As a young man in Havana, Andrés Marrero del Campo was a baseball player. He remembered traveling to Miami to play exhibition games at the old Miami Stadium in the 1950s.
But the first baseman’s older brother César del Campo was a movie star in Mexican films and the lure of cinema overpowered the joy of home runs. Marrero del Campo, who died Dec. 28 at 82 of complications from a stroke, moved to Miami in 1961 and took bit parts in some of his brother’s films in Mexico.
“Playing extras, to a 20-year-old, that was very appealing when all around you were these actors and actresses — especially when they thought he was cute,” said eldest son Andrew Marrero. “But he realized that was my uncle’s life, not his life, and he heard a comment that the real money is not in acting in the movies but in the exhibition of the movies.”
The comment appealed to the ambitious ballplayer turned bit-actor. “I’ve always wanted to own theaters — don’t tell me why or how,” Marrero del Campo told the Miami Herald decades later.
By 1968, he ran theaters in Tampa, Arcadia, Bartow and Homestead that screened Spanish-language movies until Mexico stopped distributing its films to the States in 1989.
Whatever your mind can conceive and believe you can achieve. He was a man of faith and he lived a beautiful, sweet life and gave back. He grew by giving back.
Andrew Marrero on his father, Andrés Marrero del Campo.
He made his mark by pioneering a dormant business: the screening of first-run, English-language Hollywood blockbusters with Spanish subtitles to cater to a growing Hispanic market in South Florida. In 1993, Marrero del Campo bought the faded Valentino Cinemas on 8524 SW Eighth St. and initially operated it as a second-run $1 movie theater. Alas, few customers came.
If he could provide the current hits and make them palatable to the Hispanic audience, that could be the difference. He got hold of a subtitled print of the 1993 Sylvester Stallone vehicle, “Cliffhanger,” screened it, and lines wrapped around the block.
One problem: “Cliffhanger” was an aberration. None of the American studios saw a market in printing films with Spanish subtitles. “I said, ‘Dad, we’re in the Spanish market and we are in a Spanish community, we’ve got to find a way to bring in these films,” said Marrero. “This is where I admire my father. He said, ‘You stay here; I’ll be back.’”
Marrero del Campo flew to California and hit up every major studio president to make subtitled film prints for the ignored Hispanic market. He offered to pay the cost of producing them at first — about $3,000 to $5,000 per film print, if they’d provide the reels.
For the next 14 years, until he retired in 2007, Valentino was a hit. Families flocked to see hits like “Jurassic Park” and “Titanic.” Couples came for date nights.
“His movie theater was out of “The Last Picture Show” — dingy, family-run and it looked like this was going to be the last film shown before it closed. Yet it remained open, week after week,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “Dexter and I truly enjoyed going to his theater. It was our No. 1 venue to watch any movie because the audience was part of the show. And Andrés was part of the reason we showed up every week. … And honestly, Dexter’s Spanish was improving every week as we watched the films that Andrés presented to us.”
He was kind of a pioneer here here because he figured out the way to play blockbusters but with Spanish subtitles. He would sell the tickets, sell the popcorn and present the movie. It’s not being done now.
Miami Mayor Tómas Regalado.
Miami Mayor Tómas Regalado often featured his old friend Marrero del Campo on his Spanish-language television and radio programs for Telemiami and La Poderosa 670 AM as a movie critic and film commentator. “He had an incredible knowledge about movies and the history of the movies,” Regalado said.
“We would talk about new releases and, especially during the Oscars, he had an uncanny way of predicting the Oscars. He was almost always on the money. He got very passionate on the air. Those were the years he lived his meaning of life and that was to talk about the movies,” Regalado said.
Said granddaughter Priscilla Marrero: “As an artist, abuelo always took the time to remind me that it was possible to create the life you believe in. ‘Eres una artista,’ he would often tell me. We grew up in his movie theater selling the tickets, greeting the guests, selling popcorn, and playing the films. The theater was unique that it also had stages, and you would often find me, my brother and cousins dancing and performing for whoever was around to listen. He would be proud of us, and often share his enthusiasm to his guests. We will certainly miss his sense of humor.”
Marrero is also survived by his daughter Dania Margarita Marrero; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Services were held.
Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen