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Ghosts, goblins and Gonzales-Gonzales

Maggie Van Ostrand

I am the ghost of Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, a guy so nice, they named me twice. My mother was a Mexican dancer known as "La Perla Fronteriza" who once danced for Pancho Villa and his men. You can imagine how nice my father must have been to win over such a wonderful woman. He was a trumpet player from Texas and you know what they say about musicians and beautiful dancers.

Anyway, someone in Ajijic has called upon me to tell you about myself for Day of the Dead, so here I am. I was born in 1926 and died just last year, 2006, so I was surprised that someone called on me so soon. Usually people ask for relatives or Emiliano Zapata or someone really important.

They must have called on me because I knew John Wayne. Mr. Wayne hired me for his movies, The High and the Mighty, Hondo, Hellfighters, The Wings of Eagles," Chisum, and Rio Bravo, and he kept me on his payroll all the way through 1974 when he got real sick.

Even though you can't see me now, you may have seen me in one of the many movies I made, or before that when I was on the Groucho Marx television show "You Bet Your Life," and stopped the show because I made Groucho laugh. When Groucho asked me "If we got together as an act, what would it be called?" I said "It would be Gonzales-Gonzales and Marx." Then Groucho looked at the audience and said, "Do you believe that? Two men in the act, and I get third billing!"

All in all, I did 75 movies, and a bunch of TV shows, and that's not bad, considering I never learned to read or write. Good thing I married young (16) because my wife read the scripts to me until I learned them. We were married for 64 years, and that's a record in Hollywood.

Long ago when I was still a little kid, I appeared on stage with my family, and I usually made the audience laugh. We were nine children all told, and worked a kind of U.S.O. for Mexicans, traveling around and entertaining laborers in the oil camps around the Texas border. I was born in one of their tents.

People seemed to like my personality enough to keep me working in entertainment, sometimes only as a "go-fer" or an extra or sometimes a speaking part. When times were really hard, I sold musical instruments I made out of hubcaps and frying pans.

The last movie I did was in 1998 when I played a landlord in The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, which starred Joe Mantegna and Edward James Olmost. Sid Caesar was in it, too.

I always played bandits or landlords or bartenders, but never anything other than what I was: a proud Mexican-American. Some people criticized me for playing what they called "stereotypes," but I didn't care as long as I worked and could put food on the table for my wife and three children.

Some actors have had streets, drives and even boulevards named after them, but I got something better. An alley. For awhile, I worked with Rex Allen in Willcox Arizona and now they have named an alley after me. It's right next to Rex Allen Drive. Honest. I'm not making this up. I can't, I'm dead.

You may be interested to know that, just before I died, I got to see my grandson, Clifton Collins, Jr., co-star in the critically acclaimed movie Capote. He played Perry Smith, and I was very proud of him.

Now that I am dead, I will tell you a secret. My real name is not Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, and I am sorry for the deception. My real name is Ramiro Gonzales-Gonzales.

There. I feel better now. Still dead, but better.

Thank you for inviting me to share my life on this Day of the Dead. It was right up my alley.

Published or Updated on: October 1, 2007 by Maggie Van Ostrand © 2007
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