Sunday, October 29, 2006

Would the Cisco Kid Tell a Lie?

Duncan Renaldo was an actor best known for his portrayal of the Cisco Kid on film and television in the '40s and '50s. For a time in the 1930s, he was better known as "the man without a country."

His career was going great guns in Hollywood until in 1930 he applied for a passport to Africa [to film the movie Trader Horn]. He was an orphan, whose assorted foster parents had taken him all over the world, but they all assured him he really had been born in Camden, N. J. He listed that town as being his birthplace and that was a serious mistake.

While he was appearing before the cameras in Africa, the immigration bureau was looking up his record. It became increasingly confusing.

"The officials eventually found birth certificates showing I had been born in four different countries," he recalled. "I had served in the U.S. army during the World war and I was willing to be listed as anything the officials wanted to call me, but I went to trial, anyway, on charges of being an alien illegally in this country." [The Zanesville (Ohio) Signal, Sept. 22, 1939]
This first-hand account leaves out one juicy detail: Renaldo and co-star Edwina Booth were rumored to have had an affair while filming Trader Horn. Renaldo's wife found out and reported his illegal entry into the United States during their divorce proceedings. He may indeed have been an orphan, but he was also a stoker aboard a steamship who came ashore in 1921 and never left.

Renaldo's claim to have "served in the U.S. army during the World war" also bears scrutiny, given his reported 1904 birth date. A June 1936 AP article said that he served for three years with "the famous 77th Regiment of New York" after jumping ship, which—if he served at all—would be more plausible. [Update: According to court records, Renaldo actually arrived in 1917, which would have given him time to enlist in America as an extremely young doughboy.]

Having been found guilty of perjury, Renaldo was sent to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary near Seattle for 18 months. He was released and pardoned by President Roosevelt in January of 1936 thanks to the appeals of his friends in Hollywood, but he still faced deportation. The court had ruled that he was a Romanian citizen named "Vasile Dumitree Coghieanas." Romania had no record of his birth, and refused to give him a passport. Again his friends intervened, and in the spring of 1936 the United States agreed to grant him a passport, but only if he traveled to Tijuana and re-entered the country "on the Rumanian quota." Renaldo became a U.S. citizen in 1941, exclaiming, "I finally made it, thank God!" He died in 1980, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Santa Barbara, California.


Interesting that in 1930 he would claim to have been born in New Jersey, which he also does on the census that year. In 1928, the Syracuse Herald says he is "a Scotch-Rumanian, born in Rumania and educated in Paris."
So maybe he did not lie; he just forgot.


Thanks for the extra info, Sharon. Some further evidence I've turned up shows that Renaldo probably was telling the truth about his origins--or at least what he believed was the truth.

Some passages I've gleaned from his appeal in Duncan v. United States, 68 F.2d 136 (9th Cir., 1933) suggest that the story of Renaldo's having lived with several foster families was fabricated, but that he probably was an adoptee. The December 1933 ruling overturned one of the charges against him, on the grounds that "the government had showed that Duncan was not the son of American parents but had failed to show he was not an American citizen." These snippets are from the court record:

"The records of the ship Puget Sound on which he shipped as a coal passer in 1917 were introduced in evidence and showed that Basil Couyanos was a member of the crew and his signature to the records was introduced in evidence."

"He stated that he was admitted to the United States at that time as an alien seaman at Baltimore, Md.; that during the World War he had lived in Rumania, at Galatz, in the province of Covurlui; that he obtained a passport as a Rumanian citizen when he went from Rumania to France; that he was living in Rumania with some people by the name of Couyanos."

"Q. What were their names?

A. Father, Demetri Couyanos, and mother Tedora Couyanos, but sometimes instead of calling them mother and father I would call them by name.

Q. What are the names of some of the children of this Couyanos family in Rumania?

A. One is Aggripina, another is Ionel and another is Efeochia; that is all. They have another girl named Sofia.

Q. What is your mother's maiden name in Rumania?

A. His wife is Teodora Couyanos. I do not know her maiden name. That is all I know.

Q. Have you ever lived in Camden, New Jersey?

A. No, I have not.

It appears that as long as appellant remembered he had lived in Rumania in the home of Demetri and Teodora Couyanos, whom he had called father and mother."

"He had no recollection of any other father and mother, but states that his earliest recollection was crossing a large body of water and that the people he called father and mother with whom he lived had told him he was born in Camden, NJ."


No wonder Pancho always appeared slightly befuddled.

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