Dolores del Río

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Dolores del Río
Dolores Del Río.jpg
Dolores del Río in a publicity photo (1935)
Born María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López-Negrete
(1904-08-03)August 3, 1904
Durango City, Durango, Mexico
Died April 11, 1983(1983-04-11) (aged 78)
Newport Beach, California, U.S.
Cause of death Liver disease
Resting place The Rotunda of Illustrious Persons, Dolores Cemetery, Mexico City, Mexico
Occupation Actress
Years active 1925–1978
  • Jaime Martínez del Río
    (m. 1921; div. 1928)
  • Cedric Gibbons
    (m. 1930; div. 1940)
  • Lewis A. Riley
    (m. 1959; her death 1983)
Partner(s) Orson Welles (1938-1943)
Parent(s) Jesus Leonardo Asúnsolo Jacques
Antonia López-Negrete
Relatives Ramon Novarro [cousin] (1899-1968)
Andrea Palma [cousin] (1903-1987)
Dolores del Río's signature.jpg

Dolores del Río (Spanish pronunciation: [doˈloɾes del ˈrio]; born María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete (August 3, 1904[1] – April 11, 1983), was a Mexican-born United States-based film, television and stage actress. She was a Hollywood star in the 1920s and 1930s, and one of the most important female figures of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the 1940s and 1950s.[2]

Del Río was the first major Latin cross-over star in Hollywood,[3][4][5][6] After being discovered in Mexico by the filmmaker Edwin Carewe, she began her film career in 1925. In the last years of the American silent cinema, Dolores came to be considered a sort of female version of Rudolph Valentino, a "female Latin Lover"[7] She had roles in a series of successful silent films like What Price Glory? (1926), Resurrection (1927) and Ramona (1928). With the advent of sound, she acted films like Bird of Paradise (1932), Flying Down to Rio (1933), Madame Du Barry (1934) and Journey into Fear (1943). In the early 1940s, when her Hollywood career began to decline, del Río returned to Mexico and joined the Mexican film industry, which at that time was at its peak.

When del Río returned to her native country, she became one of the most important promoters and stars of the called Golden Age of Mexican cinema. A series of films including Wild Flower (1943), María Candelaria (1943), Las Abandonadas (1944), Bugambilia (1944) and The Unloved Woman (1949), are considered classic masterpieces and they helped boost Mexican cinema worldwide. Del Río remained in force in the cinema of her native country for the next three decades and only returned to Hollywood sporadically. Her long career also spanned theater and television.

Early life[edit]

María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López-Negrete[8] was born in Durango, Mexico to a wealthy family.[9] Her parents were Jesus Leonardo Asúnsolo Jacques, son of wealthy farmers and director of the Bank of Durango, and Antonia López-Negrete, descendant of an ancient family of high lineage.[10] Her parents were members of the old Mexican aristocracy that existed during the Porfiriato (period in the history of Mexico when the dictator Porfirio Díaz was the president). On her mother's side, she was a cousin of the filmmaker Julio Bracho and of actors Ramón Novarro (one of the Latin Lovers of the Silent Cinema) and Andrea Palma (another superstar of the Mexican cinema). On her father's side, she was a cousin of the Mexican sculptor Ignacio Asúnsolo and the social activist María Asúnsolo.[citation needed]

Her family lost all its assets during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921). The wealthy families of Durango suffered at the hands of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.[11] When the revolutionary forces attacked Durango, her mother pulled her out of bed, hid her in a big basket, and both rushed to the railroad station to catch the last train for Mexico City.[12] Dolores and her mother settled in Mexico City, where they lived under the protection of then President Francisco I. Madero, who was a cousin of her mother. Dolores's father had to take refuge in the United States. Three years later the Asúnsolo family was reunited. Dolores studied at the Collège Français de Saint-Joseph,[13] a prestigious religious school run by French nuns located in Mexico City. Since her childhood, she had a passion for dancing, admiring the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Dolores was deeply impressed when she met the Argentine dancer Antonia Mercé La Argentina, famous for her interpretive dances which Dolores began to imitate.[14] She had been dancing almost as soon as she could walk, but now she wanted to apply herself seriously to the art of the dance. She took ballet lessons with Felipita López. Adding such moves to her natural grace, the young girl attracted a lot of attention, especially from men.[15]

In 1921, a group of Mexican aristocratic ladies led by Doña Barbarita Martínez del Río decided to organize a dancing party to benefit a local hospital in the Teatro Esperanza Iris. They chose Dolores to perform "Spanish" dances. In this party Dolores met the son of Doña Barbarita, the Mexican aristocrat Jaime Martínez del Río y Viñent. Son of a wealthy family who had lost nothing during the Revolution, Jaime had been educated in England and had spent some time in Europe. Martínez del Río was captivated by Dolores and she was captivated by his interesting culture.

