Dolores del Río (1905 – 1983), born María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López Negrete in Durango, Durango, Mexico was a star of Hollywood films films during the silent era and in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Later in life, she became an important actress in Mexican films. She was generally thought to be one of the most beautiful actresses of her era, and was the first Latin American movie star to have international appeal.
She was the second cousin of actor Ramón Novarro and a cousin to actress Andrea Palma. She was born into a wealthy family of Spanish ancestry. Her parents were members of the Porfiriato (members of the ruling class from 1876-1911 when Porfirio Díaz was president) in Mexico. The family lost all its assets during the Mexican Revolution, and settled in Mexico City. A desire to restore her comfortable lifestyle inspired her to follow a career as an actress.
In the silent film era, Del Río was considered a counterpart to Rudolph Valentino. With the arrival of the talkies, she became one of the principal Art Deco symbols of beauty. Del Río was one of the principal stars of Mexican films during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the 1940s and 1950s. She was frequently called the "Princess of México."She studied at the Liceo Franco Mexicano in Mexico City. She had a passion for dancing and admired the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Performing as a dancer for gatherings of rich Mexicans, she met Jaime Martínez del Río, a scion of one of Mexico's most important families. They fell in love although he was 18 years older. In 1921, at the age of 16, she married him. The couple spent three years in Europe. In 1924, they returned to Mexico City.
She was discovered by movie producer Edwin Carewe. Struck by her beauty, Carewe gave the couple work in Hollywood, she as an actress and he as a screenwriter.Using her married surname, she made her film debut in Joanna, directed by Carewe in 1925 and released that year. Hollywood first noticed her appeal as a sex siren. She struggled against the "Mexicali Rose" image initially pitched to her by Hollywood executives. Despite her brief appearance, Carewe arranged for much publicity for the actress. In her second film High Steppers, she took the second female credit after Mary Astor. These films were not blockbusters, but helped increase her popularity. Carewe's intention was to transform her into a star on the order of Rudolph Valentino.
In 1926 the artist Theodore Lukits painted her portrait. Titled A Souvenir of Seville, it depicted the actress in the dress worn for her presentation to the Spanish Court. Also featured was her pet monkey. The large painting was displayed in the Carthay Circle Theatre for the premier of The Loves of Carmen (1927). It was reproduced in magazine and newspaper articles in the United States and Mexico. In late 1926, director Raoul Walsh called her to give her a role in What Price Glory. With the character of Charmaine, she achieved her desired success. She came to be admired as one of the most beautiful women on screen.
Later films during this period include Resurrection (1927), The Loves of Carmen (1927), The Trail of '98 (1928), Ramona (1928) and Evangeline (1929). Her career flourished until the end of the silent era. While her career was flourishing, her marriage declined. Her husband moved to Germany, where he committed suicide from depression in 1929.
With the arrival of the talkies, she left her working relationship with Carewe. He seemed to take revenge by filming a new version of Resurrection with her alleged rival, Lupe Vélez. With the support of United Artists, she left Carewe and debuted in the talkies with The Bad One in 1930. That same year, she married Cedric Gibbons, one of MGM's leading art directors and production designers.
With the advent of talkies, she was relegated to exotic and unimportant roles. She scored successes with Bird of Paradise (1932), directed by King Vidor. The film scandalized audiences when she took a naked swim with actor Joel McCrea. This film was made before the Hays Code was enacted so nudity could be shown. Next she filmed Flying Down to Rio (the film that first paired Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) (1933), Madame Du Barry (1934) and Wonder Bar (1934).
Later, she starred in the Busby Berkeley comedies In Caliente (1935) and I Live for Love (1935), but she refused to participate in the film Viva Villa! (Fay Wray took her place). She described the film as an "anti-Mexican movie."
In 1934, she was one of the victims of the "open season" of the "reds" in Hollywood. With James Cagney, Ramón Novarro and Lupe Vélez, she was accused of promoting communism in California. Twenty years later this would have consequences on her career.
In the late thirties, her career declined. She unfortunately suffered from too many exotic, two-dimensional roles designed with Hollywood's cliched ideas of ethnic minorities in mind. She was marked as "box office poison" by exhibitors.
In 1940, she met Orson Welles, who at that time was new to Hollywood. Feeling a mutual attraction, the couple began a romance. Welles fell madly in love with her. Reportedly, the affair was the cause of her divorce from Gibbons in 1941. She was with Welles for two years, during which he was at the peak of his career. She was at his side during the filming of Citizen Kane. Welles initially directed her in the Mexican film Santa, but the project was cancelled. (It would be realized later by director Norman Foster and the Mexican actress Esther Fernández.) She also accompanied Welles in vaudeville shows across the United States and collaborated with him in the film Journey into Fear in 1942. After Welles broke from RKO, del Río sympathized with him, though her character (a sexy leopard-woman) in the film, was reduced.
