Cesar Romero, the classically handsome, debonair Latin Lothario of stage, film and television for nearly seven decades and an omnipresence on the Hollywood social circuit long after he had given up acting, died yesterday. He was 86.
Romero died at St. John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., according to spokesman Gary Miereanu.
To younger audiences, the enduring and versatile Mr. Romero was most familiar as the Joker in the television series of "Batman" in the mid 1960s and as matriarch Angela Channing's (Jane Wyman) husband Peter Stavros on "Falcon Crest" from 1985 to 1987.
Although he began on Broadway, Mr. Romero was probably best known for the dozen or so musical comedy films he made for 20th Century Fox in the 1930s to 1950s opposite such stars as Alice Faye and Betty Grable, and for his role as the Cisco Kid in a series of films.
Mr. Romero was born in New York, the son of machinery exporter Cesar Julio Romero and singer Maria Mantilla. His maternal grandfather was Jose Marti, the Cuban patriot and martyr for whom Havana's airport is named.
Mr. Romero, a lifetime bachelor, segued easily from stage to screen to television to dinner theatre and private dinner parties partially because of his perennial good looks. But his Hollywood friends and his family usually called him "Butch."
"George Murphy tagged that name on me years ago," he explained in 1962.
"We were all at a party and he went around tagging names on people that didn't fit them. I was tall and skinny and had black hair and played gigolos and he said, 'Your name is Butch.' Everyone laughed and it stuck."
Mr. Romero made his stage debut as a dancer in the 1927 New York show "Lady Do," and his Broadway debut as Ricci in the 1932 play "Dinner at Eight."
Moving west to Hollywood, Mr. Romero made his film debut as Jorgensen in "The Thin Man" in 1934. Other early films in the 1930s included "British Agent," "Show them No Mercy," "Metropolitan," "Love Before Breakfast," "Wee Willie Winkie," "Happy Landing," "My Lucky Star," the Cisco Kid series, and "The Gay Caballero."
Already in his mid-30s when World War II broke out, Mr. Romero interrupted his long string of films for three years' service in the U.S. Coast Guard.
After the war, he resumed his light comedy roles with "Carnival in Costa Rica," "Captain From Castille," "That Lady in Ermine" and "Deep Waters."
During the 1950s, he made such films as "Happy Go Lovely," "Lost Continent," "Prisoners of the Casbah," "The Americano," and the classic "Around the World in 80 Days."
His film career continued well into the 1960s with such films as "Ocean's 11," "The Castilian," "Sergeant Deadhead," and "Marriage on the Rocks."
But in the 1950s and '60s, Mr. Romero also became a popular guest on various television series. Along with "Batman," he was the urbane, mysterious foreign courier in the series "Passport to Danger," and appeared frequently in variety series such as the Milton Berle, Martha Raye, Dinah Shore, Betty Hutton, Red Skelton, and Jimmy Stewart shows.