Friday, July 24, 2015

El Santo Enmascardo de Playa: A Look at Rodolfo Guzman Huerta

My interest in Mexican Iconic Lucha Wrestler Rodolfo Guzman Huerta known as "El Santo (The Saint)" aka: "The Holy" is two fold.

First of all I come from a Wrestling family. My Great Uncle Mike Hirsch was a promoter and co-owner of the Ocean Park Arena located at 140 Pico Boulevard, Ocean Parks, California and it was a "Family Business". The arena was near the famous Ocean Park Pier which would become "Pacific Ocean Park" until a suspicious insurance related fire destroyed this historic 1926 site. Once known for its designer as Lick Pier, Venice Beach is kind of down the street, my father's parents lived two blocks from the boardwalk and had a business on it and of course there was that 1950's/1960's unpolluted Pacific Ocean.

"Uncle Mike" had been involved in the arena since the late 1930's. It had opened in 1920. My Parents and Grandparents would work the weekends selling food and drinks after World War 2. When I was old enough I sold programs and hot dogs walking the aisles.

According my parents when I was too young and needed a baby sitter. At times on fight nights the actor and family friend George Raft took the duties. I wish there had been a picture of me with him. I have fond memories of those times and remember how on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. While my parents were stocking the food concession stand and bringing out the wooden crates containing 24 bottles of coke, So they would be cold by the Box Office opening that evening. I would spend time watching Wrestling greats plan out their fights. First on paper and then enter the ring to choreograph their movements. With the decline of boxing and wrestling in the late 1950's this landmark was turned by the family into that new middle class family enjoyment a bowling alley, but I come by my love of Wrestling honestly.

Second I admit to loving "Santo's" Science Fiction/Horror and Thriller movies I originally would watch on the one Spanish language television station in Los Angeles, That is when it was broadcasting. Two years of High School Spanish would leave me able to congregate a Spanish Verb, but not speak or understand the simplest sentence. So most of the time I just turned the volume down to almost off. However, occasionally the movies in dubbed versions turning him into "Samson" would show on late night television before the stations went off the air with those America flags waving like viewers of Tobe Hopper's original 1982 movie "Poltergeist" saw before they got the little girl.

To illustrate how popular, or was it just a combination of International Wrestling and good salesmanship that the films of Rodolfo Guzman Huerta were in the World? When I was in the Navy and had an afternoon off in Cannes, France. A few of his saw a poster in English advertising the movie "Superman Against the Vampire Women". We went in and I burst out laughing. The motion picture was actually from four years earlier in 1962 called "Santo contra las mujeres vampiro (Santo vs The Vampire Women), but in an English dub with him as Samson and having French language subtitles.

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To put the birth of Rodolfo Guzman Huerta in perspective to events happening in his native Mexico. Rodolfo was born on September 23, 1917 seven months after the signing of the current Mexican Constitution while the fighting and killings of the Mexican Revolution would continue into 1920. Two years after his birth in 1919 Revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata was killed and four years after that in 1923 another leader Pancho Villa was assassinated on his farm.

His parents were Jesus Guzman Campuzano and Josefina Huerta (Marquez) de Guzman and he was their fifth child. Two more would follow as the family moved from Tulcancingo in the state of Hidalgo to the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City in 1920.

It is very probable that Rodolfo's parents made the move from Tulcancingo to Mexico City, because over the years Tulcancingo had been one of the major battle areas of the Revolution and they felt Mexico City a safer place to raise five children. However Tepito was also an over crowed area of poor families. The area would get even more crowed with refugees from Jalisco and Guanajuato arriving during the "Cristero War". The "War", or "Rebellion" was against the Mexican Governments anti-Catholic and anticlerical policies lasting for six years 1920-1926. This then was the community and times young Rodolfo Guzman Huerta was born into. Not to forget that World War One was going on.

