Mauricio Garcés

The image of Mauricio Garcés most people remember is of an immaculately dressed man, hair silvered at the temples, wearing a smoking jacket and puffing on a cigarette while plotting yet another seduction. For a rather brief, frantic period at the end of the Sixties, Garcés exploited this image in more than 20 films with titles like Mujeres, mujeres, mujeres ("Women, Women, Women") and Don Juan 67, and became one of the most popular performers in Mexico. However, success did not come overnight to Mauricio Garcés, and--after his brief period of overwhelming screen popularity had passed--he made only 3 films in the last 18 years of his life.

Mauricio Férez (sometimes spelled "Feres" or "Pérez") Yazbek was born in Tampico on 16 December 1926. He made his film debut in 1950, with a small role in La Muerte Enamorada ("Death in Love"), produced by his uncle José Yazbek, Antonio Matouk, and several other wealthy members of Mexico's Lebanese community. He was billed as "Mauricio Morel" in this picture, but several months later, as "Mauricio Garcés," he played the second lead in El señor gobernador ("Mr. Governor"), again produced by Yazbek and Matouk. During his career Garcés would often refer to his Middle Eastern ancestry, and shared the screen several times with another famous Mexican-Lebanese actor, Antonio Badú.

After supporting roles in 2 further films in 1951 (his first four movies were all directed by Ernesto Cortázar), Garcés did not make another picture until 1956, working primarily in television and on the stage. In 1958, for example, he had a role in the immensely popular telenovela "Gutierritos," and in 1959 was the suave romantic host of "Cita con Mauricio Garcés" ("A Date with Mauricio Garcés"), a daytime show aimed at a female audience (when Garcés left in 1960, Venezuelan actor Aldo Monti took over and the show became "Cita con Aldo Monti"). Garcés continued to act in plays and on TV for many years; his later television work included "Piso de Soltero," "El Programa de Mauricio," and his last series (in the '80s), the situation comedy "Salón de Belleza" (Beauty Salon).

In 1958 Mauricio Garcés made 4 films, including an appearance in the prestigious La estrella vacía ("The Empty Star"), starring María Félix. And while it is somewhat surprising to see Mauricio Garcés in a Western--given his later, urbane image--he made 4 such films in 1959, and several more in 1960. During these years he also had roles in several horror movies--including La cabeza viviente ("The Living Head") and El mundo de los vampiros ("World of the Vampires")--and a fair number of comedies. Although Garcés started receiving leading roles around 1961, he was not yet considered a major star or a box-office draw.

In 1960, the actor was accused of driving while intoxicated and subsequently striking a pedestrian, who was badly injured. Despite the potential for scandal, Garcés' career was not seriously hampered by the accident. Throughout his life, Mauricio Garcés managed to juggle two separate personalities: in public, he was a bon vivant, frequently seen at public functions with beautiful starlets, and a well-known aficionado of horse racing. At the same time, he was devoted to his mother and friends, and jealously guarded his privacy.

Don Juan 67 (1966) was the turning point in the career of Mauricio Garcés. The popular film (it played 6 weeks in its premiere engagement in Mexico City) set the pattern for many of Garcés' later films: he was cast as a rather vain and self-confident (but at times childish, and not quite as intelligent as he considers himself to be) playboy, who dedicates his life to the amorous conquest of women, so long as they never mention the word "marriage." From this point onward, with few exceptions, this was the Garcés screen persona (one of the rare dramas Garcés made after this date was La otra mujer ("The Other Woman"), featuring telenovela star Saby Kamalich, but even here Garcés' character was patterned after his familiar "playboy"). The actor was so closely linked with his screen roles that his screen characters were often named "Mauricio"--in fact, in Tápame Contigo ("Cover Up with Me"), he plays "Mauricio Garcés," a well-known romantic film actor whose real name is "Mauricio Pérez Yazbeck"! His image became so well-known that René Cardona Jr., who directed a number of Garcés' most successful comedies, included Mauricio Garcés in-jokes (with other actors made up to resemble him) in both La tigresa ("The Tigress") and La disputa ("The Dispute") (1972).

At the age of 40, Garcés suddenly found himself receiving top billing and star treatment in a series of comedies where his lecherous smirk and suave image were utilized to good effect. Ironically, despite his screen image as a Lothario, Garcés in real life never married. "I have never found the woman of my dreams," he once remarked. "Although you might not believe it, there have been very few women in my life who have left their mark on me." The list of women who were paired with Garcés in his films constitutes a "Who's Who" of sexy Mexican film actresses of the period: Silvia Pinal, Zulma Faiad, Isela Vega, Christa Linder, Amadee Chabot, Fanny Cano, and many more.

After starring in 22 films between 1967 and 1971--including co-productions with Spain and Argentina, the other major Spanish-language film-making nations--Garcés made few films over the last two decades of his life, concentrating on television and stage work. For the most part, this virtual absence from the big screen seems to have been self-imposed, although it is true the popularity of his pictures had been waning (perhaps his most successful was 1969's Modisto de señoras--"Ladies' Designer"--which had a seven-week run in the capital). The actor was particularly opposed to films he considered to be in bad taste, as he commented in an interview: "Our films [today] are [full of] nudity, cabarets, vulgar scenes...There is a true lack of respect in the cinema for our public..." Towards the end of his life, Garcés continued to make public appearances--even working as an announcer for entertainment between cockfights at the Texcoco palenque (cockfight arena)--but he resolutely avoided making appearances in the literally hundreds of sex comedies produced in the 1980s.

El Sátiro ("The Satyr," 1980), his last starring role, could be considered a satire of Garcés' earlier image: he plays an aging, jaded don Juan who must resort to various bizarre costumes and paraphernalia in order to rekindle his ardor and maintain his reputation. The film was written and directed by Raúl Zenteno, a prolific comedy writer who worked on several of Garcés' earlier films, including the "El Imponente" sequence of Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres. The last film appearance for Mauricio Garcés came in 1985: Mi fantasma y Yo ("My Ghost and I") featured cameo appearances by Andrés García, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, Julio Alemán, Héctor Suárez, Chabelo, and other well-known performers. In the opening scene, Garcés--as usual, dressed elegantly, puffing on a cigarette, and accompanied by two attractive young women--plays a "landlord ghost," who warns an inept "tenant" ghost (Arturo Martínez) to deliver his monthly quota of "scares" or face the consequences. It was an amusing farewell to the cinema for the "Silver Fox."

After the death of his mother, Garcés' health began to fail. He underwent at least one operation, returned to work, but not long afterwards died of emphysema at his brother's home in Mexico City, on 27 February 1989. Even though his greatest successes lay 20 years in the past, Garcés was still known fondly as the epitome of the suave playboy, and his friends, co-workers, and fans mourned his passing.

David Wilt ( 9 October 1998; updated 12 May 99.