'Sabado Gigante' at 50

Born in Chile to German-Jewish refugees, Mario Kreutzberger studied clothing design in New York — and it was there that he discovered the wonders of television.

In the end, the siren call of the latter won over but for 30 years, his stage persona Don Francisco hosted “Sabado Gigante” in a new bespoke suit every week, and he has an equally impressive shoe collection.

“I finally started wearing a new suit three, four times,” he says, “as I just didn’t have the time to go to the tailor that often.”

Those who have watched “Sabado” for any of the past 50 years might have trouble reconciling their image of Francisco with Kreutzberger’s offscreen persona.

“The lively, outgoing Don Francisco that viewers have come to know has very little in common with Mario Kreutzberger, who is rather introverted, extremely serious in his work off camera, and constantly concerned with keeping the show at the highest level,” says “Sabado Gigante” executive producer Cuco Arias. “No one can even begin to imagine the number of hours that Mario’s creative side devotes to Don Francisco.”

Now 71 years old, Kreutzberger hopes to keep going for as long as possible, although he’s slowed down his pace a bit. He no longer travels as much as he used to for the program’s travel segment, through which he has visited 172 countries.

Although Kreutzberger has interviewed presidents as well as presidential candidates for the past 12 years, his favorite interviewees are the children he chats with in another segment.

“He’s an inspiration to the Latino community,” says multihyphenate comic Rick Najera. “Part circus ringleader and part business mogul: He has the respect of his peers and the love of his audience.”

“He’s the only host who could make me sing along to a soap jingle,” Najera adds, referring to Don Francisco’s penchant for getting his audience to sing jingles he composes about various show sponsors.

In his autobio-graphy “Life, Camera, Action!” Kreutzberger imagines he’s turned 100 and is asked what hasn’t changed in all these years. “It’s the audience and the applause. Both have remained the purest form of satisfaction for any performer. I still feel that way.”

‘Sabado Gigante’ at 50
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