Dedication to the Mask

Dedication to the Mask

Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta is arguably one of
the most famous men in the history of Mexico and yet, rather paradoxically, there are few
people who know his name and even fewer who know his face. This is because for almost five decades Huerta
was known to the public only as a silver faced luchadore called El Santo. And in that time, he only once removed his
mask while in public. The story of El Santo, which for the non Spanish
speakers literally translates to “The Saint”, begins in the Mexican city of Tulancingo where
Huerta was born in 1917. The fifth of seven children, Huerta had a
modest, structured upbringing during which little of note happened, or at least not enough
for it to be mentioned in any of the books about his life we consulted. It’s noted that Huerta first became interested
in Lucha Libre when the sport was just making its first steps to become legitimised in the
early 1930s after moving to Mexico city. Upon seeing the high flying theatrics and
athleticism of the various wrestlers who worked throughout the city, Huerta vowed to become
a wrestler himself and immediately set about training in a local gym. Though Huerta led a storied, well-chronicled
career, exactly when he first made his professional début is a matter of some contention. However, it’s largely agreed that he probably
made his career début shortly before his 17th birthday in 1934 under his own name. Over the next few years Huerta fought under
several aliases and masks, variously referring to himself as The Red Man (El Hombre Rojo),
The Black Demon (El Demonio Negro) and perhaps most infamously The Bat 2 (El Murcielago II). You see, wrestlers in Mexico tend to take
their identities very seriously and the name El Murcielago already belonged to another
wrestler who objected to Huerta referring to himself as El Murcielago II; not wanting
to offend another Luchadore, Huerta respectfully dropped the persona. Interestingly, although Huerta would later
become an almost mythical figure in Mexican history for being a quintessential hero character,
he initially wrestled as a “rudo” a term that is roughly synonymous with the western wrestling
term “heel”- this basically means he played a bad guy who fought dirty and played up to
the crowd’s jeers and boos. However, this all changed in 1942 when Huerta
took up the mantle of El Santo and began wearing his now iconic silver mask, the design of
which was partially inspired by the eponymous Man in the Iron Mask from the Alexandre Dumas
novel of the same name. (See our video Who was the Real Man in the
Iron Mask?) El Santo made his wrestling debut on July
26, 1942, winning an eight man battle royale using a series of high-flying, acrobatic flips
and throws that would become a cornerstone of his fighting style. Throughout the 1940s, El Santo fame’s steadily
grew and he quickly adapted a persona as an honest, working-man’s hero who fought against
corruption and evil, which inevitably endeared him to the Mexican populace. El Santo’s fame was only bolstered by the
increasing availability of televisions throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this period, El Santo claimed a number
of famous victories over older, established wrestlers including El Murcielago, the same
wrestler he’d once tried to emulate in his initial foray into the sport. El Santo’s fame reached stratospheric levels
when Mexican artist Jose G. Cruz began using his likeness in a comic bearing his name which
discussed his various heroic exploits like punching vampires and felling werewolves with
explosive hurricanranas. Despite the relatively low quality of the
early comics, they proved to be quite popular, running for 35 years straight. After greedily eying the sales numbers for
the comics, movie producers soon began approaching El Santo with offers for him to appear in
films. The first of many offers came just months
after the first El Santo comic was published in 1952, when the wrestler was offered the
leading role in a movie called, El Enmascarado de Plata (The Silver Masked Man), an endearing
nickname the public had taken to calling El Santo. El Santo reputedly didn’t believe the film
could be a success and declined the part, mainly to focus on his wrestling career. As El Santo predicted, the film wasn’t that
popular. However, it did help establish the rather
surreal Luchadore genre- a genre almost entirely endemic to Mexico that melded together elements
of horror, sci-fi, action and comedy, and also happened to star rippling Mexican men
wearing luchadore masks. El Santo was eventually persuaded to star
in one of these movies in 1958 after witnessing the success of his comic; over the course
of the next 20 years, he became the most iconic and prolific star of the entire genre, appearing
in over 50 films in which he used his wrestling skills to defeat everything from aliens to
the Nazis. These movies catapulted El Santo to an even
more unprecedented level of fame for a luchadore and their popularity saw him become household
name in his native Mexico, even amongst those who had no interest or knowledge of wrestling. While his many multimedia appearances undoubtedly
played a part in his fame, almost since his debut, El Santo had always maintained a certain
mystique around himself by never removing his mask in public. His dedication to maintaining the mystery
around his identity was such that he even had a chinless mask made so that he could
eat without taking the mask off on set during meals; he also had his own voice dubbed over
in any movies where he spoke so that even his voice was disguised. In the film El Hacha Diabolica, which called
for El Santo to remove his mask and show his face to the film’s love interest, he agreed
on the condition that his character do so while facing away from the camera. Even then, he still got a stand-in to actually
perform the scene because he didn’t want the actress to see what he looked like. In all of his other films, Santo similarly
demanded that his character never appear unmasked, regardless of how much sense it made or what
his character’s role was. Perhaps the most humorous example of this
was in the 1958 film, Santo contra Hombres Infernales, in which Santo played an ordinary
police sergeant who inexplicably wore a luchadore mask in every single scene. Santo’s dedication to maintaining his identity
extended beyond his films and into his private life. For example, when El Santo took Jose Cruz
to court for trying to replace him in his own comic, knowing that he couldn’t appear
in court wearing his mask, he instead opted to cover his face in bandages and don a large
pair of sunglasses before explaining to the judge that he’d been in a “wrestling accident”. (El Santo won the case, if you’re wondering.) Stories like these led to rumors that even
El Santo’s passport contained a photo of him wearing his mask. While not true, in reality Santo did have
a standing agreement with US customs to only remove his mask in a private room so that
only the customs agent would see his face. The only known time El Santo ever broke his
vow of secrecy happened about a year after his retirement from the world of wrestling. In January of 1984, during a scheduled appearance
on a popular Mexican talk show called, Contrapunto. 10 minutes into the show, El Santo partially
removed his mask without any prior warning or announcement, exposing his face publicly
for the first time in his entire five decade career. 10 days later, he died of a heart attack. El Santo’s funeral was one of the biggest
in Mexico’s history, with hundreds of friends, (many of whom turned up in masks as a sign
of respect) and many thousands of fans coming to pay their final respects. As a final mark of respect and in compliance
with his Will, El Santo was buried wearing his trademark mask.

