In the early sixties, Ramón Estvez was in despair. His first steps as an actor on television had gone well, but he had remained stuck in this medium. He wanted to do theater, cinema, and at that time his name weighed on him: there were not many successful Latinos in the United States. Every time I called for a position, whether for work or for an apartment, when I gave my name they answered with doubts and when I arrived the position was already filled, he said in 2003. And he decided to create a scene name for himself by merging that of CBS casting director Robert Dale Martin, who had aided him in those fledgling small-screen appearances, and that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who, as Estvez’s little sister Carmen recalls, went out a lot on time.
This is how Martin Sheen was born, who brilliantly, thanks to his talent, triumphed first in the theater and, later, in the cinema: Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Departed oh Wall Street. However, Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estvez has not disappeared: this name remains in all of Sheen’s official documents (passport, driver’s license and marriage certificate)… and in the soul of the interpreter. This week, in a magazine interview Closer, he confessed: one of the great regrets of his life was this change of name. And he speaks proudly of the stubbornness of his son Emilio, who kept him on despite being advised by his agent to change him, in what he considers to have been his only influence on his career. By his own decision, he reflects: Sometimes they convince you, when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe, and you pay for it later.
Over time, Sheen returned to his Galician roots, the land where his father, Francisco Estvez Martínez, an immigrant who left for Cuba at the age of 18 in 1916, was born from Parderrubias, in Salceda de Caselas (Pontevedra), without even speaking Spanish, a language I learned on the Caribbean island. From there he emigrated to the United States in the early 1930s, to Dayton, Ohio, in a modest Irish neighborhood, where he married another immigrant, Mary-Ann Phelan.
Martin Sheen’s life was powerfully marked by his childhood. His father worked in the NCR Company, industrial conglomerate that began by manufacturing cash registers. Barely married, the company sent him to the Bermuda Islands, and his eldest children were born there. Sheen was the seventh of their ten children (nine boys and a girl), and the first to be born in Dayton, in 1940, after the Estvezes returned to the mainland. During childbirth, a clamp improperly gripped her left arm, which is therefore three inches shorter than her right. Thus, in the series The West Wing of the White House, President Josiah Bartlet, his character, dons his jackets with a strange body twist. As a child he suffered from poliomyelitis, which kept him bedridden for a year, and when he was 11 his mother died. Thanks to the help of Catholic charity and the efforts of the father, the family remained united against the then usual distribution of children by orphanages or foster homes.
He was the monster of the family: he decided to act. Against his father’s stubbornness, the quieter son appreciates only theater and decides to study acting. He doesn’t know how to sing or dance!, he tells her, to which his son replies: You like westerns on TV and there nobody sings or dances. But you don’t ride a horse either!, I was told. Despite this, he settled in New York, following in the footsteps of his idol, James Dean. In the legendary episode two cathedrals, of the west wing, explains how the character of President Bartlet reflects his childhood and adolescent experiences. Same thing with Estvez/Sheen: practicing Catholic and tireless fighter against global warming and in favor of civil rights and immigrants, he was arrested several times during demonstrations in front of the White House. This activism began when he was 14 years old, when he led a strike of shopping carts at the golf club where he worked, protesting the numerous swear words uttered by members in front of children.
And then there is Spain. Francisco Estvez didn’t teach his children Spanish, but the Estvezes tapped into their roots. The patriarch was able to return to Galicia in 1967 (just when Sheen got his first big role in The story of three strangers), and began to come and go from his town to Dayton, while building a house in his native village that he would never see completed. He died in the American city in 1974 and was buried with his wife and son Manuel, who died in 1968. His only daughter, Carmen, ended up teaching English at a school in Madrid, where he is married. This is why, for years, many Madridians have met Sheen in the city, visiting his sister. Carmen was the one who finished her father’s house, inaugurated a river walk dedicated to his memory and kept the Estvez brand alive in Salceda de Caselas.
The Camino de Santiago, a dream come true
In the mid-2000s, Sheen, her son Emilio Estvez, and her son Taylor hiked the Camino de Santiago. In Burgos, the grandson met a girl, and at the end of the tour he decided not to return to Los Angeles and to stay in the Castilian city, where he got married. Influenced by this trip, Sheen and Estvez made the film The path (2010), which both starred in and the second directed. A few months ago, Sheen spoke proudly of The path, a great success by word of mouth, and a faithful portrait of his spirituality. During this shoot, while having lunch under huge pergolas at the back of Burgos Cathedral, Sheen explained: I am Catholic, and a lot of that spirituality is in this film. I had an extremely happy life, with normal ups and downs in my career. But I survived illnesses, my family is wonderful [sus cuatro hijos, entre ellos Charlie Sheen, son actores]…I believe in a Church that is doing amazing work in the third world. Other things, like messages from the pope [en aquel momento, Benedicto XVI], they are difficult for me. I live my faith, and it’s between God and me. A few yards from Sheen and the reporter, at the long tables, there was a strange group that didn’t look like actors: That’s my wife, that’s my sister and her husband, that’s my best friend from childhood…I made them come for you to enjoy with Emilio, Taylor [que trabajaba como asistente] and with me. Taylor Estvez currently works as a stunt coordinator in California.
Carmen Estvez says that for decades they didn’t understand their deeply Galician father’s sense of humor until they discovered that he often didn’t speak seriously to them. And that this sarcasm had been inherited by his son Ramón / Martin. In Burgos, he made a show of it. After a question about his career, he replied: With my CV full of bad titles, I can’t open my mouth. I’m an actor and that’s how I supported my family. But he must have acted in a dozen films of which I can be proud… At that moment, he dropped his coffee and said: You see? For celebrating my career. Divine punishment.
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