Actor Leo Carrillo, 80, was equally adept at playing the buffoon, riding in a parade or making a serious address, died of cancer Sunday at 5:58 p.m. at his Santa Monica Canyon home.
He had been in a coma since Thursday.
With the actor when the end came were his adopted daughter, Miss Marie Antoinette Carrillo, and two close friends, retired FBI investigator Owen E. Meehan Jr. of Hollywood and Jack Tolbert, foreman of the Carrillo ranch at Vista.
Friends said that Mr. Carrillo hadn’t talked about the nature of his illness but that he was aware that it was a recurrence of the malignancy for which he was operated on two years ago.
Had Birthday Party
He became seriously ill again about six weeks ago. Although weak, he was in good spirits and joked with about 30 friends who attended a birthday party for him at his home Aug. 6.
The actor had dinner with his daughter and friends in the dining room of his residence last Tuesday night. His condition became worse the next day and his physician, Dr. Adolph Kosky, revealed that death was near.
Mr. Carrillo “suffered no pain and passed away peacefully,” Dr. Kosky reported.
After a lengthy career on the stage, beginning about 1900, he successfully made the transition to silent movies and then to talking pictures. When television come in, he scored a big hit in this medium.
The funeral will be at St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Santa Monica, with Msgr. Raymond O’Flaherty officiating. Day and time of the funeral are still pending.
Said Roland Woolley, the actor’s attorney for 30 years:
“Right to the last, Leo was brave and he was humble and he was grateful to life for all its richness and the blessings that he had received.”
Never at a loss for either a serious comment or a quip, the actor with the dapper mustache was frequently called “Mr. California.” This sprang from his deep pride in the state’s romantic Spanish-American history and the prominent part his family played in it.
He seemed to personify the dashing caballero.
After his earlier successes on stage and screen, a whole new generation was captivated by his portrayal of Pancho, the impish sidekick to Cisco Kid in a highly popular television series about the Old West.
Mr. Carrillo and Duncan Renaldo made 156 “Cisco” films between 1949 and 1955.
Often in the Saddle
Children were particularly fond of the Pancho characterization. Close friends recall that this popularity among the youngsters was a source of great satisfaction to the actor. Wherever he went, they mobbed him for autographs, and he was always happy to oblige.
He seldom turned down an invitation to speak at a banquet or civic observance. And he was happy to oblige when requested to appear in a parade or fiesta with one of his high-spirited palominos.
As a speaker, he could transport his audiences from laughter to tears and back again. He received numerous awards for public service, including an honorary colonelship in Oklahoma.
He frequently shared the speaking rostrum with Eugene Biscailuz, retired Los Angeles County sheriff whose family also dates back to early California. Fast friends since boyhood, they enjoyed nothing better than exchanging good-natured jibes.
Stricken in 1959
Reports once spread that Mr. Carrillo was near death after he was stricken at Scranton, Pa. on Aug. 25, 1959.
He was en route at the time to Chicago to welcome South American athletes to the Pan-American Games in furtherance of the Good Neighbor idea to which he was dedicated.
He was flown back to Southern California, underwent major abdominal surgery and bounced back amazingly to confound those who thought his death was near.
When the next Tournament of Roses parade rolled around, he was riding in it as usual astride his handsome palomino, “Conquistador.” He also rode in this year’s parade at Pasadena.
Mr. Carrillo many years ago lopped 10 years off his actual age. Because of his whirlwind pace and still-dashing appearance in recent years, few guessed that he was nearing 80.
He swung through Latin America last year on a 20,000-mile trip as good will ambassador for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
Mr. Carrillo had a deep interest in politics. He seriously considered running for governor in 1941 but decided against it because of his admiration for Earl Warren and he strongly supported Warren in the latter’s successful race.
Gov. Warren appointed him to the State Park Commission in 1942. He served continuously on that agency until last Jan. 1.
The actor led scores of public drives. One of those closest to his heart was the purchase by the state of the Old Plaza in the heart of Los Angeles for creation of a monument to the founding of the city.
He conceived the idea and saw it realized when the state acquired the Plaza’s Old Pico House and surrounding property, including Olvera St., in 1953. The land on which Pico House stands was once the site of an adobe home which was the residence of Mr. Carrillo’s great-great uncle, Jose Antonio Esequiel Carrillo.
