Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Interview with George Martin

La abadía de Berzano
El rincón de los cinefagos más desprejuiciados.

By José Luis Salvador Estébenez

Francisco Martínez Celeiro, better known by his stage name of George Martin, has the honor of being considered one of the most important interpreters contributed by our industry to the golden age of European genre cinema, especially within the Mediterranean Western. Although other actors in our country, mainly Fernando Sancho and Eduardo Fajardo, managed to achieve great repercussion and popularity for their forays into the so-called spaghetti Western, Martin was the only Spaniard who managed to develop a continuity in leading roles within this type of film, both in co-productions and totally foreign films, which gives a good account of the status that came to hold within the genre's star system. The result of this specialization is his presence in some of the main classics of the style, the case of the films directed by Duccio Tessari “A Pistol for Ringo” (1965) and “The Return of Ringo” (1965), without forgetting other badly called minor titles, among which we can mention “Clint, the Loner” (1967), “A Taste of Killing” (1966) or “Sonora” (1968), where he would be a third protagonist completed by none other than Gilbert Roland and Jack Elam.

However, during those years his career was not limited solely to the Eurowestern, but also encompassed other styles. Spy films, horror, science fiction, giallo and adventure films were some of the aspects of European popular cinema that George Martin frequented during those years, highlighting his participation in three installments of the globetrotter saga of "The Three Supermen". In total, a quarantine of films made in the three five-year periods from 1965 to 1975, the year in which, coinciding with the beginning of the decline of this type of cinema, he would leave the trade. A most brilliant career, without a doubt, to which, if there were not enough, we must add his work as director, producer and screenwriter during his last stage of service.

At eighty-three years old, Paco Martínez Celeiro resides today in Miami, Florida where he has become a major hotel entrepreneur. Thanks to the intermediation of his wife and the advantages of new technologies, we were able to contact him to transfer his memories of that unforgettable stage.

How was your childhood?

I was born in the Chinatown of Barcelona, ​​during the war. I lived in Las Ramblas, near the Liceo Theater, and every night from my house I heard the noise of machine guns and gunshots. From then on it was like an action story and I think that influenced my life so that later on I could become a gymnast, actor and film director. I went to the highest school my mother could afford, but I was not a great student. Later in life I have made myself and God has always helped me a lot.

As he says, in his youth he was a gymnast, becoming a member of the Spanish Gymnastic team of the time ...

I was part of the gymnastic team of Joaquín Blume, who was the champion of Europe and was my teacher. He was the best gymnast in the world, although in our country he was not given all the credit he should have. In Spain at that time there would be some twenty first-class people who did sports gymnastics, which is a very difficult sport and requires many hours, while in Russia there were eight million gymnasts. Also, if you did gymnastics in Spain you would starve, when in Russia the government paid them. And yet, Joaquín Blume was the champion of Europe, winning over the best Russian gymnast. It was incredible. He was the son of a beautiful Andalusian, who loved me like a son, and a charming German, who was also a gymnast. For my part, I was runner-up in Spain.

At that time we were doing exhibitions throughout Spain because people did not know what sports gymnastics was all about. But when I was twenty I had to go into the military to Africa. Since I was a gymnast, from the sports field they tried to help me so that Franco would free me from going to that destination and thus be able to continue training with the national team, but Franco objected saying: "If I had a son and it was his turn to go to Africa, he would go". I was screwed, because I spent a year and a half doing military service, and being in Africa was like being locked in a dungeon; I remember that my barracks was at the tip of Ceuta and at night I saw the lights of Algeciras from my bedroom window, as if it were a romance. Luckily, an uncle of mine was a military man and by chance he was also in Ceuta in my same regiment, and that helped me a lot so that it didn't kill me the time I was doing military service there. However, Franco saved my life, since when I went to Africa it coincided that my gymnastics team was going to make an exhibition to the Canary Islands and they all died in a plane crash, Joaquín Blume and his wife among them.

The truth is that in all the time I was in Africa I did not do anything good but, at least, I did do something for sport. I formed a gymnastic team with the soldiers from my barracks and we were champions of North Africa. By the way, during the military service, a guy, who I never knew who it was, put a nail in my saddle, and when I got on the horse the animal came out stiff and fell on top of me on the ground, as a result of which I produced a fracture at the base of the skull. I was in a coma for three or four days and they called my father to tell him that I was in serious condition. But when the army says that someone is in serious condition, it is that they are dead, so my parents practically went to Ceuta for my funeral. But God has always been with me, and since I have been a very lucky man, I managed to overcome that and recovered.

