This bubbly Netflix doc reveals an exuberant, strange, bitter-sweet bit of astro pop history, celebrating a dazzling figure, one Walter Mercado, caped wizard of entertainment-led stargazing, icon of Latinx culture in the U.S., a gender-nonconforming Puerto Rican-born psychic & astrologer, with an audience of millions across the globe, and an ultra optimistic bejeweled vibe that wavered before no misery.
Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch‘s direct Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020) somewhat conservatively linear, considering the temporal capacities of the tale, but spiced with vivacious tarot animations as preludes to the Mercado story, and warm admiration for their subject, a natural-born showman with a heart of gold, and a penchant for grandiosity. A former child prodigy of sorts, too, as he was singled out as a mystic at a very young age, when a neighbour saw him revive a dying bird. Which is when he must have grasped his religious appeal, as local people started lining up in front of their family house to receive Walter’s healing.
A supremely talented mythmaker, and resolutely private about his life in a culture where gender roles were firmly drawn, he was a handsome, provocative, successful dancer and theatre actor in youth, with a solid career in telenovela acting, when extreme fame literally dropped into his lap with his first gig as television and radio psychic in 1969, through a happy twist of events. Arriving dressed as a Hindu price to promote the play he was starring in, Walter was asked to first talk a bit about astrology to cover for another scheduled guest, as palmistry and the stars were his well known passion, and Telemundo ratings went through the roof.
People loved his encouraging style and fortunetelling flair. However exaggerated, vague, and sugared it may have been, from a significantly more hermetic point of view – it was based on astute observations, and received as incredibly motivational. He was the original life coach, employing astrological symbolism to conjure self-confidence in his audience. So Walter Mercado became a family staple, right after the news, and sometimes, instead of the weather report, influencing generations of young people, with his androgynous image, and enthusiastically camp delivery, opening doors of acceptance of all sorts of bold, new (and not so new) narratives without seeming to even try. A champion of queerness, he had great mischief in him when dealing with inquiries about his sexuality (“I have sexuality with the wind”), and lived with his long-time assistant, a loyal friend who, according to both parties, stayed a friend. Mercado maintained that the love of his life was his audience, “his people”.
And then, at the peak of his powers, when his considerable abilities of mesmerising his people evidently made him a figure of something close to religious worship, Mercado disappeared from view.
Walter’s tale is one of both triumph and woe, and sorrow came, not so unexpectedly, in the form of his marketing guru and agent Bill Bakula, who took Walter spellbindingly global, polished his show and perfected his image (“if it doesn’t look good, we’re not even gonna listen”), but also gained legal control of Mercado’s name, image, and work, through a later disputed contract. A steady, unanimated, yet infinitely clever opaque presence, Bakula says he has no regrets, Walter knew what the arrangement was.
Mercado’s fiercely protective and caring motley crew of a family has a different point of view, insisting that Walter gave over his life to someone he grew to love, and that his heart was broken by the betrayal.
After six years of court battles, Mercado regained the right to his name, suffered a heart attack, and slid into comfortable but solemn retirement.
However, there was still a triumph left for the enigmatic Walter. Through some luck, a Miami museum, and mucho, mucho amor from his adoring fans.
Because, people love to be loved.
Watch and see.
Author: © Milana Vujkov