The couple began a discreet romance. After a two-month courtship, Dolores married Jaime on 11 April 1921. He was 34. She was 16. Their honeymoon in Europe lasted two years. During that time the young bride entered an entirely new and exciting world, one far removed from the stifling restraints of the conservative Mexican upper class. Jaime's connections and his wife's beauty and intelligence got them invited into the homes of the European social and artistic aristocracy. Among their friends were The Duke of Alba, Luis Fernández, The Duke of Medinaceli, Carlos de Beistegui and even The King of Spain Alfonso XIII and the Queen Victoria Eugenie.[16]

In 1924, the couple reluctantly returned to Mexico. They decided to live on Jaime's country estate, where cotton was the main crop. Life in the country, perhaps idyllic at first, quickly became boring to the couple who began to miss their glamorous circuit of parties, concerts, museums, and art studios. The two concocted a plan to limit their stay in Mexico to two years, during which time Jaime would make a fortune from cotton crops, and then return to Europe. However, when the bottom fell out of the cotton market, Jaime lost his entire fortune. Another loss was suffered when Dolores miscarried. She was told never to try to have another child.[17] The couple then settled in Mexico City, where they continued their lavish lifestyle with the help of their families.

In early 1925, Edwin Carewe, an influential director at First National Films, had traveled to Mexico for the wedding of actors Bert Lytell and Claire Windsor, where he met Dolores and her husband.[18]


Silent films[edit]

Dolores was contracted by Carewe as her agent, manager, producer and director. Her name was shortened to "Dolores Del Rio" (with an incorrect capital "D" in the word "del"). To keep her husband out of the way, Carewe sent Jaime off to "study the various aspects of filmmaking." Carewe arranged for wide publicity for her with the intention of transforming her into a star of the order of Rudolph Valentino, a "Female Latin Lover". A newspaper article dedicated to the rising star circulated in all the major film magazines in Hollywood:

Dolores Del Rio, the heiress and First Lady of Mexican high society, recently arrived to Hollywood with a cargo of shawls and combs valued at 50'000 dollars (some say that she's the richest girl of her country thanks to the fortune of her husband and her parents). She will make her film debut in Joanna, directed by her discoverer Edwin Carewe.[19]

Del Río made her film debut in Joanna, directed by Carewe in 1925 and released that year. In the film, del Río plays the role of "Carlotta Da Silva", a nebulous vamp of Spanish-Brazilian origin, but she appeared for only five minutes. Carewe reassured her that the little that she appeared in the film looked extremely good.[20]

Her second film was High Steppers (1926), a film also directed by Carewe and starring Mary Astor. In the film del Río took the second female credit. Eventually, the filmmaker Carl Laemmle invites del Río to participate in the all-star film The Whole Town's Talking, a vehicle for the comedian Edward Everett Horton and where Dolores has a cameo. It was her first film without the guidance of Carewe. In her fourth film, the comedy Pals First (1926), Carewe gives del Río her first starring role. The films were not blockbusters, but helped to increase del Río's popularity.

Del Río in Ramona (1928)

Despite being an exclusive artist of Carewe, he allowed her to work with other directors. In late 1926, the director Raoul Walsh called del Río to cast her in What Price Glory, a war film which was a great success. Her salary for this film was $30,000 to be paid by Fox Films.[citation needed] Although desperately tired after working non-stop since her arrival in Hollywood, she eagerly accepted the role. The cast and crew were impressed with her discipline as well as beauty. For the first time, reportedly, she forgot about the camera and concentrated on her acting in the coveted role of Charmaine de la Cognac, a "passionate and sincere" French woman. In the same year she was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926, along with fellow newcomers Joan Crawford, Mary Astor, Janet Gaynor, Fay Wray and others.[citation needed]

In 1927, Carewe and his film company produced and directed Resurrection (1927), based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, which was a box office hit. Del Río was selected as the heroine and Rod La Rocque starred as leading man.[21] In the same year, Raoul Walsh called del Río once again to film The Loves of Carmen (1927). Upon the release of this new version, Del Río was deemed the most beautiful of all the Carmens. Her background in dance certainly added to her convincing portrayal. In the same year del Río starring the film The Gateway of the Moon, alongside Walter Pidgeon.