Once my military service was over, I returned to Barcelona shortly before the celebration of a gymnastic championship in Maastricht, the Netherlands. But since most of the Spanish team had died in the accident with Joaquín Blume, it was a completely new team. When I came back from the military, I had about a week left before the championship, so I started pounding myself in the gym. The team was worried because since I had spent a year in the military they thought it would not workout. However, I have a barbaric drive that is what has always carried me forward in the cinema and in life, and once in the championship I came out first and it was embroidered. I did a somersault at the end of the incredible exercise and we were champions. For me it was a kind of new illusion, like starting life again after suffering the tremendous blow of killing all my gym equipment.

And how does your entry into the world of cinema take place?

I was in Barcelona in the dust. My friends were dead and also my sister, a beautiful fifteen-year-old angel, had caught heat stroke and was in an iron lung dying. So if my trip to the military had been sad, the return was even harder. Then a friend from the gym told me that some Italians had come to make a Western movie and they had told me about the director of the movie. And it was like in a Burt Lancaster movie, that they call him and he does a gymnastics show and leaves everyone stunned. I went to see this Italian, who was very cool, and asked me if I was a gymnast. I answered yes, and then he said I could be a stuntman, that is, a specialist. However, he told me that in Rome he had a specialist who knew how to do somersaults. So when I heard that, I did five somersaults in a row, fell onto a table and jumped on him. Frightened, he said to me: “Stop, stop. You are going to make movies forever with me”. And that was the moment that changed my life.

[George Martin poses with the “Tabernas de Cine” Prize awarded by the Almería Western Film Festival last 2017]

In his first accredited film he appears as Jorge Martín, a name that would eventually end up transforming into George Martin. Why did you choose this stage name?

When I started in the cinema, there was a representative in Madrid who initially gave me the artistic name Jorge Martín, because Paco Martínez did not work. I had an incredible look then, since as a gymnast I was very strong and, of course, as I knew how to do somersaults and all kinds of crazy things for any action movie, the directors hired me. So one of these films that I made at that time was with Americans and this woman told me that she was going to call me George Martin. I told her to call me what she wanted, because what interested me was to make the film. So that's how I jokingly came out and later I continued to use the name of George Martin, even though it was still Paco Martínez and my friends and family have always called me Paco Martínez.

After several years performing secondary roles, in the mid-sixties he began to make his first leading characters coinciding with the emergence of the production of Westerns in Spain and Italy. How did this access to leading roles take place?

I started out as a stuntman and a horseman. My mother was Galician and, although I lived in Barcelona, ​​when she was a child she took me to Galicia, where we had a farm in Lugo. There they gave me a horse, I learned to ride it and that's how my cowboy life began. I went up the mountains herding the cattle like in the movies and little by little I learned everything there is to know about horses. I never knew how to ride a horse was going to be such a fundamental tool, but then when I started making Westerns, it came out great. I was one of the few actors at the time who knew how to mount well. The rest, in general, were carried by the horse, but by then I already knew how to do everything with them: I dominated them, threw them to the ground at a gallop, lifted them, made jumps from one horse to another, throwing the other rider… Well, all the crazy things you can imagine. So everything I had learned as a child during my stays in Galicia was what opened the doors of the cinema for me.

You witnessed first-hand the evolution of the Western in Europe from its inception to its decline ten years later. Why do you think that half a century later those films still have legions of fans around the world, many of whom weren't even born when they were made?

All the films I made are still sold throughout the world. I go around the world and they know me everywhere. Now here in Miami, for example, on television they show a lot of my films. The reason I think they are still seen is because, basically, they are children's movies. They are stories of horses and fights for children. In the end it is that and that is why there is a market that will always be. They are the same as the movies I saw when I was twelve years old. This is why Western cinema will never die, but there will always be a demand for this type of film.

                 [George Martin with Diana Lorys in "Rebels in Canada"]

Among his first works within the Western, he stands out in two films written and directed by Amando de Ossorio, La tomb del pistolero (1964) and Rebels in Canada (1965). What do you remember about these two films and, above all, about their director, either personally or professionally?

I have quite forgotten them because many years have passed. I do remember that we did them in Madrid, on the outskirts, and that Amando de Ossorio was a very good person and leaned heavily on me for the action. Because of course, any director could be a director of action films if I was there, because I helped them, I knew how scenes could be done, how they could be done the first time and that they were spectacular. That is why I have always made action movies, when Spanish directors, on the other hand, had never made action movies. They knew how to make a film in which the gallant hero was on horseback and ran, but really in Spain there has never been a good director who knew how to do the action. So the directors who made films with me relied heavily on me to help them with the action part. In Italy it is the same. All the directors who worked with me loved me and always wanted me to do movies with them.

