Fifty years ago today, on October 8, 1960, this photo of actors Ginger Rogers and Cesar Romero ran in the LA Times.
By 1960, Rogers was a household name and a Hollywood legend. An Oscar-winning actress, she had starred in more than 70 movies, and was best known for re-defining the musical genre with her dance partner Fred Astaire.
Romero was no Rogers, but he was no lightweight either. The New York born cubano had starred in scores of films, ranging from musicals, to comedies, to adventures. Romero was well-known to movie goers in the 30s and 40s as the preeminent “Latin lover.” Later, he played everything from the “heavy” to the comedic foil.
Romero parlayed his initial type casting into a long career, from the big screen to TV. Six years after this photo was taken, Romero’s name would be forever linked to “Batman” when he was cast as the Joker in the campy TV show starring Adam West. Today, despite a diverse body of work spanning almost half a century, he is best know for his turn as the warped villian.
In the above photo, Romero and Rogers are attaching bumper stickers to cars. The stickers are for Dick Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican nominees for President and Vice President in 1960. One month after the Times published this, Nixon would lose the election to JFK by a mere 112,827 votes, less than 0.17% of the entire popular vote.
The election is particularly well-known in Chicano historical circles because of overt efforts by the Democratic Party to mobilize the Latino vote. Among their tactics, the Democrats sponsored “¡Viva Kennedy!” clubs to reach out to Spanish-speaking voters in the Southwest and other parts of the nation.
They even enlisted the Senator’s wife in their targeted campaign:
This outreach effort may have been decisive for JFK. In Texas he won over 90% of the Mexican American electorate, about 200,000 votes. This helped give him the state and, hence, the presidency. Overall, Kennedy won an estimated 85% of the Mexican American vote from coast to coast.
To many Mexican American politicos, the results inspired hopes of greater attention from the new administration, if not outright formal appointments. Their hopes, however, were soon dashed. JFK paid almost no attention to the issues facing Mexican Americans and other Latinos.
As the above picture reflects, the Republican Party might not have organized “¡Viva Nixon!” clubs across the nation but they didn’t ignore Latino voters entirely. Romero, whose name and reputation would have been most powerfully regarded among Cuban and older Mexican voters, participated in at least a casual effort to garner some votes for “Tricky Dick.”
In subsequent years, celebrities like Romero and Ricardo Montalbán could help rally religious and conservative members of the Spanish-speaking population to vote for Nixon again and, even after that, Reagan. Now, fifty years later, Republicans seem to have lost almost all the benefits of these early connections.
As a sustained immigration debate based firmly in racialist ways of knowing nurtures the continual exodus of Latino voters from the Republican side of the fence to the Democratic, it’s interesting to look back and see how the present reality was anything but certain in 1960.