Maggie Van Ostrand
Dolores del Rio
a Canadian magazine interview, I was asked who had the most beautiful face of
all time. I unhesitatingly answered, "Dolores Del Rio."|
Not Garbo, Dietrich,
or Elizabeth Taylor can compare with Dolores Del Rio. Though only five foot three
inches in height, slim Dolores del Rio appeared tall on international cinema screens.
Sinuous and sensual, she was widely regarded as the female Rudolph Valentino.
She starred in "Flying Down to Rio" (1933), with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
in supporting roles in their first film, and she was still a star when she appeared
in Woody Allen's 1983 film, "Zelig." Precious few other actresses have retained
both beauty and stardom for over fifty professional years.
del Rio - Mural - Hollywood, California|
Photo courtesy Maggie Van Ostrand
into an aristocratic Mexican family as Lolita Dolores Martinez Asunsolo Lopez
Negrette in Durango Mexico on August 3, 1905, she was always called Lolita by
family, including her second cousin, silent screen idol, Ramon Novarro. Her father,
a prominent banker, lost the family fortune during the Mexican Revolution, but
his daughter's beauty was never lost.|
Educated in a convent, she married
writer Jaime Martinez Del Rio at the age of 16, and the couple moved to Mexico
City where they were very socially active, until the dissolution of their marriage.
At a Mexico City tea party, Hollywood film director Edwin Carewe, was struck by
her dark beauty, and invited her to star in his 1925 silent production of "Joanna."
She emmigrated to California, and starred in many silent films of his and other
Although Del Rio spoke fluent English, the advent of sound
exaggerated her accent, limiting her range of roles. Nevertheless, fans found
her accent charming and flocked to her movies, and she retained Hollywood stardom
through the forties. Unlike today's stars, Del Rio looked as magnificent with
all her clothes on, as in the title role of 1934's "Madame Du Barry," as when
she appeared all but nude in 1932's "Bird of Paradise."
In 1930, she
married famed MGM art director and production designer, Cedric Gibbons, from whom
she was divorced in 1941. Just in time, too, since Orson Welles (10 years her
junior) fell madly in love with her. In fact, she collaborated with him on his
1942 film, "Journey Into Fear," in which she starred.
In American films,
Del Rio's leading men ran the gamut from Henry Fonda, in 1947's "The Fugitive,"
to Elvis Presley, in 1960's "Flaming Star." Though she looked far too young to
play Elvis' mother, he was so enchanted with her that he insisted she be cast.
Del Rio was a brilliant businesswoman and in 1943, when she returned to Mexico
to star in films (frequently with Pedro Armendariz), she negotiated a percentage-of-profits
deal, increasing her already vast fortune. Her loyalty was legendary, and she
went back to Hollywood occasionally, only to accommodate old industry friends,
such as director John Ford ("Cheyenne Autumn" 1964).
Her ageless beauty
and magnificent complexion were the source of envy among female colleagues in
Hollywood. Today, we have plastic surgery and Botox, but Dolores Del Rio maintained
her looks solely through a self-invented diet and exercise program, diligently
She retired from films in 1978 (except for appearing as herself
in the aforementioned "Zelig"), and devoted her time to managing her financial
and real estate holdings, and to her lifelong hobbies of writing and painting,
until her death in 1983.
There are many kinds of beauty, I know, but
for traditional drop dead gorgeousness, no one has ever come close to Dolores
Degrees of Separation, or, How a Mexican Star Became a Cajun Legend by Maggie
Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
February 16, 2005 column
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