Among his contribution to the genre, he highlights his long collaboration with Duccio Tessari. How did you become part of the stable team of actors of the Italian director and what would you highlight about him?

True, I made several films with him and with Giuliano Gemma, who was like a brother to me. I think about him a lot, because he was a great person and an artist as well. I have a sculpture of a precious bronze bull that he dedicated to me. I already told you that we were like brothers and we loved each other very much. I have dreamed many times that I was with him in Rome the day he had the accident and was killed, and that I saved him. The way he died was a disgrace. He bled to death for nonsense. He had great cars, but that night he was in a small car, that gave him a blow as a result of which he cut his aorta, in his leg. He began to pour out blood and all the people crowded around him seeing that it was Giuliano Gemma, but nobody helped him. For me it was tremendous, because we have been together for so many hours that I have always wondered why I was not there, that I am a man of action, that I would have taken him and carried him on the shoulders or as it were to a hospital.

As for Duccio, he was a terrific director, fantastic. With him I made A Pistol for Ringo, The Return of Ringo and Kiss Kiss ... Bang Bang (1966), which is a kind of 007 movie but with acrobatics and that was a great success thanks to which I became famous in Italy. Actually these three films were very important for me to make my way. In A Pistol for Ringo Giuliano was the heartthrob and I was the sheriff, and in The Return of Ringo' I played the bad guy. It was a terrific role. Never has a Spaniard played such a Mexican role. And it was hugely successful around the world and they even called me to congratulate me on my performance.

On a Pistol for Ringo, by the way, I have a very curious anecdote. To call from Almería to Madrid you had to do it from the hotel by conference call, it was not direct; In other words, you had to call the Almería switchboard and from there they put you to Madrid. One night during the filming after dinner I called my house in Madrid and they did not pick up the phone from the switchboard. When they finally did, I hear a girl's voice screaming, "Help, we have a fire." So there the Supermen came out and I went with another friend running in my pajamas to where the Almería telephone office was. There was a huge gate, and although my friend was a little scared, I took a run and knocked him down. In the back of the room I saw that there was an old man shouting that he was suffocating, that he was the night watchman of the place. So I entered playing my life, I took the old man and opened the windows and doors where the five or six telephone operators were who were I imagine scared. There was a fire and tremendous smoke. It was an adventure type of the movie that I did as the protagonist. It was very funny because, after the girls left the building and the place was surrounded by about a hundred people among the parents of the telephone operators and other neighbors who had heard about the fire, the firefighters arrived with a wine barrel. A hundred liters full with a tap in a wagon, but it had no pressure and, of course, no water came out of the hoses. It was like a funny movie, because luckily when they arrived I had already taken the old man and the telephone operators to the street. The next day in the Almería newspaper on the front page it said: "Telefónica was burned but the staff was saved because the firefighters arrived."

Also in Rome the same thing happened to me again and it was in the press. We were on Via Veneto, where I was going to have dinner with my team while we were filming The New Adventures of Robin of the Woods (1970). So, when we left the restaurant for dinner, in Via del Tritone there was a huge modern clothing store with a fantastic window fifteen meters long and five meters high. And in that immense showcase we see that there is a man screaming inside: "Fire, fire, fire!" I looked and there was no way to enter, so I had to take a bar that was in front of a table and break with it the glass that was about three centimeters thick to get out the man who was suffocating from the fire.

             [Press clippings commenting on the rescue of the vigilante by Paco in Rome.]

His prolonged association with the Catalan producer Balcázar, for which he starred in several films, was also of great importance within his career at the Western. Of them, perhaps the most emblematic is Clint, the Loner, which even had a sequel. What could you tell me about your relationship with the Balcázars?

We were like family and they loved me very much. It was an extraordinary family, very hard working and they welcomed me like a son. Alfonso was the film director, his brother Jesús also directed films, although of a different kind, and the parents apart from the producer had a chain of fantastic hotels in Barcelona. They set up a western town and, as I told you, they caught me in a kind of adoption, and every time they made a movie and asked them who was going to be the protagonist, they always answered that Paco Martínez. They were very good and very honest, because in the cinema there is a lot of rabble, like everywhere else. Unfortunately almost everyone has already died, but life goes on.

Some of the films that I made with them were A Pistol for Ringo, The Return of Ringo, that we did at their studio partly there, since the rest was filmed in Almería, Clint, the Loner and The Return of Clint the Loner (1972) which also included Klaus Kinski. In this movie, by the way, all the action I did [1]. I was an actor and a director, because as a director I am much better than an actor (laughs).

