Wolf Ruvinskis. 100 yearsBy: Rafael Aviña
A typical day at Mexico’s traditional Merced Market. The year is 1946. An immigrant from the Republic of Latvia with no papers, no money and a strong Argentinian accent, whose goal is to reach the United States, gets a job moving packages. Since he doesn’t really understand how things work in Mexico, this stranger by the name of Wolf Ruvinskis Manevic ends up with a broken nose after a street fight and is taken to see Doctor Bolaños, a doctor who specializes in attending to wrestlers. After seeing the foreigner’s imposing figure, the doctor convinces him to try his hand at wrestling. A few months later Ruvinskis makes his debut at the Colisseum Arena in Mexico City against Bobby Bonales. It was at this moment that he decides to abandon his American Dream and stay in Mexico.
Born 100 years ago this year, Ruvinskis had a difficult childhood. His father died after the family moved from Latvia to Argentina. His mother didn’t speak any Spanish, so he and his brother were forced to live on handouts, finally ending up in an orphanage. He wanted to be a footballer or a boxer –he had an aptitude for both disciplines– and ultimately did end up as a mask-less fighter (except for the series of Neutrón films, made between 1960 -64). While he was working as a wrestler, someone suggested that he might earn some extra money taking on small parts in films. He made his debut in Gilberto Martínez Solares‘ No me defiendas compadre (1949) alongside Germán Valdés (Tin Tan) who saw in the novice a man with great physical presence, strong features and curly hair; an attractive option for his team. In the film’s first scene Wolf takes Leticia Palma to dinner, where Tin Tan, who is working at the restaurant as a waiter, causes a fight with his clumsiness.
He earned 500 Mexican pesos for a round in the ring with Tin Tan in the film’s climactic sequence. The film marked the beginning of a close personal and professional relationship between the two men, as seen in films like: Simbad el mareado, El revoltoso, El sultan descalzo, Los tres mosqueteros y medio and Paso a la juventud, among others. Alongisde Tin Tan, Ruvinskis showed off not only his muscular figure, but also his comedic skills, in extraordinary scenes like the one in which he plays Rebeca Iturbide’s brother in prison with Marcelo Chávez in El revoltoso. He played Tracatá the antagonistic caveman in El bello durmiente; a gangster in Me traes de un ala and in El gato sin botas he delivered the line “Right, Tamalito?” to one of his subordinates. He also played a ruthless circus strongman in El vagabundo.
In 1949, the same year he debuted with Tin Tan, he joined the casts of Hipócrita, Amor salvaje and La oveja negra – a masterpiece of the ranchero comedy genre in which he faces off against Fernando Soler and Pedro Infante in an improvised ring in the role of the exhibitionist boxer The Champion Killer. Ruvinks’s tough appearance allowed him to star in films about criminals and cabarets, like El hombre sin rostro, where he plays a monstruous killer, or El medallón del crimen, Camino del infierno, Trotacalles and La noche avanza. In that last film, directed by Roberto Gavaldón, he plays El Bodoques, a henchman for the gangster José Maria Linares Rivas who, alongside Juan García Peralvillo, Margarito Luna and Armando Solo La Marina (also known as El Chicote), is hired to kidnap and murder the film’s antihero Pedro Armendáriz.
At the end of the 1940’s the theatre director Seki Sano was preparing Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, with María Douglas as Blanche Dubois and Ramon Gay somewhat miscast as the strong, brutish Stanley Kowalski. Once Sano discovered Ruvinskis the part was his. The play, which was shown at Mexico’s Bellas Artes, was highly successful, but Ruvinskis struggled with the unpredictable Sano, with whom he had some serious disagreements. Wolf, by all accounts, was ready to punch his director.
Ruvinskis starred in one of the first lucha libre films, La bestia magnífica (1952), alongisde Crox Alvarado and Miroslava, then went on to have roles in La última lucha, Los Tigres del Ring, El luchador fenómeno and Asesinos S.A., alongside Adalberto Martínez Resortes. He was also the undisputed star of the Neutrón series with Julio Alemán. He was unforgettable as the petulant boxer Bobby Galeana in Ismael Rodríguez‘ Pepe El Toro (1952) where he kills Pedro Infante‘s best friend Lalo Gallardo (Joaquín Cordero) in the ring, leaving his wife (Amanda del Llano) and two small children.
He also stood out in one of the best Mexican horror films of the period, Fernando Méndez‘ Ladrón de cadáveres and went on to confront the “Silver-Mask” in Alfredo B. Crevanna‘s Santo contra la invasion de los marcianos (1966). From the sixties through to the nineties Ruvinski had some important roles in films like: La isla de los hombres solos; El hombre del puente or El imperio de la fortuna. In José Luis García Agraz‘ Nocaut, he is an unscrupulous businessman who the film’s protagonist Gonzalo Vega, decides to have killed. In Carlos García Agraz‘ Días de combate he plays a man who strangles women and signs off each murder with the moniker “Cerevro”.
Boxer, wrestler, actor and shrewd businessman, Ruvinskis was also owner of a restaurant called El Rincón Gaucho, where he performed magic and illusionist acts. He was married a few times, including to the ballerina Armida Herrera (who played Caramba in El Ceniciento with Tin Tan) and in his final years he lived with Lilia Michel. The film industry in its moment welcomed his rugged, corpulent presence with benevolence – his impressive muscles and wicked smile would leave a deep mark both on and off the screen.