El Santo is arguably the most famous Mexican who ever lived. EL Santo was born Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta (September 23, 1917), in Tulancingo in the Mexican state of Hidalgo; he moved to Mexico City in the 1920s, where his family settled in the Tepito neighbourhood. He practiced baseball and American football, and then became interested in wrestling. He first learned Ju-Jitsu, then classical wrestling.
Accounts vary as to exactly when and where he first wrestled competitively, either in Arena Peralvillo Cozumel on 28 June 1934, or Deportivo Islas in the Guerrero colony of Mexico City in 1935, but by the second half of the 1930s, he was established as a wrestler, using the names Rudy Guzmán, El Hombre Rojo (the Red Man), El Demonio Negro (The Black Demon) and El Murcielago II (The Bat II). The last name was a rip-off of the name of a famous wrestler Jesus Velazquez named “El Murcielago” (The Bat), and after an appeal by the Bat to the Mexican boxing and wrestling commission, the regulatory body ruled that Guzmán could not use the name. It did not matter though, as he would soon select a name that would allow the Mexican Luchador to transcend wrestling to become a huge film actor, comic book sensation, folk icon, and symbol of justice for the common man.
In 1942, Rodolfo’s manager, Don Jesús Lomelí, was putting together a new team of wrestlers, all dressed in silver, and wanted Rodolfo to be a part of it. He suggested three names, El Santo (The Saint), El Diablo (The Devil), or El Angel (The Angel), and Rodolfo chose the first one. On 26 June, aged 24, he wrestled at the Arena Mexico for the first time as El Santo, although he later was known simply as “Santo”. Under this new name he quickly found his style.
One of Santo’s greatest matches was in 1952, when he fought a tag-team known as Los Hermanos Shadow (which consisted of famed luchadors Blue Demon and the Black Shadow). Santo beat and unmasked Black Shadow in the ring, which triggered Blue Demon’s decision to become a técnico, as well as a legendary feud between Blue Demon and Santo that culminated in Santo’s defeat in a well-publicized series of matches in 1952 and again in 1953. Although they appeared together in a number of action/adventure films, their rivalry never really ended in later years since Santo always remembered his defeat at Blue Demon’s hands.
In 1952, the artist and editor José G. Cruz started a Santo comic book, turning Santo into the first and foremost character in Mexican popular literature, his popularity only rivalled by the legendary Kalimán character. The Santo comic book series (four different volumes) ran continuously for 35 years, ending in 1987.
Also in 1952, a superhero motion picture serial was made entitled The Man in the Silver Mask, which was supposed to star Santo, but he declined to appear in it, because he thought it would fail commercially. The film was made instead with well-known luchador El Médico Asesino in the lead role, wearing a white mask similar to Santo’s silver one. A villain named “The Silver-Masked Man” was introduced into the plot at the last minute, thus the title of the film strangely became a reference to the villain, not the hero.
In 1958, Fernando Osés, a wrestler and actor, invited Santo to work in movies, and although Santo was unwilling to give up his wrestling career, he accepted, planning to do both at the same time. Oses was planning on playing the hero (a masked cop named “El Incognito”) in these two films, with Santo appearing as his costumed sidekick, “El Enmascarado”. Fernando Osés and Enrique Zambrano wrote the scripts for the first two movies, el Cerebro del Mal (The Evil Brain) and Hombres Infernales (The Infernal Men), both released in 1958, and directed by Joselito Rodríguez. Filming was done in Cuba, and ended just the day before Fidel Castro entered Havana and declared the victory of the revolution. Santo played a masked superhero-type sidekick to the main hero (who was called El Incognito) in these two films, and was not the main character (nor was he depicted as a wrestler in these 2 films, but rather a masked police agent of some sort). The films did poorly at the box office when they were released. Years later however, when Santo’s film career took off, the distributors of these two films quietly added Santo’s name into the titles. Most people feel Santo’s film career really took off in 1961, with his third movie “Santo vs The Zombies.” Santo was given the starring role with this film, and was shown for the first time as a professional wrestler moonlighting as a superhero.