As Rodolfo was growing up he loved sports and played baseball and actually practiced American Football which in a soccer country was unusual. At one point he drifted into Ju-Jitsu and then discovered "Classical Greek Wrestling". Which was the only form of that spot in Mexico at the time and it was only performed in certain areas of the country prior to 1933. Wrestling had been unknown in Mexico until the French under Maximilian introduced it in 1864 and was also the primary reason it was regional in nature.

Pro-Wrestling or "Lucha Libre (Free Wrestling) in Mexico brings out pictures of colorful Masked fighters, but that sport did not really come into existence as we know it until Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez, a Mexican fight promoter, got the idea of organizing wrestler's.

In 1933 he formed "Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre (EMLL) translated as the "Mexican Wrestling Enterprise", Lutteroth is known as "The Father of Lucha Libre" when on September 21, 1933 he ran a wrestling card under his banner "EMLL",

The first "Masked Wrestler" was actually an American who came down to Mexico to fight and did not want to be identified. Lutteroch watched the interest this "unknown" wrestler caused with the crowd and developed the idea of using other wrestlers in masks with colorful names.

When Rodolfo entered professional wrestling is debated. Some put it also in 1933, others say it was on June 28, 1934 and still others one year later in Mexico City. The year really is not important, but the fact that Rodolfo Guzman Huerta made the decision to use pro-Wrestling as a means out of his poverty and assist his family is.

What is fact is that during the last half of the 1930's Huerta established himself as a wrestler using first just the name "Rudy Guzman" and then putting on the mask as either: "El Hombre Rojo (the Red Man), El Demonio Negro (The Black Demon) and El Murcielago II (The Bat II). The last was playing off another wrestler's ring name and after an appeal to the Wrestling Council Rodolfo had to drop it. All of these characters were "rudo's" in English roughly translated as "heel". In short Huerta was playing the bad guy in the match that the crowd loved to boo.

The decade of the 1940's would be critical to "Rudy Guzman", He fell in love and married Maria de los Angeles Rodriguez Montano (Maruca). The two would have ten  children, but I could not locate if she passed away, which she must have, as Rodolfo would again marry. His second wife was Eva Enriquetta Vallejo Vadager is not mentioned in most bios of Huerta. Other than an occasional comment mentioning that she was his second wife, if her name appears at all. Rodolfo's youngest son Jorge would eventually follow his father into the ring, but depending on which bio of his father, or Jorge you read, He is either Rodolfo Guzman Huerta's tenth, or eleventh child.

In 1942 Rodolfo's manager, Don Jesus Lomeli, was putting together a team of six wrestlers all to be dressed in Silver. He was given the choice of being called either "El Santo (The Saint)", :"El Diablo (The Devil)", or "El Angel (The Angel)". His choice was "El Santo" and not even his manager had any inkling of what that choice of name would become. His first fight as "El Santo" then took place on June 24, 1942 at the Arena in Mexico City. Except that is only one story about how Rodolfo took his Wresting name.

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Image result for images of el santo

The more popular version is that Rodolfo decided it was time to change his image from a "rudo" wrestler without control to a "tecnico". The good guy whose career is scripted to appeal to the fans. The idea of the "Silver Mask" came from Alexander Dumas' novel "The Man in the Iron Mask". Where the hero the unknown twin of King Louis IV is kept locked in the dungeon in an Iron Mask. The Three, now Four Musketeers, rescue him and replace King Louis IV with his twin and at that point the evil reign of the king ended and one of enlightenment and peace began for France. Here's a link to the website "Today I Found Out" about the history of the real (?) "Man in the Iron Mask" that Dumas based his novel upon.It is short, but very good reading.

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Above scene from the 1998 movie version with Leonardo DiCaprio.

The story continues that Huerta put on a long flowing silver cape and a silver mask and from that moment on for a 40 year career Rodolfo Guzman Huerta had become "ENMASCARDO DE PLAYA" "The Man in the Silver Mask".

