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Ernesto (Ramirez) Alonzo, D.E.P.

8 August 2007

Actor and pioneering telenovela producer Ernesto Ramirez Alonzo (he used only the apellido maternal professionally), died Tuesday at the age of 90. Born in Aguascalientes, on 28 February 1917, Alonzo was as much an intellectual as a entertainer.

Though he had worked with avant-garde artists like Luis Buñel (he played an inept murderer in Buñel’s 1955 Archibaldo de la Cruz), he made his mark by bringing the classic novela into the telenovela. To Alonzo, the television stories weren’t simple parables about good and evil or the triumph of vittue (or virtuous blonds), but quality stories.

As a young man, Alonzo had taken the Heathcliffe role in a Mexicanized version of Wuthering Heights, and he was highly conscious of the 19th century novel as the precusor to his own work. As he explained in a interviewer with Siempre in 1988, “The telenovela is nothing new… Balzac, Victor Hugo, wrote by chapters, they [dealt] with the same problems: love, hate, jealousy, intrigue, passion, crime. The problems are the same. What’s going to be changing is the world.”

With the possible exception of the very weird Cuna de lobos (in which the standard rich and evil matriarch of the family is not only a serial killer, she wears an elegant silk eyepatch), Alonzo brought the high standards of good storytelling and “real life” to an only somewhat fantastic version of mundane Mexican reality.

And, like Hugo, Alonzo realized history involved as much passion and drama as any other literary endeavor. It did not — and was not — boring. Greed, sex, ambition, faith and sometimes sheer kinkiness are all human emotions, and even the most revered of historical figures had their human side.

He taught a whole generation of Mexicans their own history (and some of us foreigners learned Spanish and history) with a series of historical telenovelas… Senda de Gloria, about the 1910-20 Revolution; Los Caduillos, set during the early War for Independence; and above all the epic 1997 La antorcha encendida, dealing with the compexities and ironies of the 1810-21 War for Independence. Although perfectly within the telenovela conventions — Antorcha focused on the twisted loves and hates of the fictional Soto and Foncerrada families — and their interactions with the real historical figures. Besides allowing Mexican popular actors to stretch (quite successfully in some instances — Sergio Reynosa, usually typecast as a gangster or tough guy stood out as the saintly tough guy, José Maria Morelos), it won acclaim from Mexican historians and teachers for its fidelity to historical accuracy — the mixed motives of the leaders and the people themselves drives much of the plot — and the care taken to film on the actual sites where events had happened nearly two centuries previously.

With mixed results, last year he produced another historical series, on the undramatic life and times of the poet and philosopher Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz.

Horace in the Ars Poetica, wrote the classic definition of literature. It must, he said, “instruct and delight.” By that 2000 year old standard, Alonzo made the humble, silly telenovela true literature.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 August 2007 8:54 pm

    Adieu,

    Don Alonso. May your telenovela soul rest in peace.

  2. 6 March 2009 2:45 pm

    esta pagina no deberia de existir, ya que es una cdompleta porqueria y un reverendo asco
    ADIOS

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