Duncan Renaldo had the most twisted road to stardom of any actor to ever grace Hollywood with their presence. His actual country of origin is clouded in mystery, no one seems to really be sure just exactly where he immigrated from, a fact that would come back to haunt him when he was on the cusp of stardom the first time around. He seems to have arrived in the U.S. in the early twenties and signed with MGM in 1928, making his film debut in “Clothes Make the Woman” (1928).
His big break out film, “Trader Horn” (1931), would eventually prove his temporary undoing. He got excellent reviews and seemed about to become an A-list actor for the studio. But rumors of an affair with co-star Edwina Booth caused tension between Renaldo and his wife at the time. The rumor was given even more validity when he again appeared with Booth in “Trapped in Tiajuana” (1932). This led directly to Renaldo’s wife not only leaving him, but she also reported him to the authorities as an illegal immigrant.
The search into where Renaldo came from was so inconclusive that he ended up living several years on a barge just outside the coastal border of the U.S.. Eventually justice was served when FDR pardoned Renaldo and gave him citizenship. While a generous act it was too late for Renaldo to pick up where his career had left off and he was forced to start all over, eventually securing small roles in the feature “Lady Luck” (1936) and Columbia’s debut serial effort “Jungle Menace” (1937). His next savior would be Republic Pictures owner Herbert Yates, who recognized that 1) Renaldo had talent, 2) he still had some marquee name recognition, and 3) he needed money so would work cheap.
After a tryout as a minor henchman in “The Painted Stallion” (1937), he was quickly moved up to sidekick status playing the aptly named Renaldo, Zorro’s right hand man in “Zorro Rides Again” (1937). Two years later he was given the distinction of being one of the few third party assistants to the most famous masked rider of the plains in “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” (1939).
Renaldo’s star was finally on the rise and he joined Robert Livingston and Raymond Hatton for a short stint as one of the Three Mesquiteers in “Covered Wagon Days” (1940), “Heroes of the Saddle” (1940, and “Rocky Mountain Rangers” (1940). During his Three Mequiteers stint he would still be helping out serial heroes; hooking up with football legend “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh in “King of the Texas Rangers” (1941), the future voice of Mr. Ed Allan “Rocky” Lane in “King of the Mounties” (1942), and emerging action star Rod Cameron in “Secret Service in Darkest Africa” (1943).
The last serial Renaldo appeared in would re-team him with Allan Lane again as well as introduce Republic’s greatest serial queen, Linda Stirling as “The Tiger Woman” (1944). From there Renaldo would go to Monogram Studios and take the on role that he would become identified with for the rest of his life. With “In Old Mexico” (1944), Renaldo stepped into the role of O. Henry’s charming western bandit, the Cisco Kid. He proved popular in the role and would continuing appearing as the character throughout the forties in such films as “Cisco Kid Returns” (1945), “Guns of Fury” (1945) and “Don Amigo” (1946).
Though temporarily replaced by Gilbert Roland (considered the best actor to play Cisco by some critics) in the late forties, it was Renaldo who really clicked with audiences and he eventually returned to the part and, like William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, easily made the transition to TV in 1950 where his TV show was so popular that after it’s initial run would continue to play in syndication for decades.