Latin Americans and Latinos in the US have invited Don Francisco into their homes for decades. For many, he was like family. His variety show Sabado Gigante, which was on the air from the early ‘60s until its demise in 2015, was one of the rare times young and old could convene around the television and enjoy something together. But, Don Francisco’s creepy machismo was also in plain view on live TV each week. Perhaps it was his sexist and misogynist ways that made him seem familial. Despite that, Latinos still watched until they could not anymore.
Aside from the objectification of women on the show, child actors were also in danger whether they realized it or not. Chile’s top comedian Natalia Valdebenito was just a girl when she appeared on Sabado Gigante as part of their “Clan Infantil” – a segment in which children sang and conversed alongside Don Francisco.
Throughout Sabado Gigante‘s reign on TV, hundreds of kids were featured on Clan Infantil and Valdebenito is alleging that inappropriate behavior abounded during her time there. In an interview with CNN, she didn’t specifically state the type of abuse experienced on the show but said she was 10 years old when she appeared as a cast member in Clan Infantil and that it was a profound experience which left her traumatized. “Things happened that obviously all children [in Clan Infantil] left some of us saying ‘I do not want this anymore,’” Valdebenito said on CNN.
When pressed further for specifics, Valdebenito responded by saying, “Things happened that had to do with safety of children.” She added that nothing happened to her personally, which is why she finds it difficult to get further involved. CNN journalist Matilde Burgos asked outright if she was referring to abuse, and Valdebenito said yes.
Valdebenito said that while she denounces the behavior, it isn’t her place to give details because it didn’t happen to her, and was only indirectly involved. She said that she didn’t feel comfortable outing the person who was abused if they aren’t willing to confront the issue just yet. She also declined to name the person who committed the alleged acts.
Don Francisco commented on Valdebenito’s accusations saying, “It has not been said specifically what happened,” but added that in 40 years of the show, some “difficulty” could have occured. “I imagine that a mother got angry with a cameraman or with a producer or a child got angry with another child and felt that he was harmed. That’s what I know,” Don Francisco said according to La Carta. He clarifies, “There is no accusation. There is one thing that is not clear and they are giving more (coverage) to what is being said.”
Don Francisco is no stranger to allegations of abuse of power. The TV personality has been embroiled in sexual harassment claims, and another comedian who performed on the show is now in prison for the possession of child pornography.
On July 6, journalist Laura Landaeta revealed older accusations in an article about Don Francisco sexually abusing and harassing his co-workers on his previous shows in Chile and the United States. “I write this column to refresh the memory, because the abuse and harassment, in the world of television entertainment, did not start with Abreu (Herval) or with Nicolás López it started with Don Francisco,” Landaeta said according to El Nuevo Dia. “The impunity with which Don Francisco worked on television using women as an object, exchanging sexual favors in the dressing rooms for televisions, washing machines, and appliances and how the women on his work team talked about the host being ‘dangerous,” she said.
According to the journalist, Mexican model Ana Isabel Gómez accused the Sabado Gigante host of sexual harassment in 1994 after which Gómez signed a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for a large sum of money.