Stars of Slapstick #135: Lupe Vélez
Today is the birthday of Lupe Vélez (1908-1944). While her career was not restricted to comedy by any means, it made up a substantial portion of her output and remains what she is best known for today. The daughter of a Mexican army officer, she took dancing lessons in her teenage years and made her debut in vaudeville in the mid-1920s. Her film debut came with two Hal Roach shorts in 1927, What Women Did for Me with Charley Chase, and Sailors, Beware! with Laurel and Hardy. This was followed by her first feature The Gaucho with Douglas Fairbanks.
One of the first Latin American women in Hollywood, she was naturally typecast as feisty, fiery, hot-headed Latinas (or other ethnic types such as Native Americans and Gypsies). She was presented as sexy but often also funny and her public image was as a wild woman, although she always insisted that offscreen that truly wasn’t the case. (Many details of her private life would seem to indicate otherwise).
While she made plenty of dramatic films in both the U.S. and Mexico, notable comedies of the sound era included Hot Pepper (1933), two films co-starring Jimmy Durante, Palooka and Strictly Dynamite (1934), Hollywood Party, featuring a funny battle with Laurel and Hardy (1934), High Flyers with Wheeler and Woosley (1937), and the Mexican Spitfire series for RKO with Leon Errol (1939-1943), which is what she is best known for today.
The other thing she is best known for today is her tragic suicide in 1944, reportedly because she was with child and unmarried at the time. Ironically her last comedy was Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event (1943).
Here’s a nice little montage of Mexican Spitfire moments:
To learn more about slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.