Gilbert Roland, starred as Cisco Kid, 88

May 17, 1994|By David Avila | David Avila,Los Angeles Times

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Gilbert Roland, the lithe, muscular star whose career spanned seven decades from silents to television and included 11 films as the legendary Cisco Kid, has died. He was 88.

Mr. Roland died Sunday of cancer at his Beverly Hills home, longtime friend Scott Harrison said yesterday.

Assuming the dashing Cisco role from Duncan Renaldo after World War II, Mr. Roland starred in half of the 23 sound features about the colorful Mexican Robin Hood.

(The durable Cisco Kid character, taken from a 1904 O. Henry short story "The Caballero's Way," was also played through silents, talkies, radio and television by Warner Baxter, Cesar Romero, Mr. Renaldo and Jimmy Smits.)

Known for his affability, Mr. Roland was never agreeable about racial prejudice.

"My Cisco Kid might have been a bandit, but he fought for the poor and was a civilized man in the true sense of the word," he said.

Once adding a scene showing Cisco reading Shakespeare, Mr. Roland told the Los Angeles Times: "I wanted to be sure the Mexicano was not portrayed as an unwashed, uneducated, savage clown."

He made more than 100 films in roles ranging from saloon characters to romantic leads to Cisco.

He won his greatest critical praise for his role as a matador in the talkie "The Bullfighter and the Lady" in 1951.

Born Luis Antonio Damaso de Alonso in Chihuahua, Mexico, Mr. Roland was the second of six children.

Until 1925, the best he could do was the second lead in "The Plastic Age."

He was ready to give it all up and travel to Spain to try bullfighting when Joseph M. Schenck of United Artists cast him in the lead role of Armand Duval, opposite Mr. Schenck's wife, Norma Talmadge, in "Camille."

He began sound films with "New York Nights" in 1929, "Woman In Room 13" in 1932 and "She Done Him Wrong" in 1933.

Mr. Roland soon found himself cast in the role of the --ing buccaneer, a role which he said was comfortable. He performed in "Thunder Trail" in 1937, and "Gambling On The High Seas" and "The Sea Hawk" in 1940.

In 1941, he married film star Constance Bennett. Soon after, he enlisted in the Air Force where he served in an intelligence unit during World War II.

After the war, he became the Cisco Kid of B movies. He and Miss Bennett divorced about that time.

Director John Huston approached him in 1949 to do "When We Were Strangers." After that, offers came more frequently. He starred in "The Furies," followed by "Malaya" and "The Torch," all in 1950.

He worked often in the next 30 years portraying peasants, ranchers, bandits, adventurers and circus performers. He also married for the second time, in 1951, to Guillermina Cantu of Mexico City.

His last movie appearance was in "Barbarosa" in 1982.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Lorinda and Gyl.

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