Outside of the Western, his participation in the saga of "The Three Supermen" stands out, for which he starred in three films in which his character, curiously, was called like you. How did your entry in this series of films take place? I imagine that, given the characteristics of the characters, their background as a gymnast would have a lot to do ...

Indeed, they are films that sport gave me. My life was very sporty and, as when I started making films I had been part of the European champion team, all my films have been doing stunts, which no actor has done in the foreground the things that I have done. And I have never stopped particpating in sports, because sport for men is essential, for the body, for the mind and for the strength of how you have to be with people.

So they offered me a job in a movie called "The Three Supermen". The first one we did in Japan and we were shooting it in Tokyo, imagine. We had a fight in the middle of the street and the Japanese did not stop, because they were going their own way. It was like another world [2]. And in The 3 Supermen in the Jungle (1970). I remember that Salvatore Borgese, an Italian comedian who has always worked with me, another American actor, who has passed away [3] and I were the protagonists. They were very funny action movies, in which I also had a lot of fun doing them with Salvatore Borgese, and that the public liked them a lot.

[Salvatore Borgese, Brad Harris and George Martin in "The 3 Supermen in the jungle".]

When the seventies arrived, he began to combine his work as an actor with that of producer, screenwriter, and even director. Why did you decide to take this step in your career?

I was forced to direct because on two occasions the director became ill and I had to continue filming as a director. That is the explanation of why I started making movies as a director. One of these cases was a film called Diabolic Chill (1972) with Patty Shepard, in which the director was José María Elorrieta. He was a great person, a great director, and even today his children are friends with my children. But during the first week of filming he fell ill and I had to direct it myself. In another one of these movies, instead, it started with a director, but the guy didn't know anything, I was pissed off and I had to tell him that I was continuing. On the other hand, throughout my life I have accumulated many experiences that made my mind become a script factory.

Curiously, in most of the films in which he intervened as producer and / or director, a series of names are repeated, be they Frank Braña, Sal Borgese, Cris Huerta, Gaspar “Indio” González or Nieves Navarro in the acting parts, or the director of photography Jaime Deu Casas in the technical aspects. For what is this?

When I started making films as a producer, I always took a team of friends with me, such as Paco Braña, whether they were Westerns, Supermen movies or whatever. I liked to use them because I knew they would not fail me. Jaime Deu Casas, the camer operator, was also like a brother. He was a great person who, unfortunately, foolishly left. I had complete confidence in him and I remember that in a movie where I was a producer filming in Turkey I sent him along with several actors.

                 [Rosalba Neri and George Martin in "With Death Behind".]

After filming the film Los hijos de Scaramouche in 1975, he left the cinema. What was the reason?

Los hijos de Scaramouche was that messing around that we Spaniards have. So we got together with some friends and we made the movie with the Calatrava brothers of the protagonists. However, before I had already made another movie with the Calatravas, El último proceso en París (1974), in which I gave him the opportunity to sign as director to Pepe Canalejas, because he was a friend and he needed to have a name, although I actually directed it.

But at that time I got married, I had two children and, of course, life changes, although at first I continued to make movies and took my children with me. For example, in Kiss Kiss… Bang Bang we shot many things on the island of Mallorca and I rented an apartment there for my wife and children. But it was getting harder and harder to go on the set with the kids and so on, and there came a time when I decided to stop.

However, I think that in the United States it has remained somewhat linked to the cinema and that it even has a filming studio. It is true?

I went to Miami, I started as a joke and now I have several hotels with three hundred employees in my charge, in addition to a private island, although I do not live there, but it is in Key Biscayne, which is a paradise where you have everything and is attached to the city. And among the businesses I have is, in fact, a film studio where Bad Boys or Miami Vice have been filmed, and also a dubbing studio in downtown Miami.

And looking back, how do you rate your career?

I can not complain. God has given me a very good life and has always helped me.

[George Martin and Klaus Kinski in an image from "The Return of Clint the Lonely"]

[1] In fact, unlike in the Spanish version, whose realization is signed by Alfonso Balcázar, in the Italian copies of the film the name that appears in the direction is that of George Martin.
[2] The title of the film he comments on is 3 Supermen in Tokyo / 3 Supermen in Tokyo (1968).
[3] Refers to Brad Harris.


  1. The only question I'd like to ask George Martin is: "where can we find the western VAMOS A MATAR SARTANA / DEMASIADOS MUERTOS PARA TEX?" He was the protagonist of that mysterious film and nobody knows where it is!!

    Emanuel Neto

  2. Exactly! I've heard George has a copy or the original film and Wild East has contacted him several times to see if he will allow it to be released. As Harmonica said, "Someday."