When the actress Renée Adorée was showing symptoms of tuberculosis, Dolores was selected for the lead role of the MGM film The Trail of '98, directed by Clarence Brown and filmed in 1928. The film was a huge success and brought back favorable reviews from critics. Immediately after this film she was rushed off to play a high society woman on the French Riviera, in No Other Woman. In the same year, she was hired by United Artists for the third version of the successful film Ramona. The success of the film was helped by the musical theme same name song, written by L. Wolfe Gilbert and recorded by Dolores with RCA Victor. The theme song is heard on the radio with enormous strength both in the United States and Europe, and helped to increase the success of the film, which was one of the busiest of the season premieres. Eventually the actress made an extensive promotional tour in Europa. This was the first United Artists film with a synchronized score, but was not a talking picture.

Del Río in Evangeline (1929).

In late 1928, Hollywood was concerned with the impending arrival of the talkies. On 29 March, at Mary Pickford's bungalow, United Artists brought together Pickford, del Río, Douglas Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin, Norma Talmadge, Gloria Swanson, John Barrymore, and D. W. Griffith to speak on the radio show The Dodge Brothers Hour to prove they could meet the challenge of talking movies. Del Río surprised the audience by singing "Ramona", proving herself prepared to face the challenge.[22]

Unfortunately, while Dolores's career blossomed, her personal life was turbulent. Jaime, her husband, could not endure the pressure of living in the shadow of his wife. The couple ended up divorcing shortly after the premiere of Ramona. In late 1928 del Río filmed her third film with Raoul Walsh: The Red Dance. Her next project was Evangeline (1929) a new production of United Artists also directed by Carewe and inspired by the same name epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The film was accompanied by a theme song written by Al Jolson and Billy Rose and played by del Río. Like Ramona, the film was released with a Vitaphone disc selection of dialogue, music and sound effects.[23]

During the filming of Evangeline United Artists considered removing Dolores from the tutelage of Edwin Carewe, who had ambitions to marry her and become a famous Hollywood couple. Carewe prepared his divorce from his wife Mary Atkin. But United Artists convinced her to separate herself artistically and professionally from Carewe, who still held an exclusive contract with the actress.[citation needed] In New York, after the successful premiere of Evangeline, Del Rio declared to the reporters: Mr. Carewe and I are just friends and companions in the art of the cinema. I will not marry Mr. Carewe.[24] Furious, Carewe filed criminal charges against Dolores. Advised by United Artists lawyers, Dolores reached an agreement with Carewe out of the court. Still, Carewe started a smear campaign against her. He even filmed a new sound version of Resurrection starring Lupe Velez. Following the economic crash of 1929, Del Rio eagerly went into her next film and first talkie, The Bad One.[17]


Del Río in Bird of Paradise (1932)

In 1928, Dolores met Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences members and a leading MGM art director and production designer and one of the designers of the Academy Award's Oscar. In 1930 she reunited with Gibbons in a party at the Hearst Castle. The couple started a romance, that culminated in a marriage ceremony in late 1930. The marriage of del Río to one of the most important social hubs of the Hollywood of this time, contributed to her consolidation as a superstar. She made the transition from "an exotic star across the border" to one of the great Hollywood princesses.[citation needed] In 1931, she fell seriously ill with a severe kidney infection. Doctors feared for her life and instructed her to rest for an extended time. Adding to del Río's concerns, studios who forced actors to make 3-4 films a year did not look favorably on contract actors who didn’t work at all. When she regained her health, she was hired exclusively by RKO Pictures. She began with Girl of the Rio, in which she played a young Mexican woman working in a border-town cabaret.[citation needed]

She scored a new success with the film Bird of Paradise in 1932, directed by King Vidor. The producer of the film, David O. Selznick, reportedly told Vidor: "I want del Río and McCrea in a love story in the South Seas. I didn’t have much of a story for the film, but i be sure that it ended with the young beauty jumping into a volcano".[25] The film was shot in Hawaii and scandalized audiences when she was shown taking a naked swim with Joel McCrea: the film was made before the censorship Hays Code was enacted.

