Rodolfo Guzman Huerta (September 23, 1917 - February 5, 1984), more widely known as Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata, or Samson, the silver-masked man in English translations, was a Mexican wrestler, actor, and folk hero.
El Santo is perhaps the most famous and iconic of all Mexican luchadores, or free wrestlers, and has been referred to as "the greatest legend in Mexican sports". His wrestling career spanned nearly five decades, during which he became a folk hero and a symbol of justice for the common man through his appearances in comic books and movies.
Born in Tulancingo in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, to Jesús Guzmán Campuzano and Josefina Huerta (Márquez) de Guzmán as the fifth of seven children, Rodolfo came 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 learned Ju-Jitsu, then classical wrestling, and although accounts vary as to exactly when and where he first wrestled competitively, either in Arena Peralvillo Cozumel on the 28th of 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), and El Murcielago II (The Bat II). The last name was a rip-off of the name of a famous wrestler, and after an appeal by the original El Murcielago, Jesús Velázquez to the Mexican boxing and wrestling commission, who ruled that Guzmán could not use the name.
Rise to fame
In the early 1940s, Guzmán married María de los Ángeles Rodríguez Montaño (Maruca), a union that would produce 10 children; Alejandro, María de los Ángeles, Héctor Rodolfo, Blanca Lilia, Víctor Manuel, Miguel Ángel, Silvia Yolanda, María de Lourdes, Mercedes, and el Hijo del Santo, who also became a famous wrestler in his own right.
In 1942, his 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 the 26th of June, he wrestled at the Arena Mexico for the first time as El Santo. Under this new name he quickly found his style, and his agility and versatility made him very popular.
Becoming an icon
During the 1950s, the artist and editor José Guadalupe Cruz started up 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.
In the late fifties, Fernando Osés, a wrestler and actor, invited Guzmán to work in movies, and although he was unwilling to give up his wrestling career, he accepted, planning to do both at the same time. Fernando Osés and Enrique Zambrano wrote the scripts for the two first Santo movies, Santo contra el Cerebro del Mal (Santo against the Brain of Evil) and Santo contra los Hombres Infernales (Santo against 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.
Although these two movies were low-budget and highly improvised, they struck a chord with the Mexican public, and became box office successes, paving way for more Santo movies, and also boosting Santo's wrestling career.
The style of the Santo movies was essentially the same throughout the almost 60 movies in which he starred, with Santo as a superhero fighting supernatural creatures, evil scientists, and so on, with a tone reminiscent of US B-movies and TV series, perhaps most similar to the 1960s Batman TV series.
His most well known movie outside of Mexico is also considered one of his best, 1962s Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro (Samson vs. the Vampire Women), which was also featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In this movie, the production values are better, and there is an attempt at creating more of a mythos and background for Santo, saying that he is the last of a long line of fighters against evil. Although the attempts at gothic horror are generally considered less than successful, and the whole movie works better as comedy than horror today, it was an enormous success at the box office, and exported to many countries.