Gonzalo “Chalo” Gonzalez-Rubio died March 20 at Verdugo Hospital in Glendale of complications from a bacterial infection. He was 95.
The close associate of Sam Peckinpah worked as a prop master and graduated to film roles, including in 2006’s Sundance award-winning “Quinceanera.”
Producer Katy Haber, a Peckinpah associate from 1970 to 1977 used a military term to say: “Wherever Sam was, so was Chalo. Chalo had Sam’s 6 as they say.”
David Weddle, author of “If They Move… Kill ‘Em! The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah,” writes: “Chalo Gonzalez played a pivotal role in the making of an American masterpiece, ‘The Wild Bunch.’ He was involved in all aspects of the production and was trusted implicitly by the film’s director, Sam Peckinpah. It was Chalo who advocated that the movie should be shot in Parras, Mexico, near the sites of several pivotal battles of the Mexican Revolution. This was one of the decisive factors in giving the film a startling authenticity.”
Born in Fresno, he and his three brothers were raised in Tepatitlán, Jalisco, Mexico, by their mother and uncles following their father’s death in a horseback-riding accident when Chalo was 6 months old.
To make a living, his mother gave cooking classes, feeding many of Tepatitlán’s dignitaries. Through her associations, Chalo was able to attend the most prestigious schools in Mexico, earning an engineering degree.
More interested in soccer than engineering, Chalo became one of the youngest players at that time to play professional soccer for Club America. Although playing for the farm team, he was called up to play several first division games early in his career.
At 20, Chalo persuaded his mother that since he was a U.S. citizen, it was his duty to move back to the States and enlist to help fight World War II. When she gave her blessing. With just a few pesos in his pocket, Chalo moved to Los Angeles, turned up to enlist, but failed his physical. The diagnosis, an “athletic heart,” meant his heart rate was too low for combat duty.
On his own in Los Angeles, Chalo found work, odd jobs at first, then became a truck driver and opened his own business exporting lumber to Mexico.
On one of these Tijuana runs he had a chance encounter in a cantina with the maverick film director Peckinpah. There began the enduring relationship that changed his life forever, launching Chalo’s career in the film industry.
Garner Simmons, screenwriter and author of “Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage,” says: “Chalo was a man who deflected the craziness of Sam Peckinpah and the insanity of film production with his easy smile and grace under pressure. And without question he was the best dancer I ever watched as he would glide effortlessly across the floor. An irreplaceable part of our lives who lives on in all our memories.”
He was, as his “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” co-star, Isela Vega once described, “a man of a thousand uses.”
Chalo worked in a wide range of positions on Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” (1969),“Junior Bonner” (1971), “The Getaway” (1972), “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973) and “Alfredo Garcia” (1974), in which the director also offered an acting role.
Paul Seydor, film editor and author of “Peckinpah: The Western Films— A Reconsideration,” says: “He always seemed to me to be in the best and highest sense of the word a true gentleman: friendly, gracious, modest, in all ways an authentically gentle man.”
In the ’70s, Chalo became a prop master, joined the Local 44, and worked on countless TV shows at Universal Studios, Warner Bros. and MGM including series “Six Million Dollar Man,” “Quincy,” “Taxi,” “Mork and Mindy” and “Family Ties.”
Retiring as a prop master in the early ’90s, Chalo turned to acting and earned several accolades, including a GLAAD Award for supporting actor, for his performance in the Wash Westmoreland/Richard Glatzer indie film “Quinceanera.”
When the film won the 2006 Sundance Film Festival audience award and jury prize, Chalo offered his advice to the crowd: “Never give up on your dreams. I was 6 years old when I first dreamt of being an actor, and look at me. I’m 83 years old and standing here with you today.”
Westmoreland writes: “It was an honor and a joy to work with Chalo. He blessed the production with his gravitas, talent, and kindness. We all felt it. And he gave such an incredible performance. It was a magical time.”
Weddle concludes, “Chalo Gonzalez was a giant, in so many ways, and we will never see his like again.”
Chalo is survived by his wife of 47 years, Martha Calderon Gonzalez; his children from a previous marriage, Margaret Mazzola and Rafael Gonzalez; stepchildren, Gilbert David Segovia and Richard Lorenzo Segovia; daughter-in-law Theresa Gonzalez; son-in-law Leonard; seven grandchildren, Robert, Vanessa, Antonia, Andy, Minnie Jo, Maximilian, Mariah; and three great-grandchildren, Samantha, Chris, Sophia.
For COVID-19 reasons, there will be no funeral services. A private memorial will be held in the future in Mexico. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Motion Picture Television Fund COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.
Writer-director Edgar Pablos is in post on a documentary “When Peckinpah Met Chalo.”