Pancho Barnes and Duncan Renaldo (aka: The Cisco Kid)

Born in Romania on April 23, 1904, Duncan Renaldo (birth name Vasile Dumitru Cughieaneas) was orphaned at an early age and never knew his birth parents. He was raised and educated in various European countries and arrived in the United States in 1917 as a stoker on a Brazilian coal ship. After his ship caught fire at the docks in Baltimore, Maryland, he was stranded and overstayed his 90-day seamen’s permit. He moved to New York, where he found a job as a janitor at a film studio. His attention to detail on movie sets earned him a promotion to set designer, and eventually, he began acting in films. Initially, studios capitalized on his good looks, typecasting him as a “Latin lover.” He had notable roles in “The Naughty Duchess” (1928), “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (1929), and “Trader Horn” (1930), and starred as Zorro in “Trapped in Tijuana” (1932).

Pancho Barnes had many boyfriends, typically younger, handsome men with brown eyes and black hair. In 1932, she fell in love with Renaldo, and they began living together in her mansion in San Marino, California. At that time, Renaldo faced difficult times due to a bitter divorce from his first wife, Suzette, and legal issues for falsifying his U.S. citizenship status on passport documents for the MGM movie “Trader Horn.” He was charged with giving false information in 1930 and eventually convicted in 1934. As an orphan, and not certain what county to deport him to, Renaldo was imprisoned for two years on McNeil Island. 

“Independence Day was moved ahead seven months on 1/4/1932 for Duncan Renaldo, screen star, whose final decree of divorce from Mrs. Suzette Duncan was signed by the court. During the prior two years since January 9th, 1930, the Renaldo divorce proceedings, bitterly contested, have bulked-up official files in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.”
“Duncan Renaldo, screen actor, who lost appeal from conviction for perjury in obtaining a passport, is shown here with Edwina Booth in a scene from “Trader Horn.” The passport was issued to Renaldo for a trip to Africa where the motion picture was made.”

During his imprisonment, Renaldo and Barnes wrote to each other almost daily. Determined to help him, Barnes convinced Gilmore Oil to fund a cross-country promotional air demonstration with the ulterior motive to lobby her high-ranking government friends for Renaldo’s release, in Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC, and at every other stop along the way. She secured a full pardon from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

With a presidential pardon, Renaldo resumed his acting career, starring in feature films for Monogram Pictures and United Artists during the late 1930s and 1940s. He was granted full American citizenship in 1941. 

“The long-standing troubles of Duncan Renaldo, motion picture actor, over his nationality, which once reached such a dire state that he went to prison, ended happily today on July 11th 1941, when he was granted his final papers as an American citizen. He was granted a full pardon by President Roosevelt in 1936 and after re-entering the country from Mexico as a non-quota immigrant, applied for citizenship.”

In 1945, he took on the role of ‘The Cisco Kid’ for Monogram Pictures, insisting that his characterization be based on the Spanish novel “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” a book that had been gifted to him from Pancho Barnes. The movie series was highly successful, and Renaldo later reprised the role on TV.

“Relaxation of stars is caught by the cameraman during the location filming of “Valiant Hombre,” produced by Philip N. Krasne for United Artists. Left to right, Leo Carrillo as Pancho, John Litel, and Duncan Renaldo as ‘The Cisco Kid.’ “

From 1950 to 1956, “The Cisco Kid” TV show was a top-rated series.  The series starred Renaldo as ‘Cisco’ and Leo Carrillo as his jovial sidekick, ‘Pancho.’ The duo traveled the Old West on their horses, Diablo and Loco, fighting crime and ensuring Justice. The show, one of the first filmed in color, produced 176 half-hour episodes and was notable for avoiding gun violence, as Renaldo believed it set a bad example for kids.

Pancho Barnes and Duncan Renaldo remained in-touch over the many years.  He sometimes would visit her at the Happy Bottom Riding Club, and she would visit him while he was filming a Western on-location near her ranch.  

For his contributions to the entertainment industry, Renaldo received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.  He passed away on September 3, 1980, at the age of 76. His loyal gal pal, Pancho Barnes, predeceased him on March 30, 1975, at the age of 73.

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Dr. Louis F. D'Elia is the custodian of the Estate of Pancho Barnes and a Trustee of the Flight Test Museum Foundation at Edwards Air Force Base.