Latina love goddess Raquel Torres (Paula Maria Osterman, 1908-1987) poured unsuspected amounts of showmanship into her screen presence. While indeed born in Hermosillo, Mexico to a Mexican mother, her father was a German immigrant and she was raised in the U.S. Those familiar with the actress know that she normally spoke in a thick accent in films. The delightful reality is that she didn’t speak with one in real life. It was a put-on to leverage the vogue for Latin stars (not dissimilar from Ricardo Cortez’s subterfuge, although somewhat less egregious).
Torres was 19 when she beat out 300 other girls for the part of a Polynesian damsel in White Shadows in the South Seas (1928), MGM’s first film with sync sound. Pacific Islanders were another ethnic specialty of Torres’s career. She trotted out that routine in The Sea Bat (1930), Aloha (1931), and Star Night at the Cocoanut Grove (1934), in which she performed a hula dance. Normally she was cast more appropriately as a Mexican, as in The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1929), The Desert Rider (1929), Under a Texas Moon (1930), Estrellados (1930), and The Woman I Stole (1933). In the British circus movie Red Wagon (1933), she plays an unspecified exotic.
In 1931 and ’32 she made an effort to gain some stage experience, touring with a vaudeville act, and appearing the Broadway show Adam Had Two Sons. Classic comedy fans know her best from three particular roles, among her last: the dancer Vera Marcal in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933, easily her best remembered role), Tarzana in Wheeler and Woolsey’s So This is Africa (1933), and a small role in Mae West’s Go West, Young Man (1936).
By the time of the latter film, Torres had essentially retired, having married wealthy businessman Stephen Ames. Ames went on to work as a producer on such films as The Spanish Main (1945), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), Tycoon (1947), The Boy With Green Hair (1948), The Man With a Cloak (1951), The Wild North (1952), My Man and I (1952), Confidentially Connie (1953), and Ride, Vaquero! (1953).
Raquel’s sister, Renee Torres (1911-1998) was also in films, although normally as a chorus girl or a walk-on. You can see her in The King of Jazz (1930), Estrellados (1930), Bon Voyage (1932), An Old Spanish Onion (1935), Under the Pampas Moon (1935), Captain Blood (1935), The Devil on Horseback (1936), God’s Country and the Woman (1937) and Submarine D-1 (1937).
To learn more about vaudeville please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.
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