According to this Folk Tale his first fight was not on June 24th, but on July 26, 1942. It was not part of an introduction of a six man team in Silver masks, but as one wrestler in an 8 man "Battle Royal"

What I find odd is a statement on the website from "Slam Sports" in 2000. It is in their 16th year remembrance of Rodolfo Guzman Huerta death in 1984. When referring to that 8 man Battle Royal
the author of the piece writes:
After all, wrestling's popularity in Mexico was exploding at the time and Huerta was just another green, awkward rookie. 
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Depending upon when Huerta started to wrestle for "EMLL" it was anywhere between 7 to 9 years prior to the Battle Royal match and he was still considered a "rookie"?

Everyone agrees though that "Santo" became a popular and major Luca wrestler after that "Battle Royal" and may have stayed just that, if two events in 1952 had not occurred, One came from writer Jose G. Cruz who decided to create a comic book with the wrestler as a Super Hero character. The comic would run for 35 years and 224 issues. Here is the cover of the first issue:

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Next to a comic book about a hero called "Kailman: which was not created until 11 years later. Santo was the best selling comic in Mexico. "Kailman" who similar to the popular character of "Chandu the Magician" who first appeared on radio in the 1930's and continued into the 1950's. He had been played in two Chapter Serials by Bela Lugosi in one of his few good guy roles.

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Here are a few looks at the Santo comic.

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The second event was a series of matches that would result in a famous Lucha feud that would last through his entire career.

On November 7, 1952 a match was held between the feuding Santo and "Los Hermanos Shadow" ("Black Shadow" and "Blue Demon"). This was a "Luchas de Apuestas" match between Santo and Black Shadow. Specially a "Mask Against Mask" in which the loser receives the greatest insult to a "lunchadores". The loss of his mask and the unveiling of his face.

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Santo won the match and two things happened as a result. The first was the unmasking of "The Black Shadow" to reveal the face of Alejandro Cruz Oritz.

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Santo won the fight and unmasked the Black Shadow. The Blue Demon (Alejandro Munez Moreno) took his partner's unmasking personally and the feud between Santo and Blue Demon began. In a series of matches that followed between 1952 the unthinkable happened as Santo lost to Blue Demon. The feud would be passed onto Santo's son Jorge as "El hijo del Santo (Son of Santo)" and Alejandro's adopted son fighting under the name "Blue Demon, Jr.. Moreno's adopted son's real name is still unknown at the time of this writing. He has returned to Lucha on the wrestling program "Lucha Underground".The photo below is of the two "sons".

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Normally an unmasking can mean the end of a wrestling career, but in the case of Ortiz his style was so good that he was able to recover and continue. As for Rodolfo Guzman Huerta from the day he put on the mask of "El Santo" no one outside of his immediate family saw him without it on except one time and I will discuss that when appropriate. For public appearances and going out in general. Rodolfo had a specially constructed mask to enable him to eat.

We now move to Santo's motion picture career which at first he did not want to be involved with. This happened when he was approached also in 1952 to appear in a motion picture and refused, but time changes a lot of things and 6 years later saw him not as the star, but the side-kick.

In 1954, Santo's starred as a masked crime fighter in the somewhat science fiction "El enmascarado de plata (The Silver Masked Man)". The silver masked man has a teenage masked side-kick, can you say "Batman and Robin"?. It featured some very low science fiction machines and gimmicks and the screenplay was written by the creator of the "El Santo" comic book series.

Wrestler Fernando Oses approached Huerta about being in two motion pictures with him. These were not about wrestlers, but "Masked" Cops fighting crime with a science fiction tone. As he could remain in Wrestling Rodolfo agreed. The two films were originally called "El Cerebro del Mar (The Evil Brain)" and "Hombres Infernales (The Infernal Men)". Both terrible films, but interesting only in their production history.They were shot together in Cuba and the crew finished and left the day before Fidel Castro entered Havana and Batista fled to Mexico. These two films would be reissued with the added title change of "Santo contra" prior to the old titles years later.

