Carlos Fontán

Chispazos de tradición (Sparks of tradition)

ack in the year 1931 the Spanish writer and actor José Andrés González Pulido, put together the theater company Chispazos de Tradición, with which he would bring an extraordinary impulse to theater on radio.

Carlos Ulanovsky tells us, in his book Días de radio. Historia de la radio Argentina (Espasa Calpe, Buenos Aires, 1995), that since 1914, much before the appearance of radio: «González Pulido was a worshipper and supporter of the so-called theatrical minor genre and he put on stage the most popular plays written by Florencio Sánchez. Inspired on a poem by Evaristo Carriego, his theater version of La costurerita que dio el mal paso successfully surpassed two thousand shows. González Pulido was nurtured on these sources, he found inspiration in the itinerant singers' improvisation, in the primitive feuilleton, in the exaggerated circus drama, in the mazorca melodrama and he crossed-over all those styles with the sainete (one-act farce). The result was explosive and successful. González Pulido made his debut on Radio Prieto, but only when he switched to Radio Nacional, in the late 1920, he managed to find a very peculiar recipe with which he stood out. Stories of the sentimental life, simple, candid and, above all, beyond any measure, divided into chapters to spice them with continuity and intrigue. A few days after the opening of the González Pulido's theater company, he found recognition by those who were charmed by its —"shouting, dark, incredible"— characters and was rejected by those that thought that "the gaucho bloody, camp" manners offended their ears and refined taste just as before only the sainete had done.»

Some of the most outstanding chapters written by his proliferous pen, are La estancia de Don Segundo, Por la señal de la cruz, El puñal de los centauros, El maestro de la luz, Las nazarenas del desengaño, among others.

As we can imply by the titles, they are plays in gaucho settings whose plots date back to the stories that in the turn-of-the-century Eduardo Gutiérrez published in the La Patria Argentina periodical, in which he wrote about Juan Cuello, Hormiga Negra, Pastor Luna, Juan Moreira, etc., all them heroic characters known for their permanent struggle against the injustice carried out by the mighty; this made that audiences identified themselves with those gaucho heroes that represented the wish of social vindication of people.

The popularity of the Chispazos de Tradición group has almost no parallel throughout the history of radio in Argentina. Some of the names that sprung out of that company were: the singers Tita Galatro, Domingo Conte, Ricardo Ruiz and the comic actor Mario Amaya.

Félix Scolati Almeyda was the composer of several music pieces for the play, among others: “Sangre criolla [b]” and “Calandrias y zorzales”.

Chispazos de Tradición was the first radio theater company that made tours throughout the neighborhoods and towns of the country. This example was later followed and meant one of the distinctive features of these groups, which after the early chapters of each novel were broadcast, they began to appear at theaters bringing an adaptation of the radio piece. In such a way, they reached audiences that had never before attended a theater play, not only because these companies dared to visit faraway towns but also because their artistry was what really interested and was frankly adhered to by big audiences.

Ulanovsky tells us, in his above mentioned book, that: «Theater on radio soon touched the listeners' heart and modified schedules, timings and habits. The telephone company had noticed that at the time of the radio theater was aired the number of calls decreased. Big stores like Harrod's had to place loudspeakers so as not to lose clients. All the cinema entrepreneurs of the nation requested the radio station to change the time to air Chispazos because people was so devoted to it that the attendance in the afternoon was affected. The sponsors of the cycle, Condal cigarettes, firmly opposed to it and they only agreed to place loudspeakers at a few cinemas.»

People's identification with the characters was such, that the bad guy, Caín, played by the actor Rafael Díaz Gallardo, had hundred of telepohone calls at home from people insulting him. He had to make remove his name out of the phone directory.

Ulanovsky goes on saying that «Caín's counterbalance was Churrinche (the name of a bird), played by the actor from Salta, Mario Amaya, an extremely naive guy, a boy with a pure heart that used to appear, on all the public photographs, dressed in gaucho costume wearing a flower on his ear.» From time to time, Churrinche, tired of his brother Caín's abusive behavior, slapped the latter's face knocking him down; a reaction that was warmly received by the radio listeners.

Big crowds went to meet the touring artists to get in touch with the radio idols. The love that this company inspired was great, and there was a time when they were the most popular people in the whole country.