Ismael Rodriguez, legendary film director of Mexico’s Golden Age perhaps best known for the classic boxing picture “Pepe el Toro” (Pepe the Bull), died Aug. 7 of complications related to treatment for lung disease. He was 86.
Mexico City native showed an interest in the still-nascent picture business from an early age. Prior to adolescence, he went with his family to live in Los Angeles, and upon return to Mexico, landed his first role, as an extra in the 1931 picture “Santa,” the country’s first talking picture.
From that point on, he worked his way up as a stagehand and bit-part actor. In 1942, not yet 25, he was granted the director’s chair, helming “Que lindo es Michoacan” (Beautiful Michoacan), which he also wrote.
Soon after, he and his two brothers, also directors, founded Producciones Rodriguez Hermanos (Rodriguez Brothers Prods.) and began making their own pictures. The company quickly became one of the most prominent in Mexico, producing 41 features over next decade and a half, 18 of which were directed by Rodriguez himself.
During that time, he worked alongside most of Mexico’s greatest actors and actresses, including Maria Felix, Jorge Negrete and Luis Aguilar.
But his most famous collaborations were with singing matinee idol Pedro Infante, who acted for Rodriguez in 18 films, including “Pepe el Toro,” “Tizoc” and “Nosotros los Pobres” (We the Poor), before the actor’s untimely death in an airplane crash in 1957.
Rodriguez gave him his first leading role, as a 19th Mexican lieutenant in the period romance, “Mexicanos al grito de guerra” (The History of the National Anthem). And it was in Rodriguez’s “Tizoc” that brought Infante the prestigious Silver Bear at the 1957 Berlin film festival. The same film won a Golden Globe the following year.
Rodriguez’s 59 films — romantic comedies, musicals and melodramas, set in Mexico’s dense urban locales and back country desert ranches — were immensely popular throughout Mexico and earned him the reputation as “the people’s director.”
They also earned him an astounding 572 prizes and recognitions, including, in 1992, a lifetime achievement award at Mexico’s equivalent of the Oscars, the Ariels.
He continued directing regularly through the 1970s and came back to direct two films in the 1980s. His final project, prison drama “Reclusorio” (Jail), was shot in 1995 and released in 1997.
His son said that Rodriguez also left behind eight unproduced screenplays.
He is survived by his wife, Maria Teresa Vega, and five children.