Few Spanish actors have enjoyed more public applause and critical acclaim than José Luis López Vázquez (Madrid, 1922-2009). He shot around 200 films, participated in close to a hundred plays and television series, and his appearance as an ordinary Spaniard was seen both through conservative and popular comedy films and through feature films by prestigious cult directors (Luis García -Berlanga, Carlos Saura, Pedro Olea …) that made him their fetish interpreter. But until now, the public was unaware of an interesting facet of López Vázquez as an illustrator and set designer that can be seen in an exhibition that the Spanish Film Library will open in March to mark the centenary of the artist’s birth. On the other hand, his eldest son, the filmmaker José Luis López Magerus, is preparing a biographical documentary about his father’s long and varied professional career.
“We are finalizing preparations for the centenary,” says the son, “but a little pissed off and bogged down by the lack of collaboration from Madrid institutions, which have been very reluctant to promote events related to my father’s centenary. The City Council It only offers a huge warehouse in the center of Madrid, but it would require a considerable investment to prepare it for an exhibition. For its part, the Community seems more willing to organize events, but as long as the City Council does not participate. It gives the impression of that it is a script by Rafael Azcona, but the blocking situation still remains for a centenary to be celebrated in 2022 “. This attitude of indifference continues to be bloody and striking in the case of one of the most popular actors in the history of Spanish cinema, from Madrid on all sides and who spent most of his life and career in the capital. However, it is linked to a historical disdain for his figure because, although it may seem strange, no street, square or cultural center in Madrid bears the name of José Luis López Vázquez. Nor has Telemadrid shown interest in financing the documentary that his son is preparing, which is now in negotiations with TVE.
Those who have been interested in the centenary have been those responsible for the Spanish Film Library, which will dedicate an exhibition at its headquarters to the unknown facet of López Vázquez as an illustrator, costume designer and set designer. In fact, this self-taught man who did not finish high school, the son of a civil servant and a dressmaker, earned his living in his youth with that trade during the fifties and sixties of the last century in a multitude of theatrical works until he made the leap to interpretation. In addition, his work as a cartoonist was not limited only to the theatrical field, but he designed, for example, posters for the Madrid Book Fair and other cultural events. Once immersed in his acting career, López Vázquez continued to practice for a few more years as an illustrator. Trained in the theater, in the companies of important actors such as Conchita Montes and Alberto Closas, López Vázquez drifted towards the cinema from comic roles where he created a stereotype of a short, bald, mediocre and macho Spaniard under the direction of very directors. prolific during the dictatorship such as Pedro Lazaga or Mariano Ozores, among others.
However, from the sixties and seventies, some of the most brilliant directors of Spanish cinema began to use López Vázquez to play dramatic and complex characters where the actor reached the peak of his career. This is how he intervened in Berlanga films (Placido, The Executioner, The National Shotgun …), by Saura (Cousin Angelica, The Garden of Earthly Delights …), by Olea (The wolf forest) or from Armiñán (My dear lady), where in an interpretive display he embodied a woman who becomes a man. They were times of splendor crowned with his magnificent performance in The cabin, a film by Antonio Mercero for TVE, which won an Emmy award in 1973 and is considered a masterpiece of the television horror genre.
The common thread of the history of Spanish cinema
Pedro Olea, who directed López Vázquez in four films, highlights the innate talent of the interpreter and his enormous capacity for work. Also involved in the preparations for the centenary, Olea points out: “He was a true chameleon, an actor capable of going from the lightest comedy to the most profound drama to the point that we could say that he was the Spanish Jack Lemmon. He was very rigorous, methodical and currante and to compose a character, he would shut himself up in his house in silence and read the scripts over and over again, taking many notes “. In the opinion of this veteran director, “López Vázquez is a common thread in the history of Spanish cinema and for me his roles in popular comedies do not tarnish his curriculum.” Pedro Olea also regrets the official oblivion into which the memory of José Luis López Vázquez has fallen in contrast to his great popularity among viewers of several generations. “This country is marked by forgetfulness,” says Olea, “and while in France they honor Jean Paul Belmondo with a state funeral, here our great actors don’t have a single street.”
José Luis López Vázquez was the Spanish Jack Lemmon
– Film director
The Interpreter’s Son offers an explanation of his father’s astonishing versatility that points to a compulsive professional. “My father was obsessed,” he says, “with being out of work, with the precariousness suffered by so many film and theater actors. For this reason he never said no to any offer. Hence, he shot around 200 films and that some years he got to participate in 10 films. He was not stingy, but he was very thrifty and careful with money. ” José Luis López Magerus recalls that it was the screenwriter and writer Rafael Azcona who promoted his father’s career and also served as a bridge for him to intervene in several key films in the history of Spanish cinema. “When he shot, for example, with Carlos Saura in those deep and cryptic films of the Transition, my father was afraid that the audience would not take him seriously. But the only thing that transformed his appearance was in removing his mustache. That change it was enough to go from comedy to drama “. “A great chameleon”, emphasizes Pedro Olea.