August 3, 1904 – Dolores Del Río :
I hate intolerance and blundering stupidity. And those who are ridden in fear. I have had much laughter and much success. And many tears and dark sorrow. Now, gently, a philosophy has tempered all these things for me.
Our baby-fingered financially embattled thousandaire president:
The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Del Río was born in Durango, Mexico, as Lolita Dolores Martínez Asunsolo López Negrette. The deliciously re-named Delores del Río has been dubbed the first major Latin American crossover Hollywood star. A trailblazer for women, Del Río’s legacy endures because we have captured her on film. She was an actor of remarkable beauty who became a movie star in Hollywood and in her native Mexico. During her life and career in the USA, she constantly faced typecasting and eventually she returned to Mexico, where she had great success as ”the First Lady of Mexican Theatre”.
She was the child of a wealthy banker and his wife. They enjoyed a lavish life of luxury, until the Mexican Revolution in 1916. She was presented to the King and Queen of Spain in 1919 and remained abroad, studying music and acting in Madrid and in Paris.
When she returned to Mexico City, and married her much older, very wealthy first husband Jaime Martinez Del Río, a member of one of the oldest and most influential families in Mexico. Then she was discovered by First National Films director Edwin Carewe while she dancing tango in a Mexico City club. The marriage didn’t survive the transition to Hollywood when she was 21 years old, though, but she did keep her new name.
Del Río was one of the most beautiful, elegant, expressive women of her era. She said of beauty:
Take care of your inner beauty, your spiritual beauty, and that will reflect in your face. We have the face we created over the years. Every bad deed, every bad fault will show on your face. God can give us beauty and genes can give us our features, but whether that beauty remains or changes is determined by our thoughts and deeds.
It didn’t take her long to find success in Hollywood, in fact she found work in her first year in the USA. Her first film was Joanna (1925); she was labeled as a ”Spanish actress” in the studio publicity package, but she successfully demanded that her true heritage be used instead.
Del Río’s first major role was in the comedy war film What Price Glory? (1926), playing a French innkeeper’s daughter torn between the love for two American soldiers. Directed by Raoul Walsh, she deliveres a vivacious performance. The press wrote that she was the ”first Latina to conquer Hollywood”.
She told Photoplay magazine:
I am not, by nature, melancholy, weepy, sorrowful, languishing, or sweet. I am the girl of What Price Glory? There, for a bit, I could show my real self. I am, by nature, tempestuous, fiery, stormy, eager.
From 1925 to 1929, Del Río starred in 15 silent films, but the biz was facing a major change: sound in film.
Not every film actor could do it, but Del Río, despite an accent, was able to make the transition to talkies, and she received starring roles and appeared opposite big stars like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But because she still retained that accent, she was stereotyped as the fiery Latin or exotics. She was a Russian peasant in Resurrection (1927), a half-Native American girl in Ramona (1928) and a young Polynesian in Bird Of Paradise (1932).
She appeared in American films for five decades, including John Ford‘s great western Cheyenne Autumn in 1964.
She danced with Astaire in Flying Down To Rio (1933), sweeping away all concerns about her appeal, yet she wasn’t able to break all of the barriers of stereotyping. In the 1930s, she suffered from playing too many exotic, two-dimensional roles designed with Hollywood’s cliched ideas of ethnic identities, appearing in a series of films as a “dark beauty”.
She also struggled to get work visas during the McCarthy era, because Republicans did not trust brown people, even, or especially, beautiful, talented Mexicans. In the 1950s, the US government claimed that she had helped the Anti-Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. She was blacklisted from working in Hollywood for a decade. Del Río:
I tried to interest my producers in stories about Mexico. I was forced to play glamorous characters which I hated.
Del Río married the head of MGM’s Art Department Cedric Gibbons. Gibbons designed the Oscar statuette, winning 11 of them himself, plus 38 nominations. Some of his designs influenced American interiors, and it has been argued that he was the most important art director in the history of American films. He retired from MGM in 1956 with about 1,500 films to his credits.
