Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta (September 23, 1917 - February 5, 1984), more widely known as Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata (Saint, the Silver Masked Man), was a Mexican professional wrestler, film actor, and folk hero. Santo, along with Blue Demon & Mil Máscaras, is one of the most famous and iconic of all Mexican luchadores, or free wrestlers, and has been referred to as one of "the greatest legends in Mexican sports His wrestling career spanned nearly five decades, during which he became a folk hero and a symbol of justice for the common man through his appearances in comic books and movies. He is said to have popularized professional wrestling in Mexico just as Rikidōzan did in Japan and Hulk Hogan did in the United States.
In 1942, Rodolfo's manager, Don Jesús Lomelí, was putting together a new team of wrestlers, all dressed in silver, and wanted Rodolfo to be a part of it. He suggested three names, El Santo (The Saint), El Diablo (The Devil), or El Angel (The Angel), and Rodolfo chose the first one. On the 26th of June at the age of 25, he wrestled at the Arena Mexico for the first time as El Santo, although he became known simply as Santo. Under this new name he quickly found his style, and his agility and versatility made him very popular.
One of Santo's greatest matches was in 1952, when he fought a tag-team known as Los Hermanos Shadow (which consisted of famed luchadors Blue Demon and the Black Shadow). Santo beat and unmasked The Black Shadow in the ring, which triggered Blue Demon's decision to become a técnico, as well as a legendary feud between The Blue Demon and Santo that culminated in Santo's defeat in a well-publicized series of matches in 1952 and again in 1953. Although they appeared together in a number of action/adventure films, their rivalry never really ended in later years since Santo always remembered his defeat at the Blue Demon's hands.
In 1952, the artist and editor José G. Cruz started a Santo comic book, turning Santo into the first and foremost character in Mexican popular literature, his popularity only rivalled by the legendary Kalimán character. The Santo comic book series (4 different volumes) ran continuously for 35 years, only ending in 1987.
That same year, a superhero motion picture serial was made entitled "The Man in the Silver Mask", which was supposed to star Santo, but he declined to appear in it, because he thought it would fail commercially. The film was made instead with well-known luchador El Medico Asesino in the lead role, wearing a white mask similar to Santo's silver one. A villain named "The Silver-Masked Man" was introduced into the plot at the last minute, thus the title of the film strangely became a reference to the villain, not the hero.
In 1958, Fernando Osés, a wrestler and actor, invited Santo to work in movies, and although Santo was unwilling to give up his wrestling career, he accepted, planning to do both at the same time. Oses was planning on playing the hero in these films, with Santo appearing as his costumed sidekick. Fernando Osés and Enrique Zambrano wrote the scripts for the first two movies, el Cerebro del Mal (The Evil Brain) and Hombres Infernales (The Infernal Men), both released in 1958, and directed by Joselito Rodríguez. Filming was done in Cuba, and ended just the day before Fidel Castro entered Havana and declared the victory of the revolution. Santo played a masked superhero-type sidekick to the main hero (who was called El Incognito) in these two films, and was not the main character (nor was he depicted as a wrestler in these 2 films). The films did poorly at the box office when they were released. Years later however, when Santo's film career took off, the distributors of these two films quietly added Santo's name into the titles. Most people feel Santo's film career really took off in 1961, with his third movie "Santo Vs The Zombies." Santo was given the starring role with this film, and was shown for the first time as a professional wrestler moonlighting as a superhero.
Santo wound up appearing in a total of 52 lucha libre films in all, two of which were just cameo appearances. The style of the movies was essentially the same throughout the series, with Santo as a superhero fighting supernatural creatures, evil scientists, various criminals/ secret agents and so on. The tones were reminiscent of U.S. B-movies and TV shows, perhaps most similar to the old Republic Pictures serials of the 1940s.
His best-known movie outside of Mexico is also considered one of his best, 1962s Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro (Santo vs. the Vampire Women), which was also featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In this movie, the production values were better, and there was an attempt at creating more a mythos and background for Santo, as the last of a long line of fighters against evil. It was an enormous success at the box office, and was one of the 4 Santo films ever to be dubbed in English. Some of these English films were imported to the United States through the efforts of K. Gordon Murray who changed the name of Santo to Samson for some of his releases. Santo's most financially successful film however was "The Mummies of Guanajuato" (1970), which co-starred Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. Many Mexi-movie fans consider it to be the greatest Mexican wrestling film ever made.
The Santo film series inspired the production of similar series of movies starring other well-known Mexi-wrestlers such as Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, Superzan and the Wrestling Women, among others. Santo even co-starred with Blue Demon & Mil Mascaras in several of his movies. When Blue Demon invited Santo to co-star with him and Mil Mascaras in the "Champions of Justice" movie trilogy, however, Santo was too busy making other films to participate.
By 1977, the masked wrestler film craze had practically died off, but Santo continued to appear in more films over the next few years. His last film was "FURY OF THE KARATE EXPERTS", shot in Florida in 1982, the same year he retired from the ring. Santo officially retired from wrestling on Sept. 12, 1982 (a week before his 65th birthday). His last match was at the El Toreo de Cuatro Caminos in Mexico. All told, his professional wrestling career spanned a total of 48 years.
Santo appeared as a guest on Contrapunto, a Mexican television program and, completely without warning, removed his mask just enough to expose his face. It is the only documented case of Santo ever removing his mask in public. Santo died from a heart attack on Feb. 5, 1984, at 9:40 p.m. (about a week after his Contrapunto TV appearance). He was 66 years old. As per his wishes, he was buried wearing his famous silver mask.
Santo is immortalized in the rockabilly band Southern Culture on the Skids' 1996 album Santo Swings!/Viva el Santo. Santo is often resurrected in Southern Culture's live performances when an audience member jumps onstage donning Santo's mask.
Santo also became an animated mini-series on Cartoon Network in Latin America. On October 27th, 2004, Cartoon Network released the first chapter of 5 shorts. Each chapter is about 2 minutes long, and they were shown weekly on Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM. There is also currently another Santo series in development at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank.
The mini series was inspired by Santo's classic movies. Santo fought against an evil scientist, Dr. Clone, who collected the DNA of Santo's previous foes and resurrected them to kill Santo and dominate the world.
El Santo also inspired the animated series Mucha Lucha and El Tigre. In Mucha Lucha he's called "El Rey", and it's represented as an icon of all positive things. In El Tigre, the character White Pantera shares much of El Santo's ever optimist attitude from the movies, but there's also a character named Silver Sombrero who is an exact copy of Santo, except he wears a large Mexican hat.