Tall, suave and sophisticated Cesar Romero actually had two claims to fame in Hollywood. To one generation, he was the distinguished Latin lover of numerous musicals and romantic comedies, and the rogue bandit The Cisco Kid in a string of low-budget westerns. However, to a younger generation weaned on television, Romero was better known as the white-faced, green-haired, cackling villain The Joker of the camp 1960s TV series Batman (1966), and as a bumbling corporate villain in a spate of Walt Disney comedies, such as chasing a young Kurt Russell in the fun-packed The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969). Fans and critics alike agreed that Romero was a major talent who proved himself an enduring and versatile star in an overwhelming variety of roles in a career as an actor, dancer and comedian that lasted nearly 60 years.
Cesar Romero was born of Cuban parents in New York City in February 1907. He attended the Collegiate School and Riverdale Country School before working as a ballroom dancer. He first appeared on Broadway in the 1927 production of Lady Do, and then in the stage production of Strictly Dishonorable. His first film role was in The Shadow Laughs (1933), after which he gave strong performances in The Devil Is a Woman (1935) and in the Shirley Temple favorite, Wee Willie Winkie (1937).
Critics and fans generally agree that Romero’s best performance was as the Spanish explorer Cortez in Captain from Castile (1947). However, he also shone in the delightful Julia Misbehaves (1948) and several other breezy and lighthearted escapades. In 1953 he starred in the 39-part espionage TV serial Passport to Danger (1954), which earned him a considerable income due to a canny profit-sharing arrangement. Although Romero became quite wealthy and had no need to work, he could not stay away from being in front of the cameras. He continued to appear in a broad variety of film roles, but surprised everyone in Hollywood by taking on the role of “The Joker” in the hugely successful TV series Batman (1966). He refused to shave his trademark mustache for the role, and close observation shows how the white clown makeup went straight on over his much loved mustache! The appearances in Batman were actually only a small part of the enormous amount of work that Romero contributed to television. He guest-starred in dozens of shows, including Rawhide (1959), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), Zorro (1957), Fantasy Island (1977) and Murder, She Wrote (1984). However, it was The Joker for which his TV work was best remembered, and Romero often remarked that for many, many years after Batman ended, fans would stop him and ask him to chuckle and giggle away just like he did as The Joker. Romero always obliged, and both he and the fans just loved it!
With a new appeal to a younger fan base, Romero turned up in three highly popular Disney comedies: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972) and The Strongest Man in the World (1975) as corrupt but inept villain A.J. Arno. Throughout the remainder of the 1980s Romero remained busy, and even at 78 years of age the ladies still loved his charm, and he was cast as Jane Wyman’s love interest in the top-rated prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest (1981), playing Peter Stavros from 1985 to 1987.
Although Romero stopped acting in 1990, he remained busy, regularly hosting classic movie programs on cable television. A talented and much loved Hollywood icon, he passed away on New Year’s Day 1994, at the age of 86.
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