Del Río with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio (1933)

Next del Río filmed the successful musical film Flying Down to Rio in 1933, the film that first paired Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It also featured del Río opposite Fred Astaire in an intricate dance number called Orchids in the Moonlight. However, the unfortunate and accidental eclipse suffered by Dolores before the Astaire-Rogers couple in the film, added to a financial crisis, led to RKO's terminating the contract of the actress.[26]

Del Río then moved to Warner Bros. The studio seduced her with a juicy contract and an alleged plan to turn her into "their response to Garbo of the Metro and Dietrich of the Paramount Pictures". However, this project was not consolidated. At Warner Bros she was typecast in musical films. The choreographer Busby Berkeley was commissioned to exploit her physical beauty and her grace to dance with his famous choreographies. In Wonder Bar (1934) del Rio was chosen personally by the star of the film, Al Jolson, who allowed her to shine in the film despite the jealousy of the actress Kay Francis, who threatened to leave the filming.[27] In Madame Du Barry (1934) Del Río was directed by William Dieterle. Dieterle focused on her beauty with the help of an extraordinary cloakroom designed by Orry Kelly (considered one of the most beautiful and expensive at the time).[27]

Del Río in Madame Du Barry (1934)

Unfortunately these films were badly mutilated by the censorship of the Hays Code. Madame Du Barry was a major cause of dispute between the studio and the Hays office, primarily because it presented the court of Louis XV as a sex farce centered around del Rio.[27]

In In Caliente (1935) Dolores plays a sultry Mexican dancer who has an affair with the character played by Pat O'Brien. Unfortunately the film was more attractive for their amazing choreographies (mounted by Berkeley) than their poor plot and was a box office flop. The same fate befell the film I Live for Love, created as a vehicle for Dolores and the popular singer Everett Marshall. The film was directed by Busby Berkeley, one of the few which does not have his extraordinary musical numbers. In 1935, she refused to participate in the film Viva Villa! which she described as an "anti-Mexican movie".[28] Her refusal to shoot Viva Villa! turned on the red lights of the anti-communists in the film industry. Fay Wray finally took her place in the film. But the discomfort of the studio with her began to become evident. In the same year, del Río, along with other Mexican film stars of Hollywood (like Ramón Novarro and Lupe Vélez), was accused of promoting Communism in California. This happened after the mentioned film stars attended a special screening of the Sergei Eisenstein's film ¡Que viva México!, copies of which were claimed to have been edited by Joseph Stalin,[29] and a film which promoted nationalist sentiment with socialist overtones. Twenty years later, this would have consequences for her career. In 1936 she filmed The Widow from Monte Carlo, her last film for Warners.[30]

In 1937 with the support of Columbia Pictures, del Río filmed Devil's Playground opposite Chester Morris and Richard Dix. However, despite the popularity of the three stars, the film was a failure. In the same year, she signs a contract with 20th Century Fox to perform two films with George Sanders. In both films (Lancer Spy and International Settlement), del Río plays the role of a seductive spy. But both films were a box office failure. She was more visible in advertisements for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Max Factor makeup, or promoting clothing lines and perfumes than acting in films.[26]

Cedric Gibbons used his influences with MGM, and got his wife the main female role in the film The Man from Dakota (1940). But despite his position at the studio, Gibbons could never help his wife in his place of work where the leading figures were Garbo, Norma Shearer, Crawford and Jean Harlow. The "strong men" of the company, Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg, felt that Latin women had no place in their stories. Both admired del Río's beauty, but her career did not interest them. Her career in the late thirties suffered from too many exotic, two-dimensional roles designed with Hollywood's clichéd ideas of ethnic minorities. In the late thirties, the Latin temperament was no longer "fashionable". Del Río, one of the great beauties of the star system, was suddenly without an available film character.[31] She was put on a list entitled "Box Office Poison" along with Joan Crawford, Garbo, Dietrich, Mae West and others. The list was submitted to Los Angeles newspapers by an independent movie theater whose point was that these stars' high salaries and public popularity did not counteract the low ticket sales for their movies.[32]

Del Río and Joseph Cotten in Journey into Fear (1943)

