Despite the fact that Cantinflas died a millionaire several times over, and was one of the biggest stars ever in Spanish language films, he never forgot where he came from. Much of his money was given over to charitable work, including high-quality, low-income housing for Mexico City's poor. When he died, he was hailed as a national hero, and a protracted period of official mourning followed.
There's no real consensus on how Mario Moreno Reyes adopted his more familiar professional name. One story goes that he did not want to shame his family, who thought of show business as a less than respectable profession, and so created his name. Another is that, at one of his first nightclub engagements, a heckler taunted him with, "¡En la cantina inflas!" ("You get drunk in the bar room!"). Other stories say the name came from phrases like "¡Cuanto inflas!", (you really get drunk!) "¿Cantas o le inflas?" (you sing or get drunk?), or "ya calláte cantinflas" (shut up, cheap singer) For some reason, this amused him, and he shortened the taunt into the professional name of Cantinflas.
Was once described as "the world's greatest comedian" by none other than Charles Chaplin.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 88-89. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
He is responsible for more than one word that is in the modern Spanish language dictionary, including the verb "Cantinflear", which roughly means to talk a lot but say nothing of substance.
Related to actor Pablo Nuñez.
In his youth, he earned money as a prizefighter and worked as an acrobat in circus tent shows. At the peak of his career in the late 1950s, Cantinflas was earning more than $1.5 million a year and was referred to in press releases as the world's highest-paid comedian.
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6438 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on October 10, 1980.
Although generations of Latinos were charmed by his garrulity in a variety of parts, he was best known to American audiences for a single role: In the 1956 Mike Todd feature comedy-travel film adapted from Jules Verne's novel - "Around the World in 80 Days." Cantinflas portrayed "Passepartout" - the bumbling valet of Phileas Fogg, played by David Niven. Cantinflas made only two films during his brief career in the United States in the late 1950s. After "Around the World," Columbia Pictures starred Cantinflas in his own, multi-million-dollar comedy epic, "Pepe," which included cameo appearances by more than 42 stars, including Maurice Chevalier, Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, George Raft, Gilbert Roland, Edward G. Robinson, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Joe E. Brown, Finlay Currie, Buster Keaton, Robert Morley, Evelyn Keyes, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Beatrice Lillie, Noël Coward, José Greco (Flamenco Dancer and his troupe), Martine Carol, Basil Sydney, Harcourt Williams, Fernandel, the famous bull fighter Luis Miguel Dominguín, Robert Newton, Cedric Hardwick, Melville Cooper, Reginald Denny, Ronald Colman, Robert Cabal, Charles Coburn, John Carradine, Tim McCoy, Andy Devine, Edmund Lowe, Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie, John Mills, Glynis Johns, Hermione Gingold, Edward R. Murrow, A.E. Matthews, Ronald Adam, Walter Fitzgerald, Frank Royde, Mike Mazurka, Ronald Squire, Basil Sydney and Cesar Romero. "Pepe" however, failed miserably at the box office and put an end to Cantinflas' career in the United States. He returned to Mexico, where he continued making movies well into his 70s. But he starred in at least 35 films in Mexico, many for his own feature film company, Posa Films, later known as Cantinflas Films.
"Cantinflas represents the humble Mexican who wants to overcome himself and accomplish something in life," he said in a 1948 interview. "This is the message of the films".
It is a measure of Cantinflas' impact upon the Spanish-speaking world that his name became recognized by linguists as a new colloquialism. Literally, Cantinflas has no meaning; the actor made up the word as a stage name. But the noun cantinflada is now defined in the authoritative Larousse Spanish dictionary as a long-winded, meaningless speech, while the verb cantinflear means to talk too much but say too little. Cantinflas was widely loved for his character "el peladito," a penniless urban slum dweller who used his wit and unfailing good luck to escape from impossible situations. Often compared to Chaplin's "Little Tramp," - "el peladito" had a tiny mustache at each end of his upper lip. A tenement dweller and jack-of-all-trades, he wore a tattered vest, a straw hat and a pair of worn trousers held up by rope. As late as 1983, his film "El Barrandero" ("The Street Cleaner") made more money than any other Spanish-language feature ever shown in the United States. At the peak of his career in the late '50s, Cantinflas was earning more than $1.5 million a year and was referred to in press releases as the world's highest-paid comedian.
In 1936 Cantinflas made his first "film," a two-reel advertisement for a trucking company. A year later, he appeared in his first movie for the nascent Mexican film industry, "Asi Es Mi Tierra" ("That's My Country"). He scored his first international success in 1940 with what also was his first full-length feature, "Ahi Esta el Detalle" ("There Is the Detail"). In his second major film, "Ni Sangre, Ni Arena" ("Neither Blood Nor Sand"), Cantinflas plays dual roles - an arrogant matador and a humble, devoted fan. The comedy begins when, through a classic mix-up of identities, the lowly fan is mistaken for the vain bull fighter. Cantinflas was to perfect the bull-fight into one of his most famous routines, performed again and again in arenas in Mexico, Europe and the United States. The scene is one combining both danger and joy. When the bull paws the ground, Cantinflas paws the ground. He reads a newspaper, undaunted, as the bull rushes by. He tumbles into the charging bull's path, and escapes somehow unharmed. His pants fall off, revealing pink, ruffled underwear, and he scampers red-faced to the nearest refuge for repairs. Finally, he plunges a mock sword over the bull's horns and it bursts on contact into a brilliant bouquet of flowers.
Cantinflas graduated from high school and at 15 was sent to an agricultural college. He stayed there for nine months before running away to Jalapa on the Pacific coast, where he joined a carpa, or tent show, and began his career as an actor. It was in the tent shows that Cantinflas developed "el peladito," the picaresque "wise guy" from Mexico City. In a 1957 interview, Cantinflas reflected on the birth of "el peladito" and the beginning of his career. "I found out, with no little surprise, that I could give them laughter with a twitching of my mouth, with a sample of the vernacular I had picked up from my neighborhood cronies.".
His favorite film: Su excelencia (1967).
Starred in comedic film adaptations of classic works of fiction: The Three Musketeers (1942), Romeo y Julieta (1943), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), and Don Quijote cabalga de nuevo (1973).
His most frequent co-star was Spanish actor Ángel Garasa, who played prominent supporting roles in nine of his films: The Three Musketeers (1942), Romeo y Julieta (1943), ¡A volar joven! (1947), Mr. Photographer (1953), Caballero a la medida (1954), The Illiterate One (1961), The Little Priest (1964), A Quixote Without La Mancha (1969), and El ministro y yo (1976).
For most of his career he was under exclusive contract to Posa Films, the production company that made nearly all of his feature-length films from Neither Blood Nor Sand (1941) to The Professor (1971).
In some of his films, he fails to win the heart of the leading lady and ends up alone.
Most of his films were released by Columbia Pictures.
Cantinflas is considered Mexico's greatest comedian for two main reasons: (1) his films were enormously popular throughout Latin America and Spain and (2) he never lost his stardom after he became a star.
His physical appearance changed noticeably when he underwent blepharoplasty to "lift" his naturally hooded eyelids. This cosmetic surgery, which gave him a more youthful look, occurred between Raquel's Shoeshiner (1957) and Housewife to Your Neighbor (1958).
His mother Soledad Reyes Guizar was from the town of Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán in Mexico.
His father Pedro Moreno Esquivel was from The city of San Luis Potosí in Mexico.