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I am not going to look at each of the 52 motion pictures Santo made, but choose a few for comment. Should you be interested I recommend:

The first true "El Santo" film was 1961's "Santo contra los Zombies" which would be released in an English dub as "Invasion of the Zombies". In the English language version Santo was now called Samson and would remain as such for all dubbed films. Here are a four photos from this film.

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Of course in the film as the last still shows. The idea of unmasking Santo is attempted, but not accomplished. By 1964 Santo  was asking for a salary increase from motion picture producer Luis Enrique Vergara and as a result Vergara looked for alternatives. His answer was making similar movies, but starring Santo's rival "Blue Demon". Of course Santo eventually received his increase.

Before I continue I want to mention a book by author Doyle Greene, The title is: "Mexploitation Cinema: A Critical History of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-Man and Similar Films, 1957-1977" 

This book is a very detailed look about the movies starring Santo and other films produced in Mexico that began to show up at United States Drive-In theaters in the 1960's and moved to television. Amazon has the following when explaining the book's purpose:
Thanks in large part to an exploitation film producer and distributor named K. Gordon Murray, a unique collection of horror films from Mexico began to appear on American late-night television and drive-in screens in the 1960s. Ranging from monster movies clearly owing to the heyday of Universal Studios to the lucha libre horror films featuring El Santo and the "Wrestling Women," these low-budget "Mexploitation" films offer plenty of campy fun and still inspire cult devotion
At the beginning of this article I mentioned a movie I saw in France. Here is the French movie poster with its provocative look which caught many American sailors at the time as I know.

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As I also mentioned this was the English dubbed "Samson vs the Vampire Women"  which was released in the United States in 1963. The motion picture would get the full "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment in 1995 and that episode is available on DVD. The original motion picture version "Santo vs las Murjeres Vampiro"  is shown as released in  Mexico on October 11, 1962. However, that may not be true. Mexican motion pictures use the date that film started actual filming to identify them unlike in the United States. Therefore the date I was provided might mean that instead of actual release to theaters.

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The following link is to the English language dub call Santo Samson..

These lovely vampire ladies pictured above are not as pretty as you may think, if you watch the opening sequence of the motion picture.

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Image result for images of samson  vs the vampire women

The movie that immediately followed "The Vampire Women" was a very well done thriller entitled; "Santo en el museo de cera (Santo in the Wax Museum)", It was dubbed into English as "Samson in the Wax Museum". An obvious tribute to the Warner Brothers films 'The Mystery in the Wax Museum" (1933) starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. and "The House of Wax" in 1953 starring Vincent Price and Phyllis Kirk..

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When having a wrestling match watch out when you unmask an opponent in the ring. He may not be what you expect.

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In 1964 Santo would make a cameo appearance in "Blue Demon vs Satanic Powers". This was the first time the two would be seen together on the screen even though they were enemies in the ring. A series of films would be created later by Sotomayor Productions putting the two luchadores together. Which could only happen in the fantasy world of the Mexican Motion Picture Industry with the incentive of money.

Of course not all of the films were really well crafted. I mean if you don't have "Count Dracula" as your vampire why not 'Baron Brakola".The film is cheesy to say the least, but as this review from 1967 indicates. Don't judge the movie by the following looking stills.

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Image result for images of santo in baron brakolaImage result for images of santo in baron brakola

In 1966 Santo made his last motion in black and white. Here is the preview with English subtitles for:

"Santo conta la invasion de los marcianos (Santo vs the Martian Invasion)

Taking its cue directly from the James Bond craze was Santo's first color motion picture "Samto en Operacion 67 (Santo in "Operaton 67"). In this motion picture Santo who is in reality an Interpol Agent fights a gang of counterfeiters located in Hong Kong. The group plan to ruin the World's economy. Working with Santo was a young Interpol agent named Jorge. Who was the Mexican films version of Sean Connery especially with the ladies.

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Santo with his "Bond" girl

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"Operation 67" was very profitable and a sequel entitled: "Santo en el tesoro de Moctezuma (Santo and the Treasure of Moctezuma)" was released shortly afterwards, This time the Hong Kong based crime syndicate have located a map to Moctezuma's treasure. With it they plan once more to control the World.

