Not to be confused with either the Kentucky-born Christian singer or the drummer/percussionist who played with the '70s rock bands Wha-Koo and Crowfoot, the Don Francisco profiled in this bio is one of the biggest, most enduring names in Spanish-language television. The Chilean superstar has recorded some albums here and there and is a capable singer, but he is best known for hosting the long-running variety show Sábado Gigante -- a Latino institution that has been on the air since 1962 and celebrated its 43rd anniversary in 2005. According to the 2003 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, Sábado Gigante is not only the longest-running television variety show on Spanish-language TV -- it is the long-running television variety show in the world.
Over the years, Francisco has often been described as a Spanish-speaking equivalent of Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, or David Letterman -- and Sábado Gigante (which is Spanish for Giant Saturday) is as popular among Latino audiences in the United States (where it airs on the Univision network) as it is in Spain and in countries all over Latin America. In fact, Sábado Gigante is so well known among Spanish-speaking viewers that President George W. Bush has appeared on the program twice -- first in 2000 (when he was running against Democrat Al Gore), then in 2004 (when Francisco interviewed both Bush and his Democratic rival, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry -- who, like the president, saw a Sábado Gigante appearance as a perfect way to court Latino voters).
Born Mario Kreutzberger in Talca, Chile, on December 28, 1940, Francisco is the son of Jewish-German immigrants who fled Germany in the late '30s in order to escape anti-Semitic persecution under Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. Francisco first visited the United States in 1959, when his parents sent him to New York City to study men's fashion design. But Francisco ended up pursuing a career in broadcasting instead, and by 1962, he had moved back to Chile and was hosting a new black-and-white program called Sabados Gigantes (which subsequently changed its name to Sábado Gigante). Francisco's show was an immediate hit in Chile, and Sábado Gigante's popularity quickly spread to other Latin American countries. For 24 years, Sábado Gigante was broadcast from Santiago, Chile, where Francisco interviewed countless celebrities ranging from actors and singers to soccer players.
But in 1986, the show moved to Francisco's adopted home of Miami, although it maintained pretty much the same format and continued to offer a mixture of live musical performances, interviews, games, sketch comedy, and scantily clad young women. Musically, Sábado Gigante has been quite diverse; over the years, the show has turned the spotlight on everything from Afro-Cuban salsa, Dominican merengue, and Colombian cumbia to Mexican mariachi, ranchera, grupero, and norteño. Since his move to the U.S., Francisco's albums as a recording artist have included 1987's El Bailongo on MK Records, 1994's tropical-minded El Pachi Pachi (a Fonovisa release), and the Mexican-oriented Mi Homenaje Gigante a La Musica Norteña (which Univision Records released in 2004).