Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, the irrepressible character actor and comedic entertainer who appeared in dozens of movies, including “The High and the Mighty” and “Rio Bravo,” has died. He was 80.
Gonzalez Gonzalez died of natural causes Feb. 6 at his home in Culver City, said his grandson, actor Clifton Collins Jr.
Gonzalez Gonzalez, a Texas native, first came to national public attention in 1953 when he appeared as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s TV quiz show “You Bet Your Life.”
The diminutive young man proved to be irresistible comic fodder for the quick-witted Marx.
“Pedro, we could do a great act together,” Marx said after Gonzalez Gonzalez sang a bit of “El Rancho Grande,” did a wildly funny dance demonstration and out-mugged the great comedian.
“What would we call our act if we went out together, the Two Tamales?” Marx asked.
“No,” a deadpan Gonzalez Gonzalez replied, “it would be Gonzalez Gonzalez and Marx.”
“That’s nice billing,” Marx said to the laughing audience. “Two people in the act, and I get third place!”
John Wayne happened to see Gonzalez Gonzalez’s show-stealing appearance and signed him to a seven-year contract with his production company.
From then on, he appeared in numerous Wayne films, including “The High and the Mighty,” “Rio Bravo,” “McLintock!,” “Hellfighters” and “Chisum.” He became one of the era’s few recognizable Mexican Americans on the big screen and television.
Over the years, he appeared in a string of movies, including “Strange Lady in Town,” “The Sheepman,” “Support Your Local Gunfighter” and “The Love Bug.” He was a guest star on such TV series as “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” “Gunsmoke,” “The DuPont Show With June Allyson” and “Burke’s Law.”
Gonzalez Gonzalez was no stranger to show business when he battled wits with Groucho Marx.
One of nine children, he was born Ramiro Gonzalez Gonzalez in Aguilares, Texas, on May 24, 1925, to a Spanish dancer from Mexico and a Mexican American trumpet player from Texas.
Following Mexican tradition, he was given not only his father’s last name but also his mother’s maiden name. It just happened that they were the same. Friends later nicknamed him Pedro.
At 7, his parents pulled him out of school to join the family in entertaining migrant workers and residents of small Southwestern U.S. towns.
He later became the family’s break-out comedic performer. He sang, danced and played frying pans and water-filled bottles ? resembling a xylophone. He used mallets to play hubcaps ? from a pickup truck ? that were sewn into hidden pockets in his pants legs.
“It was more fun to watch him tune up than anything else,” said Rex Allen Jr., son of the famous singing cowboy, who played county and state fair dates in Nebraska and Iowa with Gonzalez Gonzalez in the 1980s.
“He wasn’t the greatest singer in the world, but he was such a character everybody loved him,” Allen said. “He was a tremendous entertainer.”
Gonzalez Gonzalez was a driver in the Army during World War II, stationed in the United States. He had started out performing comedy in Spanish but had greater success after he learned English.
“I never learned to speak English too good, but the audience liked it like that,” he told the Arizona Range News in 1998.