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Manela Bustamante, born Manuela Bustamante (Havana, Cuba, November 14, 1924 – San Juan, Puerto Rico, February 12, 2005) was a famous Cuban actress, who performed the character Cachucha in perhaps the most remembered Cuban comedy show of its era “Cachucha y Ramon” (1955-65 approx.). She later became a household name in Puerto Rico during the 70s as she became part of the cast in the show Los Garcia, a show considered by many to be among the best comedy shows in Puerto Rican TV history.
Manela was the only daughter of Spanish immigrants; her father was the owner of a guesthouse in Havana but lost the business during the depression of the 1930s. After finishing her basic education, at age 20, Manela embarked to pursue her desire in making a living in the entertainment world. After finishing her studies in a school of performing arts she worked on a theatre company that did tours around Latin America and in the Cuban radio station CMQ, as singer and story narrator. As Cuba became the first country in Latin America to have television, CMQ extended to TV broadcasting, in which Manela also worked performing several minor characters and commercials.
Cachucha y Ramón
Manela became a famous TV star in the mid-1950s with her character of “Cachucha” in the TV comedy “Cachucha y Ramon” together with co-star, Idalberto Delgado as “Ramon”. The show (mostly live), originally produced by Francisco Vergara and sponsored by Uncle Ben’s rice, grew in popularity from the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s, to such a point that a doll of the Cachucha character was made, something pretty new at the time. In a trip to N.Y. Manela appeared in a Garry Moore show, as his show was also sponsored by Uncle Ben’s rice.
After Cuba fell to communism in 1959, Francisco Vergara left Cuba immediately and tried to sell the idea of the show to other Latin American countries. It is known that a copy of the show, its same title, and characters was done in Venezuela at the same time the original show was still running in Cuba. This second copy attempts by Vergara failed; mainly because huge part of the original show’s success was attributed to the original actor’s own creation and interpretation of their characters, as well as their chemistry, which was something not emulated on the second versions. Idalberto’s natural acting and Manela’s ability to speak super fast (yet understandable) in times of tension, were abilities of their own.
Exile, Los Garcia
The show ended when Manela Bustamante went empty handed into exile with her family. After leaving Cuba in 1971, she lived in Spain for 3 years, and moved to Puerto Rico in 1974. In Spain, Manela put her artistic career on hang; it was her husband that became able to provide the main monetary income for the family as an architect. In Puerto Rico, Manela Bustamante became “Doña Tony” in the popular TV show “Los Garcia”, produced by Tommy Muñiz. She also did several commercials as well as a small role in the 1988 soap opera “Ave de Paso.”
Her last TV appearance was in 2004 as a special guest in a one-hour tribute to “Los Garcia”. Manela Bustamante died a year later in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on February 12, 2005, and is survived by her only daughter, 2 grandsons and her public, who still remember with sincere affection the funny and witty Cuban “Cachucha” and Puerto Rican “Doña Toni”.