Birthday: February 15, 1907
Died At Age: 86
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Cesar Julio Romero Jr., Butch, The Latin from Manhattan
Born in: New York City, New York
Famous as: Actor
Height: 6'3" (190 cm), 6'3" Males
father: Cesar Julio Romero
mother: María Mantilla
Died on: January 1, 1994
place of death: Providence Saint John's Health Center Emergency Room, Santa Monica, California
U.S. State: New Yorkers
education: Collegiate School
Cesar Romero was a popular American actor, singer and dancer, known for playing the role of ‘Joker’ in the 1960’s TV show ‘Batman’. He was born in the USA at the dawn of the 20th century to Cuban emigrant parents. He gave up his education and became a ballroom-dancer at the age of 20 after his father lost his fortune. But when a freak accident put an end to his dancing career, Romero started playing side roles in Broadway productions. At the age of 33, he debuted in films, appearing in roles that highlighted his Latino look and created his image as a Latin lover. Although initially the characterization helped him get work, it also limited his scope as an actor, and he was hardly ever cast in lead roles in spite of his versatile talent. His portrayal of the Joker in the 1966 television series ‘Batman’ was included in TV Guide's 2013 list of ‘The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time’. He remained active professionally until his death at the age of 86 in January 1994.
Childhood & Early Life
Cesar Julio Romero was born on February 15, 1907 in New York City to Cuban immigrant parents. His father Cesar Julio Romero Sr. was a prosperous merchant, dealing in sugar and sugar refining machinery. Born either in Spain or Italy, he had moved to the USA in 1888 from Cuba.
His mother Maria Mantilla, believed to be the biological daughter of Cuban patriot José Martí, was a moderately successful concert singer. Apart from Cesar Romero Jr., the couple had three other children; a son named Eduardo Salvador Romero and two daughters, Graciela Romero and María Teresa.
Cesar Romero grew up in a privileged household in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, mixing with Manhattan’s elite society. He began his education at Bradley Beach Elementary School. Later, he moved to Asbury Park High School and from there to Collegiate School, New York.
In 1926, he graduated from Collegiate School and joined Riverdale Country School, a college-preparatory day school in New York City. It was at Riverdale that he was first introduced to acting, performing four roles in the stage production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’.
He was not a very good student and was often seen at the debutante party circuit, where he would hang out with New York's elite. But very shortly, his father lost a large part of his fortune due the sugar market collapse, and with that Romero’s life underwent a drastic change.
As his father’s business collapsed, he was forced to take up jobs, first at a departmental store in New Jersey and then at National City Bank on Wall Street. However, he soon realized that he was not meant for such jobs and instead started exploring opportunities in the show business.
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Although Cesar Romero did not have any formal training in dancing, he was an excellent dancer. This, coupled with his suave look, attracted the attention of Elizabeth Higgins, heiress to the Higgins Ink fortune, who was looking for a dance partner.
In 1927, Romero and Higgins formed a professional dance partnership and began performing at New York's exclusive dinner clubs, such as the Club Richman, the Montmartre Café, the St. Regis Roof, and the Ambassador. Concurrently, they started hobnobbing with theatre people, eventually joining the cast of ‘Lady Do’ as dancers.
Romero and Higgins continued their partnership until 1929, performing at clubs and Broadway shows. Thereafter, Romero got a new partner, Nita Vernille. But in the same year, he sustained an injury while lifting up Vernille on to his shoulder during a tango, which effectively ended his dancing career.
In 1929, Romero turned his attention to acting on stage. He secured a side role in ‘The Street Singer’, which opened in September 1929, running for 191 performances. His work caught the attention of producer Brock Pemberton, who cast him as a temporary replacement in the play ‘Strictly Dishonorable’.
In 1931, Romero appeared in ‘Strictly Dishonorable’ for a road company in Mount Vernon. He returned to Pemberton's production in the same year. In 1932, he appeared in two Broadway productions; ‘Social Register’ and as the chauffeur in hugely successful ‘Dinner at Eight’.
In 1933, Cesar Romero made his big screen debut as Tony Rico in the pre-code mystery film ‘The Shadow Laugh’. In the same year, he cracked a screen test for MGM, subsequently playing the role of Chris Jorgenson in the 1934 hit film ‘The Thin Man’.
In 1934, Romero was sent on loan to Universal Studios, where he was cast as Tito Del Van in ‘British Agent’. After the film’s release in the same year, Universal Studios signed a contract with him for three years.
Continuing to work for the Universal Studios, he appeared as Tom Palmer in ‘Cheating Cheaters’ and as Boris in ‘Strange Wives’, both released in 1934. From September 1934, he started filming for the movie ‘The Good Fairy’, playing a sexy gigolo.
Apart from ‘The Good Fairy’, he also worked in two other movies that year, one of them being a United Artists film, ‘Clive of India’, in which he appeared as Mir Jaffar. ‘Clive of India’ was released on January 25, 1935, while ‘The Good Fairy’ was released on January 31, 1935.
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‘The Good Fairy’ was followed by ‘Cardinal Richelieu’, a 20th Century production, released on April 28, 1935. In the same year, he got his first lead role, appearing as Antonio Galvan in ‘The Devil Is a Woman’.
Although Romero was thrilled to get the lead role, ‘The Devil Is a Woman’ had to be withdrawn soon after its release because of a protest by the Spanish government. Therefore, he was not able to benefit much from it.
Continuing to appear in side roles, he had five more films released in 1935. He played gigolo Georgie in ‘Hold 'Em Yale’, Jerry Richardson in ‘Diamond Jim’, Niki Baroni in ‘Metropolitan’, Nieterstein in ‘Rendezvous’ and Tobey in ‘Show Them No Mercy!’