Among the very close friends of the actor were two great humorists, Irwin S. Cobb and Will Rogers. Mr. Carrillo and Cobb were neighbors for many years in Santa Monica. Mr. Carrillo and Rogers once performed on the same bill on the New York stage. Rogers was then a rope twirler and Mr. Carrillo was a monologuist specializing in dialects.
Born in Adobe House
Mr. Carrillo was born Aug. 6, 1891, in an adobe building close to the Plaza. He was the fifth child of eight in a family that could trace its lineage back to the colonization of California by Spanish conquistadors.
His great-great grandfather, Jose Reimundo Carrillo, accompanied Father Junipero Serra and explorer Gaspar de Portola on the expedition north from Baja California in 1769 to settle San Diego.
His great-grandfather, Carlos Antonio Carrillo, was appointed in Mexico in 1837 as provisional governor of California.
Carlos Antonio once controlled a tract of 70,000 acres of land in what is now West Los Angeles. His brother, Jose Antonio Esequiel, was a signer of the Treaty of Cahuenga in which the Mexican forces capitulated to the Americans in 1847.
Was Art Student
Leo’s grandfather, Pedro C. Carrillo, was an early-day Los Angeles judge and the actor’s father, Juan Jose, was once mayor of Santa Monica. Many years later, in 1939, Leo was named honorary mayor of West Los Angeles.
Mr. Carrillo attended St. Vincent’s College, forerunner of Loyola University, and decided to become an artist. To earn money for additional studies he got a job in the engineering department of Southern Pacific Railroad.
He was assigned to construction along California’s scenic coastline where the railroad was being pushed northward to close the gap between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
He worked with men of many nationalities and learned dialects that he was later to use on the stage. He also expanded his knowledge of languages and eventually could speak five different tongues, including Japanese and Chinese.
His real ambition was to become a cartoonist and he left railroading to take a $15-a-week job as an artist on the San Francisco Examiner. In his spare time, he attended art school.
He made his first stage appearance at an amateur benefit. Then when an act on the Orpheum Circuit didn’t show up, Leo filled in and was a hit. His acting career was launched.
He appeared in Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis, and eventually reached the New York stage. He had trouble convincing producers that he could act as well as mimic, but his skill with dialects was to stand him in good stead. He landed his first part in the theater as Tony, a comic Italian role in “Twin Beds.”
In Broadway Hits
It led to his appearance in a string of Broadway hits, including “Magnolia,” “Mike Angelo,” “Gypsy Jim,” “Badman,” “Broken Wing” and “Mr. Antonio.”
His greatest success in the theater was in “Lombardi, Ltd.” It played two straight years on Broadway, two years on the road and a year in Australia.
When he returned from Australia, he made his debut in silent movies. His first film role was in Booth Tarkington’s “Mr. Antonio,” in which he had appeared in the theater.
His antics on the screen became familiar to movie fans in such other productions as “Gay Desperado,” “Love Me Forever,” and “20 Mule Team,” in which he played with his friend Wallace Beery.
While still in New York during his days in the theater, Carrillo met a young lady backstage after she and several girl friends had seen his performance at Proctor’s 23rd Street Theater. She was Edith Shakespeare from Nyack, N.Y. They were married in 1913 and she died in 1953.
When they came to California, Leo built their Santa Monica Canyon home at 639 E. Channel Rd. where he resided until his death. It is called “Los Alisos” (The Sycamores.)
The Carrillos’ adopted daughter, Marie Antoinette, has served as her father’s secretary.
The family spent part of their time at their 4,500-acre ranch at Vista, near San Diego. Boy Scout groups were frequently permitted by Carrillo to camp on the grounds.
Mr. Carrillo was completely engrossed earlier this year before his illness in completion of the book, “The California I Love,” written in collaboration with Ed Ainsworth columnist of The Times. He termed it the culmination of his life.
Scheduled for printing this fall, it recounts many of the actor’s California stories and also tells the story of his life. The publisher, Prentice-Hall, planned to fly the first copy to him Sept. 29.
A copy of the book’s jacket was delivered to his residence Sunday morning in the hope that he could see it, but he did not regain consciousness.
In addition to his daughter, the actor leaves two brothers, Jack, a retired engineer of Grants Pass, Ore., and Ottie of Santa Monica; two nieces, Mrs. Frances Wright of Santa Rosa and Mrs. E. S. Keogh of Massapequa, N.Y., and a nephew, Arthur Calkins of Manhattan Beach.