Welles had planned to resurrect Dolores' career with various projects. One of them was the film Santa, which would have marked her Mexican film debut, had it materialized. Welles also planned a Mexican drama with del Río, which he gave to RKO to be budgeted (a movie version of The Way to Santiago by Calder Marshall). She was to play Elena Medina, "the most beautiful girl in the world", with Welles playing an American who becomes entangled in a mission to disrupt a Nazi plot to overthrow the Mexican government. Welles planned to shoot in Mexico, but the Mexican government had to approve the story, and this never occurred.[33] While looking for ways to resume her career, she accompanied Welles in his shows across the United States, radio programs and shows at the Mercury Theatre.[33]

Nelson Rockefeller, in charge of the Good Neighbor policy (and also associated with RKO through his family investments), hired Welles to visit South America as an ambassador of good will to counter fascist propaganda about Americans. At the beginning of 1942 del Río began work on Journey into Fear with Norman Foster as director and Welles as producer. Welles left the film four days later and travelled to Rio de Janeiro on his goodwill tour. He reportedly left unanswered all of del Rio's increasingly distraught telegrams. In a final telegram, she announced the end of their romance, to which he made no reply.[17] In addition, the Hearst smear campaign against Welles came into effect and the director had brushes with RKO. Del Río's character in the film was drastically reduced. That same year, her father died in Mexico. Del Río made the significant decision to return to Mexico. She said about her return to Mexico:

Divorced again, without the figure of my father. A film where I barely appeared, and one where they were really showing me the way of the art. I wanted to go the way of the art. Stop being a star and become an actress, and that I could only do in Mexico. I wish to choose my own stories, my own director, and camera man. I can accomplish this better in Mexico. I wanted to return to Mexico, a country that was mine and I did not know. I felt the need to return to my country...[34]


Since the late 1930s, she was sought out on several occasions by Mexican film directors, but economic circumstances were not favorable for the entry of del Río to the Mexican cinema.[35] She was a friend of noted Mexican artists, such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and maintained ties with Mexican society and cinema. After breaking off her relationship with Welles, del Río decided to try her luck in Mexico, disappointed by the American star system.

Mexican director Emilio "El Indio" Fernández invited her to film Flor silvestre (1943). This was del Río's first Spanish-language film. The film fascinated audiences throughout Latin America. The production group Del Río-Fernández, together with the cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa and the actor Pedro Armendáriz had international fame. Their most successful film was María Candelaria (1943). In the film del Río plays the role of a poor and unfortunate native of Xochimilco. In addition to the experienced team of producers, the film benefited from del Río's success as an actress through the American star system.[36] On several occasions, Emilio's "bronco" temperament had surfaced violently and the actress had been about to leave the shooting, angry at what she considered ill treatment. But her high sense of professionalism convinced her to return, but her relationship with the director had become distant. The film was a great success in Europe and allowed del Río to keep her international prestige. Her third film with Fernández and his team was Las Abandonadas (1944), a controversial film where del Río plays an unfortunate woman who gives up her son and falls in the world of the prostitution. The film was about to be banned by the Mexican censorship, but was a blockbuster. She won the Silver Ariel (Mexican Academy Award) as best actress for her role in the film. Bugambilia (1944) was her fourth movie directed by Fernández. The film was a romantic story set in the beautiful Mexican city of Guanajuato. Del Río flaunt one of the most expensive costumes in the history of Mexican cinema. Dolores del Rio became into the leading female figure in the Mexican film industry. She became a sort of a national symbol, after being, for many years, a Mexican symbol abroad.[citation needed]

In 1945, del Río filmed La selva de fuego directed by Fernando de Fuentes. In the film del Río works with Arturo de Córdova, one of the most popular Mexican actors of the time. In the film she plays a sexy adventuress lost in a camp full of lonely men in the jungle of Chiapas. But was the Mexican filmmaker Roberto Gavaldón who inherited the privilege of creating stories for flaunting del Rio's talent. Her first work under the Gavaldón direction was La Otra (1946), a successful film where del Río plays a twin sisters. She also worked in Argentina in 1947, in a film version of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan named Historia de una mala mujer.[37] In the same year, Dolores was invited by the film director John Ford to film The Fugitive with Henry Fonda in México. The film was based in the novel The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. The film was co-produced by Emilio Fernandez, and Dolores played a kind of Maria Magdalene. The film is one of the lesser known works of Ford, but the filmmaker always considered him within the best of his work.

