The most prestigious living -and active- legendary actor in this country … and as in that train run that he himself recorded, the machine continues to whistle … whistle … and walk! This week there are 96 reasons to celebrate the existence and current trajectory of Ignacio López Tarso, born January 15, 1925.
It is a necessary reference of our culture … but essential of the history of theater in Mexico. If that seminarian from his youth had wanted to continue, today he would be a cardinal. If that First Sergeant of the Army’s Eleventh Infantry Regiment had continued… today he would be a Major General. But he decided on ‘the table’ … and today he is the most prestigious living -and active- legendary actor that we have in this country.
The most remarkable thing is that his legend is not based solely on what he did 4 or 5 or 6 decades agobut in what he continues to do. By the way, it would not hurt to bake another cake to celebrate in 2021, the 70 years since he appeared in his first professional work: ‘Born yesterday’ by Garson Kanin, in 1951.
Since then and at the time of writing these lines, three gifts have grown in López Tarso: his power when he steps on a stage, the strength of his face and the brilliance of his voice.
Anyone who has verified it knows it in the only place where the truth about the actresses and actors is visible … truthfully: in the theater … which is that immense ocean that López Tarso has crossed by swimming or sailing in his large sailboat, from pier to pier, non-stop.
In cinema they have been careful to accept little … and well. Considering things so far away, it would seem that we are facing an actor from the ‘golden age of Mexican cinema’ and with a very abundant filmography … but neither one nor the other. He has only participated in 53 films. And as for ‘the golden age’, it ended when he was arriving (1954 makes his first film) … hence he does not have the number of arieles that correspond to him: the delivery of these was suspended from 1958 to 1972, before the crisis in film production.
At the end of the 50s and in the 60s it became an almost solitary extension of the ‘exhausted’ gold, working with what was still saved … with directors such as Roberto Gavaldón, Ismael Rodríguez, Buñuel or Alcoriza. Oh, and with Gabriel Figueroa… The most important photographer in Mexican cinema and who, as a friend, has him included in films like La Cucaracha (with Pedro Armendáriz, María Félix, Dolores del Río and Indio Fernández).
Then, Figueroa gets him Macario (which was originally for Amendáriz). Everyone contributes to making a masterpiece: B. Traven with the plot, Emilio Carballido with the script, Roberto Gavaldón directing, Figueroa with the immense photography and the cast led by López Tarso … who consecrates himself on the big screen, earns 20 thousand pesos in 8 weeks and he buys his first car.
And you have to see him in The Paper Man as the mute scavenger who stars with gesture and mimicry throughout the film. And in the empty star tohe side of María Félix (with whom he made seven other films); and in Nazarín -by Buñuel- and in El gallo de oro (based on a short novel by Juan Rulfo, with a script by Carlos Fuentes and García Márquez); or in La sombra del caudillo, filmed in 1960 and censored for 30 years.
Or in that drama, Vanilla, Bronze and Die (1956)… with Elsa Aguirre, who, at the end of filming, led to a story… that I don’t think I am committing any greater indiscretion when sharing it at this stage of the game. Since that film and to date, the teacher López Tarso – who will not deny it – remains deeply in love of the sublime Chihuahuan, with whom he was never ‘done’. Both of them – each one on their own – tell in short with great grace, that the night that what did not happen was about to happen, he invited her to see him at the play he was working on, and then go to dinner together . Elsa arrived. And López Tarso instructed his assistant to be in charge of taking ‘the lady’ to the dressing room as soon as the performance was over … in his opinion, the naive (« grossooo … a beastaaaa !!! ») assistant spoke to him, but to his wife of the teacher! He made her come to the theater and when he introduced her to the dressing room, a liver was turned upside down and a goddess was ‘planted’. Becoming the very, very sad story … of never again.
There is a side that for generational reasons, perhaps many people do not know, and that is to be treasured. Throughout a decade, he dedicated himself to touring Latin America as a narrator of corridos, the majority revolutionary. He recorded eight LP’s with a hundred pieces. They are a chair for any student … of oral performance, diction, intentionality, black humor. You have to look, as shown by El pasajero del tren… or La maquinita.
He has participated as a character actor in more than 30 soap operas, standing out especially in the historical ones… for example, with a notable Porfirio Díaz in El Encanto del Águila.
You have your side as a union leader. He was a strong General Secretary of the National Association of Actors (1986-1990), of the Interpreters Association and leader of the Union of Cinematographic Production Workers. And for those who do not remember, he was a Federal Deputy from 1988 to 1991. He was not bored. He had something to talk about with other fellow deputies from seats … if one was the Oaxacan writer Andrés Henestrosa and the other was the poet Jaime Sabines.
In about 150 works he has made the Greeks, the Spanish classics, Skakespeare, to the main Americans, French, Italians or British of the 20th century … and to all the main Mexican playwrights. In 1993, at 68 he made his musical theater debut as a memorable submissive male in Hello Dolly with Silvia Pinal. Until recently, there was a small “Ignacio López Tarso” theater in the San Ángel neighborhood. His name has already been erased today. Inconceivable.
In recent years, his capacity for work has been amazing and in the best of senses, his ‘monstrosity’ on stage. Overwhelming. Make it clear that there should not be another actor in the world who at 93 years of age, in 2018, was doing, as he was, three plays simultaneously: Thursdays, at the Rafael Solana theater, Aeroplanos -con el Loco Valdés or Sergio Corona-; Saturday and Sunday, Un Picasso at the San Jerónimo theater; and tours during the week through various squares in the country with the play El padre. All (… all) performances, closing with a long standing ovation.
Work ‘A Picasso’
And as. Always superior to what we would have applauded before … you had to see him in a soliloquy claiming God in Un Picasso. Towards October 2019, a successful surgery suspended the season of A Life in the Theater that he did with his son Juan Ignacio Aranda (he was at the colossal height of his father). The play, by David Mamet, is made up of paintings from great classics of universal dramaturgy … such as King Lear, Hamlet, Life is a dream … and there is one, which should last 6 or 7 minutes, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Insuperable. López Tarso’s peak in his seven decades as an actor. To shake and never forget it.
Caught up in the pandemic this illustrious actor who is turning 96 years old… Actor of his time, who is always the present, in recent months he has been doing 3 theatrical performances online with great box office success. Build yourself like Leonardo D’Vinci, like Don Quixote or like Macario Keeping the blessed fever… of not stopping.
Anyway, here is just an outline of how much there is to tell about this beloved character. When there was time and age for it, He was a good martini maker and tequila drinker. His memory is encyclopedic. The best answer he has given … when someone asked him why he has not made more films: « … well, this century I have been very busy. »
It turns 96 and the time in it, heals more than the sun. Open your eyes when something amazes you … every day. And personally, his treatment is increasingly affectionate. Resplendent. He could well be called Ignacio López… Terso.
Blessed theater. Its beginning, its middle, its end, its present … and the wind that continues to push your sailboat today.