Cesar Julio Romero, Jr. (February 15, 1907 – January 1, 1994) was a Cuban American film and television actor, best known for his portrayal of The Joker in the 1960s television series Batman. In 1966, the show was transferred to movie theaters, and Romero became the first actor to portray the Joker in a motion picture.
Romero was born in New York to prosperous Cuban parents. That lifestyle, however, changed dramatically when his parents lost their sugar import business and suffered losses in the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Fortunately, Romero's Hollywood earnings allowed him to support his large family, all of whom followed him to the West Coast, years later. Romero lived on and off with various family members, especially his sister, for the rest of his life.
In October 1942, he voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and served in the Pacific Theatre. He reported aboard the Coast Guard-manned assault transport USS Cavalier (APA-37) in November, 1943 and saw action at Tinian and Saipan. He preferred to be a regular part of the crew and was eventually promoted to the rank of chief Boatswain's Mate.
Romero played "Latin lovers" in films from the 1930s until the 1950s, usually in supporting roles. Initially, he attracted attention in Hollywood when he starred as The Cisco Kid in six westerns made between 1939 and 1941. Romero's skill at both dancing and comedy can be seen in the classic 20th Century Fox films he starred in opposite Carmen Miranda and Betty Grable, such as Week-End in Havana and Springtime in the Rockies, in the 1940s.
As well as being an accomplished ballroom dancer, Romero was also a dramatic actor, as he demonstrated in The Thin Man (1934), in which he played a villainous supporting role opposite the film's main star William Powell. Many of Romero's films from this early period saw him cast in small character parts, such as Italian gangsters and East Indian princes. He also appeared in a comic turn as a subversive opponent to Frank Sinatra and his crew in Ocean's Eleven.
20th Century Fox, along with mogul Darryl Zanuck, personally selected Romero to co-star with Tyrone Power in the Technicolor historical epic, Captain from Castile (1947), directed by Henry King. While Power played a fictionalized character, Romero played Hernan Cortez, the most famous Conquistador in Spain's conquest of the Americas. The movie is set in 1519, and sets out the general account of the first stages in the conquest of the Aztecs in Mexico. This film was meant as the vehicle to restart Tyrone Power's career, though many feel that Romero's career benefited more from it. It was produced on a scale that would not be eclipsed as a visual epic until years later by the likes of Quo Vadis, The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur or, even later, Lawrence of Arabia. Romero was able to maintain the aura of "major stardom" for at least 10 years after this major role. The film was widely seen, and influenced the future depiction of Spanish Conquistadors. The film anachronistically depicted the armor and headgear worn by the conquering Spanish adventurers, shifting the styles forward about 70 years. Countless monuments, logos, commercial art, and text books over the years have copied this mistake.
Among his many television credits, Romero played the role of Don Diego de la Vega's uncle in a number of Season Two Zorro episodes. In 1958, he guest starred as Ramon Valdez, a South American businessman, who excels at doing the Cha-Cha with Barbara Eden in her syndicated romantic comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire in the episode "The Big Order". He performed the mamba with Gisele MacKenzie on her NBC variety show, The Gisele MacKenzie Show. In 1965, Romero played the head of THRUSH in France in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ("The Never Never Affair").
Cesar Romero in his role as The Joker in Batman.In 1966, Romero again achieved iconic status when he played The Joker in ABC's television series, Batman. He refused to shave his mustache and so it was covered with white makeup when playing the supervillain throughout the series' run, and in the spinoff 1966 film.
In the 1970s, Romero portrayed the absent father of the Freddie Prinze character Chico Rodriguez in Chico and the Man, and later Peter Stavros in the television series Falcon Crest (1985-1987). Among Romero's guest star work in the 1970s was a recurring role on the western comedy Alias Smith and Jones, starring Pete Duel and Ben Murphy. Romero played Señor Armendariz, a Mexican rancher feuding with Patrick McCreedy (Burl Ives), the owner of a ranch on the opposite side of the border. He appeared in three episodes. He also appeared as Count Dracula on Rod Serling's Night Gallery.
Apart from these television roles, Romero's most notable work in film in this period is as A.J. Arno, a small time criminal who continually opposes Dexter Riley (played by Kurt Russell) and his schoolmates of Medfield College in a series of films by Walt Disney Productions in the 1970s.
In The Simpsons episode "Hungry, Hungry Homer", the ghost of Cesar Chavez appears as Cesar Romero because Homer Simpson doesn't know what Cesar Chavez looks like.
In 2008, comedian Shaun Micallef started doing impersonations of Cesar on his television show Newstopia. The impersonations featured Cesar doing fake news reports from various locations.
Romero believed in liberation theology. Romero was a dedicated Christian, and believed in a utopian society whose belief is that Christ's kingdom would be very similar to Marx's envisionment of communism, and held to this belief until his death.
Romero always claimed his grandfather on his mother's side was Cuban poet and patriot José Martí. There was some speculation that Maria was fathered by Martí who was a boarder in the Mantilla household, but he never claimed Maria as his daughter in his lifetime.
Romero never married, despite proposing to at least one woman. Romero made regular appearances on the Hollywood social circuit, usually in the company of an attractive actress, and he was almost always described in interviews and articles as a "confirmed bachelor." Romero discussed his homosexuality in a series of interviews with author Boze Hadleigh, with the understanding that they would not be published during his lifetime.
Romero wore a man's tennis bracelet inscribed with his favorite nickname: "Butch". The term was reportedly bestowed on Romero by his one-time dancing partner Joan Crawford, who teased Romero by telling him: "You're so butch!" While Romero's homosexuality was an "open secret" in Hollywood, the movie-going public was unaware of his sexual orientation and there was never any embarrassing scandal surrounding his male liaisons, partially because he strove to be as discreet as possible.
Romero was a mainstay of the Hollywood social circuit until his peaceful death in 1994. He was cremated and his ashes interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery in South Los Angeles community of Inglewood, California.