Clowns used TV to bring laughter to Hispanic children
Angel Castillo Jr.For the baby boomers from Cuba, Puerto Rico, South and Central America, Mexico and Spain who live in South Florida, the last of an iconic TV trio from their childhood has just passed away.
Published: November 24, 2012
Published: November 24, 2012
Emilio Aragón, who with his late brothers Gabriel and Alfonso had made children throughout Hispanic America sing, laugh and learn during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, died in Madrid on Nov. 17, at age 83.
The trio, all born in Spain and later also citizens of Cuba, where their children were born, were known as the television clowns "Gaby, Fofó, and Miliki." Millions of Hispanic children watched them on their TV screens from 1950 through the 1970s.
Emilio ("Miliki"), the youngest brother, played the accordion. The oldest brother, Gabriel ("Gaby"), played a small curved soprano saxophone; he died in Madrid in 1976, aged 53. Alfonso ("Fofó"), the middle brother, played an acoustic guitar; he died in Madrid in 1995, at age 72.
The Aragón brothers grew up in a Spanish circus family and began performing in their teen years in 1939. In 1946, following the end of World War II and their father's death, they moved to Cuba and began a long and stellar career of performing in nightclubs, circuses, radio, television and movies. They also made children's records.
They were pioneers of Cuban television. When another Spanish immigrant, radio entrepreneur Gaspar Pumarejo, inaugurated the island's first television station, Channel 4, in 1950, Gaby, Fofó, and Miliki began their first televised children's program.
While the program changed names, stations, and countries (including Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Argentina and finally Spain in 1973), over the years, the core format remained the same. The TV studio would be configured and decorated like a circus ring, and the audience would consist solely of well-dressed, groomed and behaved schoolchildren.
Fofó and Miliki would dress up with a red nose, long red shirts down to their ankles, funny hats and boots and orange wigs, but they did not apply white makeup or heavy lipstick. Gaby was the "serious" one, and he always wore a black frock-coat with a formal white shirt, black tie and black dress shoes, without a hat.
One of the brothers would always begin the show by asking the assembled children, "¿Cómo están ustedes?" (How is everybody?). The children would yell back happily in unison, "¡Bien!" (Fine!).
Gaby, Fofó and Miliki would then perform comedy sketches and tricks; sing innocent songs about mice, cows and hens; do multiplication skits on a blackboard; and lead in sing-along educational songs about the alphabet and the days of the week. Think "The Howdy Doody Show," "Captain Kangaroo," and "The Mickey Mouse Club" in Spanish.
One of their most popular original compositions was a Happy Birthday song. The lyrics (my translation) say, "Happy, be happy in your day, may God bless you, little friend, may peace reign during your day, and may you celebrate many more."
Like many Cubans, the children's TV clowns left the island for good shortly after the Communist takeover by Fidel Castro in 1959.
Rest in peace, Gaby, Fofó and Miliki. They don't make them like you anymore.
Angel Castillo Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and the Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.