Evita Muñoz “Chachita”: The Little Girl Who Grew UpBy: Rafael Aviña
In mid-November of 1940, a time when it was common to head to the waterproof tent at San Juan de Letrán and Arcos de Belén in Mexico City, to watch the Rosete Aranda puppet show, or the premiere of Northwest Passage (1940, dir. King Vidor) at the Teatro de los éxitos, Joselito Rodríguez directed The Priest´s Secret. The film was shot in Amecamena and Tlalmanalco, as well as partially in the now defunct Azteca Studios, which were located where Plaza Coyoacán now stands.
The film marked the debut of a little girl, about to turn four, who would soon be making thousands of Mexican viewers cry: the famed Chachita, who appears in the credits as Eva Muñoz, and who starred alongside Pedro Armendáriz, René Cardona and Arturo de Córdova. At this point in history, Mexican cinema relied on a host of child actors to provide drama or humour: melodramatic cannon fodder in all kinds of urban or rural dramas and comedies.
Evita Muñoz stands out among the swathe of child actors at the time. Her nickname, Chachita, would be attained in her second film Jalisco, Don’t Backslide (1941, dir. Joselito Rodríguez), where she starred alongside Jorge Negrete and Gloria Marin, and which was closely followed by ¡Qué lindo es Michoacán! (1942), the first feature shot by Ismael Rodríguez. Born in Orizaba, Veracruz, in November of 1936, Chachita would become the exclusive star of the Rodríguez brothers´ films, which were responsible for her rise to fame.
That angelic little girl who somehow knew how to retain her aura of innocence even as she went on to play adolescents and adults, in more than fifty feature films. It is surprising that she began her career during Mexican cinema’s Golden Age, worked hard during the auge of the period and managed to make her mark also in the so-called Echeverrista period, even gaining her place in the new Millennium, lending her voice to films like Serafín (2001, dir. René Cardona III) and Meet the Robinsons (2007, dir. Stephen J. Anderson).
Thanks to her graceful, mischievous and natural onscreen presence, she appeared throughout the 1940s in films like Morenita clara, La pequeña madrecita, ¡Qué verde era mi padre!, La hija del payaso, Yo vendo unos ojos negros and Chachita, la de Triana. In 1947 she even stole the show from Pedro Infante in Ismael Rodríguez‘ Nosotros los pobres, in scenes like the one in which Pepe El Toro slaps her face, or where she insults and then apologizes to Carmen Montejo. She stands out in La hija de la otra (1950, dir. Vicente Oroná) or Los hijos de la calle (1950, dir. Roberto Rodríguez), where she is saved from being burned alive by molten lead by the villain Miguel Inclán, or in Los pobres van al cielo (1951, dir. Jaime Salvador).
It is impossible to forget her performances in You The Rich (1948, dir. Ismael Rodríguez), where she makes a phone call to her real-life father (Miguel Manzano) so that he will send her a car with a driver to cross the street, or in the scene where she cuts and sells her hair so that she can buy a chain for Freddy Fernández “El Pichi”‘s watch, only to find out that he has pawned the watch to buy her some combs for her hair. Later she would embrace adolescent roles in films like Una calle entre tu y yo (1952, dir. Roberto Rodríguez), or as the daughter of the self-sacrificing Carlos López Moctezuma in Padre nuestro (1953, dir. Emilio Gómez Muriel).
In 1956, when she was 20 years old, she starred in Fernando Méndez‘ La locura del rock´n´roll with Lilia Prado, Gloria Ríos and the famous composer Juan García Esquivel, as well as in other films that focused on youth problems, like Mis padres se divorcian (1957, dir. Julián Soler) or El dengue del amor (1965, dir. Roberto Rodríguez) with Adalberto Martínez “Resortes”, Julissa, Rogelio Guerra and the Cuban Dámaso Pérez Prado. Modernity was represented in these films by Mexico City’s main highway – el Anlilo Periférico – or the theme park at Chapultepec, in which Chachita, Resortes and others dance to the sounds of Pérez Prado’s song ‘Patricia’ in the area surrounding the fair.
Problems with her weight, and a crisis in the film industry brought on by the advent of television, led her to reinvent herself in Faltas a la moral (1969, dir. Ismael Rodríguez), a tragic story about poverty and promiscuity, starring Alberto Vázquez and the beautiful ana Martín. Chachita, drunk and obese, plays La Pulques, a seller of herbs.
Chachita would obtain the Silver Goddess prize for her sensational role in Cayó de la gloria el diablo (1971), directed by José “El Perro” Estrada, a director capable of rescuing popular tropes with an ironic or disenchanted vision. Ignacio López Tarso pays a fire-eater with a short-lived television career, while Chachita plays “Nachita”, owner of a chicken shop, who provides some extraordinary scenes that are somewhere between comedy and eroticism: “I´ll tell you about my dream when we are alone”, she tells him, although she ends up cheating on him with his young nephew Sergio Jiménez.
She won a second Silver Goddeess for her role in El barrendero (1982, dir. Miguel M. Delgado), the last film that Cantinflas starred in. The film, a comedy of double-entendre, Vedettes and exhuberent bodies, re-launched Chachita to stardom. She purposely made herself ugly in order to resemble the repulsive star of the popular comic books created by Joaquin Medía, to star in Hermelinda linda (1984, dir. Julio Aldama).
Isamel Rodríguez once said about her: “A marvel as a child. She was in the spotlight. We went to Latin America and they would give us advances for her work. At this time she was more popular than Pedro Infante, than the Solers themselves…”