Given his swoon-worthy looks and his gravitas as an actor, Manolo Coego earned a reputation as “the Marlon Brando of Cuba” for his work in television, radio and theater.
But Coego, who died Tuesday at his Kendall home at 89, was most proud of his family, which includes three generations of actors: Son Manolo Coego Jr., daughter Margarita Coego DeTraglia and her daughter Natalia Coego, a 2014 Carbonell Award best actress recipient for her role in “Bad Jews” at GableStage. Daughter Cristina Ruiz is a television makeup artist.
“¡We are the Cuban Barrymores!” Coego joked in a 2011 El Nuevo Herald profile, referencing the acting clan of seven generations that included John Barrymore, his namesake son and granddaughter Drew Barrymore.
“We saw how that art worked, how he handled it, and studied it at home. He never said, ‘Don’t do it.’ He was a great teacher,” Coego DeTraglia said.
“I never went to any theater academy because I learned everything from him,” son Coego Jr. told El Nuevo Herald in 2011. “I just needed to see him act.”
Born Dec. 22, 1927, in Havana, Coego was an only child, raised from age 3 by a single mother. He was the first actor in the family and began by reciting poems on stage at boarding school by age 13. He studied theater at the Academia de Arte Dramático de La Habana in Cuba, inspired by American actor Cary Grant and Cuban actors Ernesto Galindo and Ernesto Vilches. When Coego first started getting parts on radio and the stage, he was working at a dry cleaners and would sneak out the back door to study his lines or make quick recordings.
After he left Cuba for Venezuela in 1961 and then on to Miami in 1975, he continued to earn accolades, winning the El Heraldo de México award in 1981, the Mexican equivalent of the Emmy, for his work with Ofelia Medina in the Spanish-Mexican series, “Toda una vida” (A Lifetime).
Some of his credits include the popular 1950s Cuban soap, “Romance cada Jueves,” with Raquel Revuelta, “La novela de las 10,” and “Gran teatro del sábado y otros espacios,” all of which made him popular with large female audiences in Cuba and Venezuela for his matinee idol looks, which helped him transition from radio to film.
“I was never jealous,” his wife of 66 years, Cristina Fernandez de Coego, told El Nuevo in 2011.
In Miami, Coego did radio work for WQBA and Radio Paz and had many dramatic roles on South Florida stages. Among his roles, he starred in “La fierecilla domada” (The Taming of the Shrew) at Dade County Auditorium and “Don Juan Tenorio” at downtown Miami’s Olympia Theater.
“He was always known for so many of his dramatic roles but he was a great comedian,” said Coego DeTraglia, who remembers her father telling jokes and doing comic routines for friends and family.
Few thespians can conquer TV, film, radio and theater. Each demands a different approach.
“He respected each medium, loved each one,” Coego’s daughter said. “He was a self-made man. He taught himself how to be a man and how to be an actor. My dad was like a walking encyclopedia. Humble and generous.”
Coego is also survived by his daughter Susana del Busto, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A viewing runs 6 p.m.-midnight Wednesday, Jan. 18, at Bernardo Garcia Funeral Homes, 8215 Bird Rd., Miami.