Fanny Cano

Although Fanny Cano had not appeared in a film for five years, her sudden death in December 1983 made headlines in Mexico, a testimony to the impact the beautiful blonde actress had in her relatively brief film and TV career. The 1960s were a period of transition in Mexican cinema, the last gasp of the "studio" system--such as it was--giving way to the mixture of independent cinema and cheaply-produced mass entertainment films that would characterize the 1970s and 1980s (before the industry itself collapsed in the 1990s).

Few new, lasting stars emerged in the decade: in 1965, for instance, one sees the majority of leading roles being essayed by performers who gained fame in the 1930s and 1940s (Cantinflas, María Félix, Marga López, Arturo de Córdova, Luis Aguilar, Resortes, Elsa Aguirre, Emilio Fernández, María Antonieta Pons, Tin Tan), and the 1950s (Fernando Casanova, Antonio Aguilar, Viruta and Capulina, Maricruz Olivier, Joaquín Cordero). Among the "stars" of the 1960s (even though in some cases their careers began earlier) active this year were Javier Solís, Manuel López Ochoa, Julio Alemán, Rodolfo de Anda, Enrique Guzmán and Alberto Vázquez (it could be noted that only de Anda and Alemán maintained significant film careers well into the 1970s and beyond, although the others--except Solís, who died before the decade was out--did stay active in TV and other venues). But leading actresses? Julissa, Sonia Infante, Lucha Villa, and Rosa María Vázquez were the four "new" actresses who earned the most credits in 1965: Julissa, although she would soon prove to be a capable actress, was still considered a "youth" figure, as was Rosa María Vázquez; Lucha Villa and Sonia Infante were generally typed in "folkloric" films (rancheras, rural dramas, and to some extent, Westerns). The time was ripe for a new star.

Fanny Cano Damián, for a brief time, seemed to be the chosen one. She was born in 1944 (some sources list 1945 and even 1948) in the town of Huetamo, Michoacán--also the birthplace of Lilia Prado--one of six children (5 girls and a boy) born to Francisco Cano and Aurelia Damián de Cano. Fanny came to Mexico City and enrolled in the national university (UNAM), studying psychology. While she was still a student, a journalist got Fanny a small role as a friend of Angélica María in the film El cielo y la tierra, shot in July 1962. As the story goes, when Fanny saw herself on the screen later that year, she was so upset by her appearance (in the film she is a brunette!) and her performance that she swore never to make another film. However, she soon changed her mind. In February 1963, a photo of Fanny Cano appeared on the entertainment page of Excelsior, where she was identified as the secretary of "Acción Femenil de la Federación Estudiantil Universitaria," visiting the offices of the newspaper to promote the activities of the group. This type of exposure was a typical publicity ploy of aspiring starlets, and Fanny soon saw her career get underway in earnest, beginning with a substantial role in the Cantinflas vehicle Entrega inmediata, shot that May. In all, she made five films in 1963, and three the following year. Buenas noches, año nuevo was a romance with music, pairing Silvia Pinal with Ricardo Montalbán, back in Mexican cinema for a brief sojourn, after years of work in Hollywood-- Fanny was given a substantial supporting role but, as with most of her early parts, was required to do little but look decorative.

Indeed, it was the rare Fanny Cano film that did not showcase her figure in lingerie, skimpy costumes, or bathing suits. Her blonde hair added to her "sexy"image, and her face had a distinctive cast, with its high cheekbones and (due to a slight overbite), a large and expressive mouth.

Gradually, Fanny's roles became more important and somewhat more demanding. In Los perversos, she plays a young woman who forms a crush on a priest (Arturo de Córdova), then accuses him of raping her. At the film's end, she is taken away to a mental hospital!

By the middle of the decade, Fanny Cano's career was progressing significantly. In 1966 she traveled to Spain to appear with José Luis López Vázquez in the comedy Operación secretaria. She starred in several very popular telenovelas--Yesenia, Rubí, and Muñeca (ironically, she did not appear in the film versions of either of the first two telenovelas, her roles going to Jacqueline Andere and Irán Eory, respectively)--as well as other TV shows and on the stage (like many notable Mexican performers from the 1940s through the 1960s, she had been trained for the stage by the famous Seki Sano). In 1967 Fanny made 6 films, but in 1968 only one, the multi-story Tres noches de locura.

1969 was the high-water mark in Fanny's film career. She starred in 4 films, all melodramas in which she was the primary female character: Una mujer honesta (which she co-produced, with Julissa and journalist Jaime Valdés, who had been responsible for Fanny's debut in El cielo y la tierra), La amante perfecta, Las cadenas del mal, and Flor de durazno.

At this point, despite the fact that she was at the peak of her popularity, Fanny Cano began to gradually cut back on her film work. She made only one picture in 1970--Los jóvenes amantes aka Adoro, shot in Spain by Benito Alazraki--and one in 1971, Las cautivas, based on a Carlos Fuentes' story, with Jorge Rivero and her friend Julissa.

After this, Fanny was off screen for four years, but she remained in the public eye. In 1972, for example, she purchased a collection of jewelry that had belonged to Esperanza Iris, a famous stage performer of the early 20th century, including a necklace worth a million pesos. She traveled around Europe and was seen in the company of the "jet set," as well as with Hollywood and European film stars.

Zona roja marked Fanny's return to the screen, under the direction of Emilio Fernández. She was top-billed, playing one of a group of prostitutes living in a tropical port city, and was one of the few female performers in the film who did not have a nude scene (at the time of her death, newspapers reported that Fanny Cano had never appeared nude on screen, but she apparently was partially nude in Las cautivas--very briefly, according to García Riera--and possibly in La leyenda del Rodrigo as well). The film was not well-received critically.

Fanny Cano appeared in two period films in 1977--La güera Rodríguez and La leyenda de Rodrigo--and was top-billed for what was essentially a guest role in Abel Salazar's rural-Mexico remake of "Romeo and Juliet," Una leyenda de amor, in 1978. Her final screen appearance was a cameo, along with a number of other film performers, in the drama Adriana del Río, actriz that same year.

With this film, Fanny largely retired from public life. She had married a man who coincidentally shared her last name, Sergio Luis Cano, a former undersecretary in Mexico's Ministry of Commerce. She began to spend time exploring spiritual and metaphysical topics, traveling to India nine times to study philosophy. She was a vegetarian, and practiced meditation. At the same time, Fanny kept in touch with her friends and her family, and in the first week of December 1983 she arranged her travel schedule so that she could fly from Mexico to Madrid with her husband--at the time director of FOMIN, the Fund for Industrial Development--and then meet her sister and niece in Rome, before flying on to her beloved India once more.

On the morning of 7 December 1983, Fanny boarded an Iberia Airlines' Boeing 727 for the flight to Rome. It was a foggy day in Madrid, and as the jet taxied down the runway of Barajas Airport, gradually gathering speed for takeoff, it collided with an Aviaco DC-9. The two planes exploded and burst into flames. Nearly 150 passengers and crew were trapped in the two wrecked aircraft, and only 40 were rescued. The rest perished as a result of the impact and the ensuing conflagration. Among the dead was Fanny Cano.

Despite her prolonged absence from films, Fanny Cano's death was deeply felt in the industry. Her body was flown back to Mexico and buried in the ANDA (actors' union) section of the Cementario Jardín, and her life and career were remembered by the press, which had helped make her a larger-than-life personality.

Fanny Cano Filmography.

This article originally appeared in The Mexican Film Bulletin, Volume 4 Number 1 (August 1997).

Posted 30 November 1999 by, photos added 10 Dec 99.

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