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The character of Jorge, above, started to be referred too as "Robin" and because of his flowing cape "Santo" was "Batman", This was in reference to the Adam West/Bruce Ward "Batman" series running on U.S. televisions at the time of the two motion picture's releases.

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The very next motion picture had Santo return to fighting Vampires and in this case the King of them all "Dracula". It was also a movie with two versions. One for family audiences and the other "Adults Only".

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Same movie, but one was censored and shortened for family audience release. While the other had full frontal female nudity.

I have attached a link to a review from the excellent website "Cool Ass Cinema" about these two motion pictures versions for your reading. It is a great fun look at them with additional background information on character actor Carlos Agosti. Who appeared in several classic Mexican Horror films.

The actor Aldo Monti is a very good Count Dracula and would reprise the role in a later motion picture.

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Image result for santo in dracula's treasureImage result for santo in dracula's treasure

Released on July 16, 1970, but considered from 1969 because of how films are dated in Mexico. We find the first of the real teaming of Santo and Blue Demon in a motion picture, It was also strangely a very good movie for fans of Japanese Studio Toho's Science Fiction and Kaiju as you will soon find out.

The title of this movie was "Santo conta Blue Demon en la Atlantida (Santo vs Blue Demon in Atlantis). There is a very good article about the motion picture on the website:

Here is an excerpt from the review:
By the time of making Atlantis in 1969, Blue Demon had already starred in a series of successful films for producer Luis Enrique Vergara. And Santo, working for a variety of studios and producers — including, for a time, Vergara — had chalked up an impressive slate of twenty-plus features (though those, thanks to Santo’s apparently indiscriminate practice of just following the paycheck, were wildly varying in quality). So when Sotomayor productions got the notion to team the two together in a film, it must have seemed like a formula for pure box office gold. The only stumbling block, however, was the small matter of a bitter rivalry between the two wrestlers that stretched back some 16 years. The fact that Santo had lost his title to Blue in an ego-bruising defeat back in 1953 was reportedly something that still rankled the Enmascarado de Plata all these years later, and, while he would go on to work with Blue in a series of films, the two would never be what you could call friends. Blue, for his part, may have found equal cause for resentment in the fact that, while he was arguably the superior athlete of the two, he was perpetually relegated to the number two spot thanks to the iconic status that Santo enjoyed in Mexico – a status that was as much due to Santo’s roles as a movie star and popular comic book hero as it was to his skill in the ring.
So what was the plot to this groundbreaking movie? Here's a plot summary by "Javier" from Amazon's IMDb website:
A Nazi scientist using the lost city of Atlantis as his home base threatens to destroy civilization with a nuclear bomb. The Nazi scientist wants the third Reich to rule again and if his demands are not met he will follow through on his threat of nuclear annihilation. With very little time to spare Santo is enlisted to find the nuclear bomb, disarm it and end the Nazi scientist's diabolical plan.
Here is a link to a great fight sequence from the movie. Don't let the small amount of Spanish dialogue put you off, if you don't understand it. One has to wonder after reading the above quote form "" what Santo and Blue Demon must have felt about their fight in this clip?

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Does this motion picture still from "Santo conta Blue Demon en la Atlantida"  look odd to you? Why would a Mexican film have a Japanese flag on a spacecraft from  Atlantis?

For the surprising answer let me quote the website:
Something that shocked me about this movie was its rampant use of footage, stolen outright, from  Godzilla movies. I counted at least three movies that I recognized where special effects scenes were appropriated, Monster Zero, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster,  and War of the Gargantuas. There's one or two other movies where footage was obviously stolen, but  I couldn't identify it. If it wasn't something I recognized right away, I knew it because of the grainy, bootlegged nature of the film stock during those scenes, which is how the Godzilla footage appeared.
It's so nice to see that other countries appreciate the Special Effects and miniature work of Elji Tsuburaya, but I don't think we expected his work just to be lifted without permission.

