Love Lucy didn’t air until a year after The Cisco Kid‘s first episode.
It is fair to say that the portrayal of Pancho didn’t necessarily put Hispanics in the best light, as much of the show’s humor revolved around Carrillo’s misuse of the English language. Safe to say it’s unlikely that a similar tactic would be used on TV shows today.
Tristram Coffin’s Performances Led to His Own TV Show, 26 Men
Tristram Coffin was an established actor before he got his part in The Cisco Kid as a banker who appeared in a total of 9 episodes. However, despite many walk-on appearances and bit parts, for some reason Coffin had never been offered a lead role before.
This would change thanks to his time alongside the Kid, and he would capture the lead role in 26 Men which was another Western, this time focused on the lives of the Arizona Rangers. Coffin played Captain Thomas H. Rynning in the series and led the Arizona Rangers for 78 episodes of fun-filled mayhem..
William Fawcett Got a Huge Career Boost from The Cisco Kid
William “Bill” Fawcett would appear just seven times in The Cisco Kid in the role of the ornery “grampaw.” Yet, it was enough for another studio to take a gamble on his star power and he was offered the lead role in Fury alongside Peter Graves, Bobby Diamond, and Roger Mobley.
Fury was the “story of a horse and a boy that loves him.” It proved to be rather more popular than that description might suggest and in the end, it ran for nearly as long as The Cisco Kid packing in 116 episodes across 5 seasons. It was still regularly shown on TV well into the 1970s.
Gail Davis Also Did Well out of The Cisco Kid
Gail Davis appeared on The Cisco Kid once as Nancy King in the episode “False Marriage.” However, she can’t have been very memorable in that role, as she would return to play the part of Ruth Drake later in the series for a span of five episodes.
She would then go to star as the lead in Annie Oakley the TV series. Amazingly, her co-star Brad Johnson had also appeared on The Cisco Kid previously in the role of Johnny in 1951’s “Water Toll” episode. Showbiz can be a very small world sometimes, and this goes to prove it.
Gail Davis Became a Role Model for Women
When Gail Davis appeared on The Cisco Kid, she probably had no idea that she would end up as the star of her own show, Annie Oakley.
She was inducted, posthumously, into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame for her services and she had said, “Back then I knew the show was having a positive impact, especially on little girls. It wasn’t until years later that I realized just how much. Little girls had turned into influential women, thanking my portrayal of Annie for showing them the way.” She is buried a the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery after she passed away of cancer at the age of 71.
Isaac Stanford Jolley Sr. Regularly Appeared on the Show
It’s fair to say that Isaac Stanford Jolley Sr. is one of those actors that everyone knows on sight, but most people couldn’t name for the life of them. He spent most of his life working in TV and movies and he played over 500 roles, almost all of them in Westerns. However, he never took a lead role, and thus his name isn’t tripping off anyone’s tongue.
In fact, his longest appearance in any TV show was his tenure on The Cisco Kid where over the course of 10 episodes he would play Gus Brown.
Lois Lane Snuck into The Cisco Kid
Phyllis Coates isn’t famous for her four-part appearance in The Cisco Kid. She’s famous for being Lois Lane in some of the earliest Superman films and TV serials. She starred as Clark Kent’s girlfriend in the 1951 movie Superman and the Mole Men. It’s not a particularly good film, but it has the unique distinction of being the first movie based on a DC Comic book character.
She then starred in the first season of the TV show Adventures of Superman. You’d be amazed at how adult the themes were. Nobody thought comics were just for kids in the 1950s.
Joe Randolph from Ozzie and Harriet Was in The Cisco Kid
Lyle Talbot is always going to be remembered for his 10-year stint as Joe Randolph in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Yet, before his big break, he made regular short appearances in Western TV shows and was in The Long Ranger, The Adventures of Kit Carson and of course, The Cisco Kid.
Lyle was also one of the few stars of his era to be a serial monogamist. Despite the taboo of divorce, he married a whopping five times and his 5th wife, Margaret Epple, was 26 years younger than him when they walked down the aisle when he was 46. Amazingly, she was “the one” and they stayed married for 40 years until he died.
The Long-Term Impact of The Cisco Kid
The Cisco Kid was given a DVD release in 2008 by MPI Home Video. Frustratingly for fans of the show, the episodes are collected in random order on each DVD and not in broadcast order. Worse, the set didn’t contain all the episodes. However, many individual episodes have appeared on other Western anthologies by other publishers.
The Cisco Kid has also appeared regularly in popular culture including in a song by Deep Purple and in a movie starring Jimmy Smits in 1994. In 2014, Cozi TV, Heroes and Icons (TV Network), and Grit all began broadcasting the full set of The Cisco Kid as reruns.