In 1949, del Río meets again with Emilio Fernández and his team in the film La Malquerida. The film is based on the novel of the Spanish writer Jacinto Benavente. In the film Dolores plays the role of a woman who disputes the love of a man with his own daughter (the Mexican actress Columba Domínguez). The film was full of strong scenes between the two actresses. Interestingly, Domínguez had become the new partner and muse of Fernandez. In the same year del Río met Lewis "Lou" Riley, a theatrical American businessman and a former member of the Hollywood Canteen. The couple immediately began an affair.[citation needed]

Del Río with María Félix in La Cucaracha (1959)

In 1950 she filmed two movies again under Gavaldón direction: La casa chica (1950) and Desired, two dramas made in the classic style of the Mexican films of the era. In 1951, Dolores starred in Doña Perfecta, in which she was acclaimed for her great dramatic representation of the evil and hypocrite lady extracted from the novel of the Spanish Benito Perez Galdos. For this work she won her second Silver Ariel Award for Best Actress. In 1953 Gavaldón directed her again in the film El Niño y la Niebla (1953). Her portrayal of an overprotective mother with a mental instability attracted critical acclaim and she was honored with her third Silver Ariel Award.[citation needed]

In 1954, del Río was slated to appear in the 20th Century Fox film Broken Lance. The U.S. government denied her permission to work in the United States, accusing her of being sympathetic to international communism. Claims that she had "aid[ed] anti-Franco refugees from the Spanish Civil War", were interpreted as communist leanings.[38] She was replaced by Katy Jurado in the film and thus del Río became one of the victims of McCarthyism. She reacted by sending a letter to the American government, stating: "I believe that after all this, I have nothing [for which] to reproach myself. I'm a woman who only wants to live in peace with God and with men."[39] In 1956, she was cleared to return to the United States to perform in the theatrical production of Anastacia. After receiving an offer to work in the stage play, del Rio decided to work with the acting coach Stella Adler (one of the leading figures of the Actors Studio). Anastacia was released in Broadway shortly after. In an interview with Louella Parsons del Río confirmed her political position: "In México we are worried and fighting against communism."[40]

With the decline of the Mexican cinema in the late 1950s, del Río opted for work in theater. In 1957, del Rio decides to debut in the theater in Mexico with the play Lady Windermere's Fan. In 1959, Mexican film director Ismael Rodríguez brought del Río and María Félix together in La Cucaracha. That same year she married Lewis Riley in New York.[41]

Later years[edit]

In 1960 Dolores finally returned to Hollywood after 18 years of absence. She was hired by Fox to play the role of mother of Elvis Presley in the film Flaming Star, directed by Don Siegel. She was greeted with joy in Hollywood and several events were organized in her honor. Presley received her with a bouquet of flowers and said: "Lady, I know exactly who you are. It's an honor to work with one of the largest and most respected legends of Hollywood. As you will be my mother in the film, I want to ask permission for my ophthalmologist make a contact lenses that mimic the color of your eyes". Del Río immediately felt maternal affection for the young Presley.[42]

Del Río with Elvis Presley in Flaming Star (1960)

During the rest of the decade del Rio alternated between films in Mexico and in Hollywood with television and theater. In Mexico she made only two films: El pecado de una madre (1960) and Casa de Mujeres (1967). In 1964, she's called again by the filmmaker John Ford to work in his testamentary movie Cheyenne Autumn. In this film Dolores plays the role of mother of Sal Mineo and wife of the Indian chief played by Gilbert Roland. Initially del Río was a little upset when her name in the credits of the film went from fourth to fifth place. But she was delighted to be working in what would be the last big production of Ford.[43]

Amidst the shooting of her films, Dolores participated in several theater projects in Mexico. She and her husband, Lew Riley, founded their own production company called Producciones Visuales. Her most outstanding theater projects were Road to Rome (1959), The Ghost Sonata (1962), Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters (1963), La Vidente (1964), La Reina y los Rebeldes (1967) and The Lady of the Camellias (1968). The actress surprised the critics who accused her of taking advantage of her movie star status to attract box office to the theater. Her scenic performance was finally praised.[44] In 1967, Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi invited her to be part of the movie More Than a Miracle with Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif. She played the role of Sharif's mother.