Jack Warner met del Río at a party and offered her a starring role in two films for Warner Bros. The first was the musical Wonder Bar (1934) with Busby Berkeley as the choreographer and Al Jolson her co-star. Del Río and Jolson were stealing the show and so Del Río’s character grew, while the character of Kay Francis, the star of the film, was reduced. The was a huge hit for Warners.
Warner Bros began filming Madame Du Barry (1934) with Del Río as star and William Dieterle as director. Dieterle focused on her beauty with the help of an extraordinary costumes designed by Orry Kelly, considered one of the most beautiful and expensive at the time. But Madame Du Barry was a major cause of dispute between the studio and the Hays Code office, primarily because it presented the court of Louis XV as a sex rondelet centered around Del Río. The film was mutilated by the censors and did not get the expected success.
Also in 1934, Del Río, along with Ramón Novarro and Lupe Vélez, attended a special screening of the Mexican film ¡Que Viva México!. The film was directed by gay Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, and it was accused of promoting Communism in California. It was the first time that del Río was accused of being a communist in the United States, a circumstance that would eventually have consequences in her career.
Gibbons could never help his wife at MGM, where the big stars were Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow. Studio bosses Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg both admired del Río’s beauty and talent, but her career did not interest them at a time when Latin stars had few opportunities to shine in the studio. She was put on the list entitled “Box Office Poison”, along with Crawford, Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West, with theatre owners claiming that big paychecks did not mean big ticket sales for their films.
In 1943, Del Río tired of the Hollywood grind and she returned to Mexico. It was an opportune time; there was a renaissance in Mexican filmmaking that is now considered a Golden Age. Del Río:
I didn’t want to be a star anymore. I wanted to be an actor. By 1940, I knew I couldn’t build a satisfying career on glamour, so I came home.
She worked on the stage and screen in Mexico and won that country’s equivalent of an Oscar four times. The return to Mexico also followed a tumultuous time period in Del Río’s personal life, with a second divorce and an ill-fated romance with one of film’s most famous men, Orson Welles. She filmed Journey Into Fear with Welles in 1943. It was one of many starring turns that really cemented her status as a movie legend.
She accompanied Welles in his shows across the USA with radio and performances of his Mercury Theatre. She was at his side during the filming and controversy of his masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941).
Welles later wrote she was the great love of his life, but while vacationing in Rio, he slept around with a bunch of women. Del Río heard about it and sent Welles a letter breaking it off. He never answered.
She founded the Society for the Protection of the Artistic Treasures of Mexico, working to protect buildings, paintings and other cultural works in Mexico.
Maria Candelaria (1946) is the film that she was most proud of. It was one of the earliest international hit films made in Mexico. It won the Palme d’Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. In it, she played a Native American peasant woman who is stoned to death by villagers because they believe she had once modeled for a famous nude painting, though actually, she modeled only for the face.
In 1974, she founded the Mexican Actors Union: Asociacion Nacional De Actores and served as its President for the first few years.
Del Rio married American businessman Lewis Riley in 1959. They were together until her final credits rolled in 1983, taken by liver failure from hepatitis at 78 years old.
Del Río was part of Hollywood’s infamous ”Sewing Circle” a group of famous Hollywood women who enjoyed the special company of other ladies. I have it on good authority that Del Río enjoyed liaisons with Dietrich and Garbo, who both mentioned in the press that they found her to be the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.
She counted among her very best friends: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Eva Peron, and Dietrich.
In his later years, Vincent Price took to signing his autographs “Dolores del Río”. Price:
I promised Delores on her deathbed that I would do what I could to keep her name alive.
Dolores Del Río’s Enchilada Sauce Recipe
2 small cans of Ortega chiles
1 pint of sour cream
1 pound fresh tomatoes
1 onion (medium size)
4 asaderos (Mexican cheese)
Scald tomatoes and peel. Cut onions fine, fry them in lard, then add tomatoes and mix, then cut chiles fine, too, and add, then season with salt and add asaderos, until it begins to melt; remove from fire.
Del Río was cremated and her ashes are kept in the (I am not making this up) Dolores Cemetery in Mexico City. A certain mouth-breathing con man from Queens is trying to build a wall around her, but she cannot be contained.