100 thoughts on “Dedication to the Mask

  1. Omg, I love this. I grew up watching wrestling and some of El Santos films with my grandmother. My favorite was Santo and Blue Demon Against the Monsters. My grandmother still enjoys watching wrestling in her late 70's.

  2. I once mention the one El Santo mst3k episode to a Mexican immigrant friend and she was like "ohhhh, El Santo!!! Yes, I know [of] him!" lol

  3. El Santo is a true Mexican hero I was happy to learn that he was in Coco even tho he was in the background you know its him!

  4. Here's a quick fact: there is an urban legend that some of the movies that featured El Santo have some alternative versions that showed nudity, the most famous of it is El Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro (El Santo vs the Vampire Women) where the titular came women appear topless.

    Of course just like other similar urban legends this is completely and absolutely


    Those special scenes were filmed to be sold in Europe.

  5. A little criticism, Guzman Huerta, as most Mexicans, follow the hispanic naming convention and when refered by only one last name, is proper to use the first one, Guzman, never Huerta.

  6. I always IMMEDIATELY unsub to any channel that tells me "smash that like button". You sound douchey like the Logan brothers. Simon, Sheldon, I love all your content, every channel, brain food, all of it. So you get one pass. Just one. Don't do it again.

  7. he was a legend and very important, not the best luchador per sei(blue demon was better on the wrestling dept) but he made it important

  8. As far as I know, masks in Lucha Libre and the persona that is associated with the mask, goes back to the ancient Aztec belief that during a ceremony, when a priest or highborn person puts on a mask resembling a god, they will become that god. If I'm wrong on that, correct me please.

  9. Good memories of growing up in México… La Lucha was something unlike other "sports". I would watch, not only with the boys & men, but my grandma, mom, women… it was something for everyone. Even though it was a male dominated event, it was loved by all and all ages. Great times…

  10. 6:45 Hopefully it was from natural causes and not from all of the Vampires Aliens and Arch Nemesis he stomped over the years banding together to take him out.

  11. Want more? Watch the MST3K episode Sampson vs the Vampire Women and the Grouplove music video for their song Tongue Tied.

  12. As a mexican I find it delightful when English speakers try to speak Spanish , sadly, most Americans dont feel the same when they hear a foreign accent. Loving this video, I want my culture to be better known all around the world

  13. I remember his movies, I was not a fan at all but there was no cable growing up in the earliest 80's and no $ for a dish therefore you ended up watching them. At 29 I attended my 1st and only Lucha Libre event in Monterrey. It was awesome!

  14. his last name is guzman huerta, yes we have 2. calling huerta is wrong, his father name is guzman is disrespectful to use the second last name.

  15. If you’re going to a video on one person, you could at least learn how to pronounce his name— or, in this case, his names.

  16. The English accent on Spanish words makes it a little difficult tu understand but nevertheless a very interesting video on the life of one of Mexicos most famous luchadores (Blue Demon following El Santo pretty close).

    There is a culture surrounding the sport and its wrestlers, there is even a song after him (there might be some others).

  17. Coming from a massive wrestling fan, El Santo was basically the Mexican Superman. He surpassed Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan was even a thing. This larger-than-life superhero that everyone adored. El Santo still remains a symbolic figure in Mexican history. He even had his own line of comic books where he fought Batman once! If there was ever a Mount Rushmore of wrestling, in my opinion, El Santo is up there. There will never be anyone else like him.

    P.S. Watch El Santo's movies. They are hilarious!

  18. I sure hope you're paying Karl enough…if the latest Biographics video is any indication, he's your best writer.

  19. Rey Mysterio Jr. was one of my favorite wrestlers when I was a kid. The acrobatics were just excellent. We'd end up hurting ourselves a lot trying to imitate wrestlers as kids, and it was great fun. Never pile drive someone btw…. Lots of good times being thrown off the trampoline and what not.

  20. Since you've covered this, you should also do the story of Fray Tormenta, a priest who donned a mask and wrestled in lucha libre to support his orphanage for over two decades.

    And if this sounds like the plot of Nacho Libre or the back story of King from Tekken, well where do you think they got the idea from?

  21. Thank you Simon and the ‘Today I Found Out’ team! I love learning about new heroes (at my tenderly advanced age of 40-something) and that some of those heroes were here the whole time!

  22. I will guess now that Karl did at least some of the background work on this… BTW Karl screw you for not letting me comment on your page =p

  23. The late Ken Timbs had a match with El Santo in Mexico IIRC. When Timbs asked how Santo wanted to do it, the reponse was "Don't worry, just let the old man take care of everything." Timbs said that El Santo called a hell of a match and came off the top rope onto him as light as a feather. "He was a real gentleman"

  24. Thank you for this. I was enthralled with his movies as a kid. I didn't understand half of what was going on. I was just happy sitting in front of the tv, hanging out with my dad.

  25. The Saint and his white mask got me into luchadors, and im about as far from being mexican as possible. That man knew how to perform.

  26. I first heard about this on fact fiend's channel, i live this story about this el Santo so i watched it again. He's a legend

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