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Boricua Pioneer, Miguel Angel Alvarez “El Men”

by Tomás Peña

 

Miguel Angel Álvarez, known as “El Men,”(August 25, 1936 – January 16, 2011) was a Puerto Rican journalist, radio show host, actor, comedian, author, and poet.

He was born in San Juan Puerto Rico and raised in the municipality of Bayamon, where he received his primary and secondary education.

Álvarez started as a radio show host for WENA. On October 3, 1950, he was among a group of reporters who covered the historic gunfight at Salon Boricua between Nationalist barber Vidal Santiago Diaz and forty police and National Guardsman. For three hours Diaz held off the National Guardsmen and Insular Policemen, who surrounded the barbershop and attacked with revolvers, rifles, carbines, and a machine gun. The event made history because it was the first of its kind to be transmitted over the airwaves as it happened. In the end, Vidal Santiago Díaz perished but he became the second most famous Nationalist in Puerto Rican history, after Pedro Albizu Campos.

Also, he participated in the radio show El Tremendo Hotel (The Tremendous Hotel), starring Ramón Rivero “Diplo,” and was contracted to do radionovelas (radio soap operas).

The Puerto Rican playwright Francisco Arriví invited Álvarez to appear in three plays, where he made his theatrical debut: Club de Solteros (Bachelor Club), El Caso del Muerto en Vida (The Case of the Living Dead), and Maria Soledad (Lonely Maria).

Álvarez stood in for the actor Jacobo Morales in the theater production of El Cielo Se Rinde al Amanecer (The Sky Surrenders at Dawn). Also, he appeared in the play Widows Walk, which was presented at the University of Puerto Rico Theater.

As his popularity grew, Álvarez appeared in productions throughout Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S.

In 1965, he played the leading role in the Mexican film, El Señor Doctor with Cantinflas and Marta Romero. Afterward, he returned to Puerto Rico and participated in a comedy titled Johnny “El Men” (Johnny the Man), whose theme revolved around the struggles of a Puerto Rican living in New York. The nickname, “El Men,” stuck with Miguel Angel for the rest of his life.

Álvarez distinguished himself as the director of four films for Columbia Pictures, among them Arocho y Clemente, Dos contra el Destino and Natas es Satán. Also, he participated in important Puerto Rican productions abroad, including The Mayor of Machuchal, Long Journey to Death, Mr. Doctor, While Puerto Rico Sleeps, Honeymoon in Puerto Rico, The Son of Gabriel Barrera, Whip Lash, Counter-Plot (in English) and El Reportero (Venezuela).

During the 70s, he participated in Manuel Méndez Ballester’s Los Cocorocos and in the 80s he starred in a TV comedy series titled Barrio 4 Calles.

In 1988 Álvarez produced his own show for Channel 13 and at the end of the decade, he worked in productions such as El Kiosko Budweiser.

Álvarez is the author of the book, Las Cosas Que Nunca Publique – En Broma y En Serio (Publicaciones Gaviota, 2011), which discusses his first artistic steps as an announcer for the radio station WENA, as well as his encounters with Rafael Hernández Colon, Luis Muñoz Marin, and Pedro Rosselló among others.

The book includes a gallery of photographs in which Álvarez appears with Jacobo Morales, Mario Moreno “Cantinflas,” José Luis “Chavito” Marrero, Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso, Awilda Carbia, Pucho Fernandez and Edith Cabrera, among others.

There are also never-before-published poems inspired by Tite Curet Alonso, Filiberto Ojeda Riós, Jose Miguel Agrelot, Pucho Fernández, and Ramon Ortíz del Rivero (“Diplo”), among others. The accompanying DVD includes the films Bello Amanecer and Mi Case Con un Cura.

Álvarez cites his conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ as one of the most significant moments in his life. In the poem, Mi Dos Amores he writes:

Entre dos amores
Hoy me encuentro you
Y a los dos me entrego sin vacilllacion
A los dos los amo …
Con el Corazon …
Son mi Puerto Rico
Y Jehovah … mi Dios.

Many of the poems are religious. Others are patriotic and/or critical of the colonization of Puerto Rico and the island's political status. Also, he advocates for political freedom and the rights of the working class.

On June 6, 2011, he was admitted to the Hospital Metropolitano in the municipality of Guaynabo, where he died from respiratory failure. Alvarez was buried beside the grave of his friend, painter Rafael Tufiño, in the cemetery Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis in Old San Juan.

On a personal note, I vividly recall my mother taking me to see Johnny “El Men” perform at the Teatro Puerto Rico in the South Bronx. During the 50s and 60s, the theater presented a vaudeville-style package of Spanish-language events and attracted entertainers from all over Latin America. After the performance, we went backstage to meet my famous second cousin. At the time of his death, I was in the process of reconnecting with Alvarez and other members of my extended family.

Miguel Angel Álvarez’s legacy survives through his writings, films, and broadcasts.


© Tomás Peña. Published by permission in Centro Voices 16 May 2019.