Since the late thirties, she was sought on several occasions by Mexican film directors. She was friends with noted Mexican artists, such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and maintained ties with Mexican society and cinema. After breaking off her relationship with Orson Welles, she decided to try her luck in Mexico, disappointed by the "American star system." Mexican director Emilio Fernández asked her to star in Flor silvestre (1942) and at 37, she became the most famous movie star in her country, filming in the Spanish language for the first time. One of her most successful films was María Candelaria (1943, a winner at the Cannes Film Festival). Other celebrated movies of that era were Las abandonadas (1944), Bugambilia (1945), The Fugitive (1947, directed by John Ford), and La malquerida (1949). With director Roberto Gavaldón she filmed the movies La otra (1946), La casa chica (1949), Deseada (1950), Doña Perfecta (1951) and El niño y la niebla (1953).
In 1954, she was slated to appear in the 20th Century Fox film Broken Lance. The U.S. government denied her permission to work in the U.S.A., accusing her of being a sympathizer of international communism. Because she did not get permission, the film was made by Katy Jurado. She became one of the victims of McCarthyism. Her situation with the U.S. was fixed in 1956 when the actress was able to return to the United States to perform in the theatrical production of Anastasia with Lili Darvas.
In 1959 Ismael Rodríguez paired her up with María Félix in the film La cucaracha. Also that year, she married theatrical American businessman Lewis "Lou" Riley. She won the Silver Ariel Award (Mexican Academy Award) for best actress four times.
In 1960 she finally returned to Hollywood. She starred with Elvis Presley in Flaming Star directed by Don Siegel. She then alternated between films in Mexico and the U.S.A., with both television and theater. In 1967, she performed for the first time in Italy, with Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif in the film More than a Miracle (C'era una volta), produced by Carlo Ponti. She also participated in some American TV series, acting with figures like Buster Keaton, César Romero, Bill Cosby and others. Her last movie was The Children of Sánchez with Anthony Quinn and Katy Jurado.During the sixties and seventies, Dolores del Río became involved in actor union activities in her native country and was the founder of the group known as "Rosa Mexicano." In 1974, she was the founder of the Estancia Infantil of the Asociacion Nacional de Actores in Mexico. In 1966, she was founder of the Sociedad Protectora del Tesoro Artistico de México (Society for the Protection of the Artistic Treasures of Mexico), co-founded with the philanthropist Felipe García Beraza and responsible for protecting buildings, paintings and other works of art and culture in Mexico. In 1972, she helped found the Festival Cervantino in Guanajuato, Guanajuato. In 1981, she was an honoree in the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
On April 11, 1983, she passed away from liver disease at the age of 77, in Newport Beach, California, U.S.A. She was cremated and her ashes were interred in the Panteón de Dolores cemetery in Mexico City, Distrito Federal, Mexico. In 2005, on the centenary of her birth, her remains were moved to the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres in Mexico City. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1630 Vine Street, in recognition of her contributions to the motion picture industry.
She was considered one of the prototypes of the classic woman style of the 1930s: "I think," said Larry Carr (author of More Fabulous Faces), "that Dolores del Río's appearance at the beginning of the 30's influenced Joan Crawford. In 1930, when Crawford emerged as beauty personified in the entire world, but especially in Hollywood, the women imitated her style of dress and makeup. Gone was the style of heavy pancake and little heart shaped mouths. In its place the angular face, the sculptured look came into vogue. They produced a new type of beauty, of which Dolores del Río was the precursor. She left her 1920s look, loosened her hairdo, enlarged the shape of her lips and altered her eyebrows to underline her exquisite bone structure. She converted hers into one of the truly Great Faces." Marlene Dietrich considered her "the most beautiful woman in Hollywood." For many people, "she has better legs than Dietrich and better cheekbones than Greta Garbo." Since 1983, the Mexican Society of Film Critics has been giving the Diosa de Plata award Dolores del Río for the best dramatic female performance.
Despite the passage of years, Dolores del Río continued until the end to present an image of an educated lady, elegant and sophisticated, that despite her age still remained pleasant and desirable in the eyes of the public. There is a statue of her at Hollywood-La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles, designed by Catherine Hardwicke built to honor of multi-ethnic leading ladies of the cinema together with Mae West, Dorothy Dandridge and Anna May Wong.
Singing the title track of the movie Ramona (1928)
Dancing in Bird of Paradise (1932)
In the movie Madame Du Barry (1934)
Excerpt from Flor silvestre (1943)
With María Félix in La cucaracha (1958)
Excerpt from More Than a Miracle (C'era una volta) (1967), where she plays Queen Mother