Santo eventually wound up appearing in 52 lucha libre films in all (two of which were just cameo appearances). The style of the movies was essentially the same throughout the series, with Santo as a superhero fighting supernatural creatures, evil scientists, various criminals/ secret agents and so on.
His best-known movie outside of Mexico is also considered one of his best, 1962’s Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro (Santo vs. the Vampire Women), which was also featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. In this movie, the production values were better, and there was an attempt at creating more of a mythos and background for Santo, as the last of a long line of superheroes. It was an enormous success at the box office. Only four of the 52 Santo films were ever dubbed into English, the other 48 being only available in Spanish. Santo’s most financially successful film was The Mummies of Guanajuato (1970), which co-starred Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. Many Mexi-movie fans consider it to be the greatest luchador film ever made.
The Santo film series inspired the production of similar series of movies starring other well-known luchadores such as Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, Superzan and the Wrestling Women, among others. Santo even co-starred with Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras in several of his movies. When Blue Demon invited Santo to co-star with him and Mil Mascaras in the “Champions of Justice” movie trilogy, however, Santo was too busy making other films to participate. By 1977, the masked wrestler film craze had practically died off, but Santo continued to appear in more films over the next few years. His last film was Fury of the Karate Experts, shot in Florida in 1982, the same year he retired from the ring.
By the early 1980s El Santo slowed down his in ring activities leading up to his inevitable retirement. His farewell tour was announced for August and September 1982. the first of three events took place on August 22, 1982 at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City. On that night El Santo teamed up with El Solitario to take on Villano III and Rokambole in a match that naturally saw the legends win. After the match Villano and Rokamble lifted El Santo up on their shoulders as he received the adulation of the sold out arena.
The following Sunday El Santo appeared at Arena México where he teamed up with Gran Hamada to defeat Villano I and Scorpio, Jr. Santo’s last match took place on September 12, 1982, a week before his 65th birthday. In his last match ever El Santo teamed up with Gory Guerrero who came out of retirement to reform “La Pareja Atómica” as they teamed up with Huracán Ramirez and El Solitario. Their opponents included one of El Santo’s biggest rivals in Perro Aguayo as well as El Signo, Negro Navarro and El Texano. True to the legend of El Santo he won his last match and retired as the hero he always portrayed in the ring and on the screen. His retirement tour was also used to introduce Santo’s son Jorge as the next generation El Santo as he was ringside at each show wearing the silver mask and being introduced as El Hijo del Santo.
Just over a year after his retirement (in late January 1984), El Santo was a guest on Contrapunto, a Mexican television program and, completely without warning, removed his mask just enough to expose his face, in effect bidding his fans goodbye. It is the only documented case of Santo ever removing his mask in public.
Santo died from a heart attack (during a stage show he was putting on) on February 5, 1984, at 9:40 p.m., a week after his Contrapunto TV appearance. He was 66 years old. As per his wishes, he was buried wearing his famous silver mask. His funeral is considered one of the biggest in Mexican history as fans and friends flocked to see “el Enmascarado de Plata” (The Silver-Masked One) one last time. After his death, a statue of El Santo was erected in his home town of Tulancingo and other statues have been created since then.
Seventeen years after Santo’s death, his real-life son (known in Mexico as “El Hijo del Santo”) played the lead role in a brand new Santo movie called Infraterrestre (2001), which co-starred the famed Mexican wrestler The Blue Panther.
The legend of El Santo, better known as “El enmascarado de plata” lives on to this very day both inside and outside the wrestling ring. Santo’s youngest son with his first wife, Jorge carries on the legend of the Silver Mask, wrestling as El Hijo del Santo wearing the silver mask, cape and outfit that is very close to what his father used to wear. While El Hijo del Santo is not as big an icon as his father – he is considered a more technically proficient wrestler.