In 1936, he had three films released with Universal Studios; ‘Love Before Breakfast’, ‘Nobody's Fool’ and ‘Public Enemy's Wife’. Thereafter, he had a disagreement over pay raise with the studio and left.
At 20th Century Fox
In 1937, Cesar Romero joined 20th Century Fox and appeared in the lead role of Khoda Khan in ‘Wee Willie Winkie’. Thereafter, he starred mostly in important side roles. He received recognition for his powerful characterization of Ram Dass in ‘The Little Princess’ (1939).
In 1939, Romero appeared as the Cisco Kid in ‘The Cisco Kid and the Lady’. Later, he essayed the same role in five more films, ‘The Gay Caballero’, ‘Lucky Cisco Kid’, ‘Viva Cisco Kid’, ‘Ride on Vaquero’ and ‘Romance of the Rio Grande’, released between 1940 and 1941.
Apart from the Cisco series, he also appeared in ‘Tall, Dark and Handsome’, ‘The Great American Broadcast’ and ‘Dance Hall’ in 1941. Equally at home in musicals, Romero triumphed as Monte Blanca in ‘Week-End in Havana’ (1941) and as Victor Prince in ‘Springtime in the Rockies’ (1942).
In 1942, as the United States joined the Second World War, Romero volunteered for the war service, joining the US Coast Guard as an apprentice seaman, eventually becoming Chief Boatswain's Mate. As a regular crew, he saw action during the invasions of Tinian and Saipan.
In 1946, when he returned from the war, he was sent to South America on a promotional tour by 20th Century Fox. Accompanied by his close friend Tyrone Power on the tour, Romero was warmly welcomed by the President of Argentina, Juan Peron.
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On his return from the South America in October 1946, Romero once again began acting in movies. He appeared as Pepe Castro in a musical called ‘Carnival in Costa Rica’. Later in the same year, he played the Spanish explorer and conqueror Hernán Cortez in ‘Captain from Castle’.
In 1950, Cesar Romero ended his 15 years long relationship with 20th Century Fox to become a freelance actor. In the same year, he made his television debut, appearing as himself in one episode of ‘The Ed Wynn Show’.
His major break in television came in 1954 when he was asked to star in ‘Passport to Danger’. He appeared in 31 episodes of the show as Steve McQuinn. Concurrently, he also began doing guest roles in several comedy/variety shows.
In the 1950s, aside from working for the small screen, Romero also appeared in numerous films. Most notable of them were ‘The Lost Continent’ (1951), ‘Vera Cruz’ (1954), ‘The Racers’ (1955), ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ (1956), and ‘The Story of Mankind’ (1957).
In 1960, he played a small but significant role in ‘Ocean’s 11’. Two years later, he finally received recognition for his talent, receiving the Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Robert Swan/Adam Wright in the romantic comedy film, ‘If a Man Answers’.
Romero became a pop icon in 1966 when he started appearing as Joker in the popular television series ‘Batman’. He also played the same role in the 20th Century Fox film of the same name. ‘The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes’ (1969) is another important work of his during this decade.
In 1974, he was a guest star in the American sitcom, ’Chico and the Man’, appearing in the recurring role of Chico’s absentee father. Among his more notable films of this decade were ‘Now You See Him, Now You Don't’ (1972) and ‘The Strongest Man in the World’ (1975).
Romero continued to work in the 1980s, appearing in a Western Comedy film, ‘Lust in the Dust’ (1985) as Father Gracia. However, it was his role as the patriarchal Peter Stavros in 51 episodes of the television series ‘Falcon Crest’ (1985 – 1988), which made him popular among a whole new generation of viewers.
He continued to work into his 80s, appearing in two episodes of ‘Golden Girl’ (1990) and one episode of ‘Murder, She Wrote’ (1992). Two of his works, a documentary titled ‘Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business’ and a feature film called ‘The Right Way’, were released after his death.
Cesar Romero is best remembered for his role in the 1947 historical adventure film ‘Captain from Castle’. While the role of the protagonist Pedro de Vargas went to Tyrone Power, Romero, who appeared as the ruthless Spanish explorer and conqueror, Hernán Cortez, made the greatest impact.
Romero was equally popular for his depiction of Joker, a white-skinned, red-lipped and green-haired clown, in the 1966 television series ‘Batman’. Long after the series concluded, people couldn’t forget his maniacal laugh, and they would often stop him on the road, requesting him to laugh like that, and he always obliged.
Family & Personal Life
Cesar Romero never got married, but had no regrets about it. In an interview in 1984, he explained, "Could I tell a girl, 'Let's get married, and you can come and live with my father, my mother, two sisters, a niece and a nephew'? I have no regrets, no regrets."
Although he remained a ‘confirmed bachelor’, he was seen escorting leading actresses like Joan Crawford, Linda Darnell, Barbara Stanwyck, Lucille Ball, to various Hollywood events. His gracious and unpretentious personality made him a favorite escort. He was rumored to be a closet gay.
He was a philanthropist, contributing secretly to many charities. He was particularly concerned about the homeless and served Thanksgiving dinner at Los Angeles Mission.
In late 1993, Romero was inflicted with bronchitis and pneumonia. Complications developed while he was undergoing treatment at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California and died from blood clot on January 1, 1994. After cremation, his ashes were interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery, California.
He was one of the 500 stars nominated by American Film Institute for its list of 100 greatest American screen legends of the 20th century.
For his role in ‘Batman’, Cesar Romero was asked to shave off his signature mustache, which he refused to do. Therefore, white clown paint was dabbed on his upper lip to camouflage his mustache. However, one could still clearly see its traces in some of the shots.