This film  would be followed by two more featuring both wrestlers:

Santo y Blue Demon contra lost monstruose (Santo and the Blue Demon vs the Monsters)

Santo y Blue Demon en el mundo de los murertos (Santo and Blue Demon in the World of the Dead)

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Santo would next fight off "Headhunters", "Mafia Killers", there would be a movie with the misleading title of "Revenge of the Vampire Women" getting theaters goers thinking of  the motion picture I saw in France by the way it was publicized, then once more the Mafia, a couple of back to back Mummy movies and we come to a title that might have some Johnny Depp fans getting mixed up "Santo en el misterio de la perla negra (The Mystery of the Black Pearl)" set in the Caribbean..

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However, the next title was "Santo contra la hija de Frankenstein (Santo vs Frankenstein's Daughter)". Plot does sound familiar as Frankenstein's daughter wants Santo's blood to make a youth serum to make her young again and she sends out Daddy's monster to get it.

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Lets keep going with the Universal Monsters and move forward one year to another motion picture starring Santo and Blue Demon. Nothing like a double-double header as: "Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (Santo and the Blue Demon vs Dracula and the Wolf Man)".

The plot for the film is described on "Rotten Tomatoes" as:
Masked wrestling champion and occasional crime fighter El Santo once again saves Mexico from the ravages of undying monsters in this blend of grappling and horror. El Santo is challenged to a match by fellow wrestler El Angel Blanco, and while the great fighter is busy in the ring, two legendary monsters -- the vampire Dracula (Aldo Monti) and a werewolf named Rufus Rex (Agustin Martinez Solares) -- are brought back to life by his enemies. As the monsters roam free and threaten the life of El Santo's closest friends, he teams up with fellow wrestling icon Blue Demon to vanquish the creatures once and for all
Again the idea of Santo's and Blue Demon working together as a tag team vs the other tag time of Dracula and Rufus Rex was once more going against their ring images, but their fans loved it,

Image result for santo and blue demon vs. dracula and the wolf manImage result for santo and blue demon vs. dracula and the wolf man

A few films later was the obvious follow up to the above motion picture
"Santo y Blue Demon contra el doctor Frankenstein (Santo and the Blue Demon vs Doctor Frankenstein)". What needs to be pointed out about both wrestlers at this time in their careers are their respective ages. Rodolfo Guzman Huerta was 56 and still doing wrestling sequences. While Alejandro Munez Moreno was a little younger, but still 51 years of age.

The plot for the film has the two ring greats teaming up to stop the Grandson of the original Doctor Frankenstein from conducting evil experiments. The original Doctor had a few grand kids as one Grandson created  "Frankenstein's Daughter" and another the title character of "I Was A Teenage Frankenstein" both in 1958. While one of his Daughters was busy in 1966 creating a monster of her own in "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" and the other I already mentioned.

This was the last teaming of both wrestlers and Santo would make 9 more motion pictures into 1982 at the age of 64. That last title was "Santo en la furia de los karaktekas (Santos in "The Fury of the Karate Experts)". However, there really seemed to be only one person using Karate not the multiples of the title.

Also at this time Santo was slowing down in the ring. So between August 22, 1982 and September 12, 1982 he fought three final matches and retired from the ring. His 65 birthday was the week following that last fight, BUT the Mask remained on him. As I said no one outside of his immediate family knew what "El Santo" aka: "Santo" aka: "The Holy" looked like still.

During the last week of January of 1984 "Santo" was a guest on a popular Mexican television program "Contrapunto". Suddenly taking the person he was speaking with, the television staff and the viewing audience Rodolfo Guzman Huerta removed his mask and revealed his face:

One week later on February 5, 1984 at 9:40 PM while doing a stage show he was putting on. Just as suddenly as his decision to remove "The Mask". Rodolfo Guzman Huerta suffered a massive heart attack and died.

As per his wishes he was buried wearing his Mask.

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