There is no need to panic. Although new faces, such as Julian Gil and Chiquinquira Delgado, have been seen co-hosting the 50-year-old international television sensation Univision’s “Sabado Gigante,” there is no need to imagine a Saturday night without the original host, Don Francisco — at least not yet. The man with the hearty deep laugh, who has not missed a single Saturday on the tube, says he is not retiring anytime soon.
“I’m not leaving,” says Mario Kreutzberger, otherwise known as Don Francisco.
He says he can’t promise us for how long he will be able to stay on air, but for now he feels good and is looking forward to a few more years on air.
“I do not want to retire,” says Kreutzberger. “I am still working. I am developing new talent also…I’m very happy…I’m still making new changes which we will see in September — new segments and more integration of platforms.”
He says the most important attributes to have in order to host a show which has aired for more than 50 seasons — making it the longest variety show ever according to the Guinness Book of Records, is “perseverance in work and words.” He also listens to his heart.
“My father’s dream was that I become a men’s clothes designer, which was ahead of being a tailor,” says the man born to German-Jewish immigrants who fled to Chile to escape Nazi persecution. “He made a big effort for me to go to New York, and at 19 [while a student in NYC]…I saw a radio, similar to what we had in my house in Chile, with a piece of cloth. This one had a piece of glass. I was amazed. It not only had sound but vision. I said to myself, ‘My father is wrong. The future is this — a radio you can listen to and watch at the same time. It was love at first sight.”
He says he then went back to his hometown in Chile where he pitched a television show idea to a small station there.
“They gave me an opportunity in 1962, and after four weeks they fired me,” says Kreutzberger. “The week after they took me back. They thought I wasn’t good enough, but the audience called me back.”
He says when he came back on the fifth week he decided to make his stage name Don Francisco — a name he invented when he was 16 and doing a stand up routine about a Jewish guy who couldn’t speak Spanish at a comedy club.
“That was a lucky name for me…My name is Mario Kreutzberger…they told me I can’t perform with that name, because no one can pronounce that in Chile,” says the television host, who got his start at age 22.
For 50 years, Kreutzberger has been breathing life into the impeccably-dressed Don Francisco.
“Don Francisco doesn’t have problems and is always happy,” says Kreutzberger. “Mario Kreutzberger is the guy who has to pay taxes, he’s a husband, a father, a grandfather…I’m more quiet. I’m less energetic than on television. When the camera goes on, I change. It’s difficult to explain.”
However, if he never went with his gut, he says he never would have had a show which has aired in 146 countries in the world.
“I would never have done that as a menswear designer,” says Kreutzberger, whose father passed away 12 years ago with Alzheimer’s. “I don’t know if he was able to understand the degree of success that I had. He knew about my success in Chile but not internationally.”
Although Kreutzberger has lived in the U.S. for the past 25 years, he says he used to fly back and forth, twice a month, from Miami to Chile to tape his show until 1992. Maintaining close ties with his home country is very important to him still as his daughter and two sons reside there, and he still flies there once a month to tape the Chilean version of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” He says he also does a telethon which helps support approximately 60,000 handicapped children.
“I get up every day about 8:30, do exercise for one hour…and go to the station,” says the 72-year-old about his days now. “My day ends about 10 at night when I’m taping.”
“When I started in the states, that was not easy,” says Kreutzberger about his beginnings as a local program in Miami. “I would like to be remembered as a good person, and as a man who gave everything for his audience. I work like crazy, and I tried to do everything the best that I can.”