Dolores Del Rio: The Female Valentino

Having had occasion to refer to her a few times, today just a very few brief words on the great Latin beauty Dolores Del Rio (María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete, 1904-1983).

Del Rio was a Mexican aristocrat from one of her country’s oldest and wealthiest families. She studied dance in her youth and performed at various charity and social event, becoming a professional being out of the question for someone of her class. It was in this setting that First National director Edwin Carewe first encountered her and became obsessed with the idea of turning her into a movie star. As her family had lost its fortune in the Mexican Revolution, she caved in to Carewe’s cajoling. By contract, he was to be her agent, manager, director and producer (this shocking and confusing conflict was common in those days). Their first movie together was Joanna (1925). She became an instant sensation, and was named one of the elite WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1926. Other films of the silent period included The Whole Town’s Talking (1926) with Edward Everett Horton and Trixie Friganza; Maxwell Anderson’s What Price Glory? (1926), Resurrection (1927), The Loves of Carmen (1927), Ramona (1928) and Evangeline (1929), her last with Carewe.

In spite of her accent, Del Rio was able to weather the transition to talkies, although starring roles were more elusive. In the ’30s she appeared in such films as Bird of Paradise (1932), Flying Down to Rio with Fred and Ginger (1932), Wunderbar with Al Jolson (1934), Madame du Barry (1934), and In Caliente (1935). By the late ’30s, most of the films she starred in were flops and her star seemed to be sinking.

But Orson Welles, lover of all things Latin, was entranced with her. They had a relationship from 1940 through 1943, and he cast her in his film Journey into Fear, her last Hollywood movie for many years. After this Welles spent many months in Mexico and South America shooting his Pan-American friendship film It’s All True. In the interval, Del Rio returned to Mexico. Welles consoled himself by marrying that other Spanish beauty Rita Hayworth.

Del Rio went on to become one of the Mexican film industry’s biggest boosters and stars for the next several decades. She only returned to Hollywood a couple of times after that, to appear in the Elvis film Flaming Star (1960), and John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn (1964), both westerns.