September 19, 2015


The Jewish don of Latin American TV says 'adios' after 53 years (JULIAN VOLOG September 17, 2015, Times of Israel)

"Among Spanish speakers in the United States he is an icon," said Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College who has been a guest on "Sábado Gigante." "In my view, he couldn't really come to that type of persona were he not Jewish."

Kreutzberger, 74, was born in Chile, the "only option" his refugee parents had when they left Germany, he told CBS News. In his 2001 Spanish autobiography "Don Francisco: Entre la Espada y la TV" ("Between a Rock and the TV"), he describes a Jewish upbringing in Chile filled with bar mitzvahs, Hanukkah celebrations -- and anti-Semitism.

His world was the world of immigrants. At home with his family, German was the language of communication, not Spanish.

"German is my first language," he wrote. "I only learned Spanish when I started to go to school."

This immigrant experience -- facing linguistic challenges and prejudices -- was what eventually allowed the TV host to connect with his pan-Latino audience, who faced similar challenges in the United States.

In fact, it was at Club Israelita Maccabi, the Jewish community center in the Chilean capital of Santiago, that the prototype of Don Francisco was born.

"Every Friday night, we had a soiree that I presented in the character of 'Don Francisco Ziziguen González,' a German-Jew who had arrived some 15 years earlier to Chile," he wrote in the autobiography. "He spoke some faulty Spanish the way Germans pronounced it. The character wasn't a mere invention, but based on my parents and their German friends who came to our house on the weekends."

Kreutzberger's father, a tailor, wanted him to join the family business and sent him in the late 1950s to New York to learn the trade. In the Big Apple, however, the young Chilean discovered a different passion: television. Inspired by what he saw on the screen, he returned to Chile with the goal of becoming the country's Johnny Carson. He pitched his idea of an American-style variety show to Channel 13. The executives were enthusiastic but there was one problem: His name was "too difficult to pronounce and not easy to remember," he recalled in his autobiography.

In search for a more universal Spanish name, "I decided to resurrect my old character from my times at Club Maccabi," he wrote -- and Don Francisco was born.

Kreutzberger's show -- then called "Show Dominical" ("Sunday Show") -- premiered in 1962 on Channel 13. (The same year, Carson started his 30-year tenure as host of "The Tonight Show.") In 1963, the broadcast was moved to Saturday and the name consequently changed.

Posted by at September 19, 2015 8:55 AM

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