She also appeared in such American television series as Schlitz Playhouse of Stars (1957), The United States Steel Hour (1958), The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (1960), Spectacular Show (1963), I Spy (1965) and Branded (1966). Her last appearance on television was in a 1972 episode of Marcus Welby, M.D..[45] From the 1950s to the 1970s, she collaborated in some international film festivals like Cannes Film Festival (1957), Berlin Film Festival (1962)[46] and San Sebastián Film Festival (1976) as a juror.[47]

During the 1970s, del Río's activities in the nursery caused her to stay her away from the cinema. In 1978, filmmaker Hall Bartlett convinces her to play "Grandmother Paquita" in The Children of Sanchez. For the film del Río met for the first time with Anthony Quinn and Katy Jurado. In 1978 the Mexican American Institute of Cultural Relations and the White House gave Dolores a diploma and a silver plaque for her work in cinema as a cultural ambassador of Mexico in the United States. During the ceremony she was remembered as a victim of McCarthyism.[48]

In 1981, del Río was honored in the San Francisco Film Critics Circle in a ceremony presided by the film directors Francis Ford Coppola, Mervyn LeRoy and George Cukor. She attended a private event organized by Coppola and his family in her honor. This was her last public appearance.[49] In 1982, she was awarded the George Eastman Award,[50] given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

Social work[edit]

In 1966, del Río was co-founder of the Society for the Protection of the Artistic Treasures of Mexico with the philanthropist Felipe García Beraza. The society was responsible for protecting buildings, paintings and other works of art and culture in México.[51] In 1972, she helped found the Cultural Festival Cervantino in Guanajuato.[52]

During the 1970s, Dolores del Río founded and directed the union group "Rosa Mexicano" ("Mexican Rose"), one of the most momentous groups in the history of the National Association of Actors of Mexico (ANDA). The purpose of this group is to protect the children and female artists. On January 8, 1970, she, in collaboration with other renowned Mexican actresses, founded this faction, which has as one of its greatest achievements the creation of a day nursery for the children of the members of the Mexican Actor's Guild.[53]

Mexican actress Fanny Schiller had observed the need of the actresses to work while educating their children, and conceived of creating a day nursery located in front at the offices of the ANDA. Once "Rosa Mexicano" was created, Dolores del Río and other actresses felt the need to continue the ideas of Fanny Schiller. Del Río was responsible for various activities to raise funds for the project and she trained in modern teaching techniques.[54] The day nursery, located in the northwestern of Mexico City, was opened in 1974. Del Río served as the president from its founding until 1981. After the death of Dolores, the day nursery adopted the official name of Estancia Infantil Dolores del Río" ("Dolores del Río's Day Nursery"), and even today remains in office.[55][56]

Personal life[edit]

Commemorative plaque at the house where del Río lived in Coyoacan, Mexico City. The plaque reads: Here lived from 1943 to 1983 Dolores del Río, eminent Mexican actress, national glory

In 1921, del Río married Mexican socialite Jaime Martínez del Río, belonging to one of the most distinguished families in Mexico and several years older than she. Del Río became pregnant in 1924, but suffered a miscarriage that made her decide not to try to get pregnant at risk of losing her life. Her marriage came to end in 1928 when he died unexpectedly. From 1930-40 she was married to MGM's art designer, Cedric Gibbons, who had created the glistening "white room" sets featured in nearly all of MGM's prestige pictures.[57]

In the late 1930s, Gibbons' professional commitments caused a rift between the couple.[clarification needed] In 1938, she met and fell in love with Orson Welles at a party given by Darryl Zanuck and sought a divorce from Gibbons in 1940.[citation needed] Her relationship with Welles ended after four years largely due to his infidelities. In 1954, Rebecca Welles, the daughter of Welles and Rita Hayworth, traveled to Mexico with the intention of meeting Dolores, who received her kindly at her home in Acapulco, where the young girl celebrated her 18th birthday. Rebecca said shortly after their meeting: "My father considered this woman as the great love of his life. She was a sort of living legend in the history of my family".[58]

Del Río and Orson Welles in 1941.

At different times in her life, del Río was also romantically linked to such men as actor Errol Flynn,[59] filmmaker John Farrow,[60] writer Erich Maria Remarque, film producer Archibaldo Burns, and Mexican actor Tito Junco[61] In his later years, actor Vincent Price signed his autographs "Dolores del Río" instead of his actual name. When once asked why, he replied, in complete seriousness: "I promised her on her deathbed that I would do what I could to keep her name alive!"[62]

Mexican film director Emilio Fernández was one of del Río's greatest admirers. He claimed he appeared as an extra in several films with Dolores in Hollywood. The beauty and poise of the actress had deeply impressed him. Fernández said: She looked at me, but without seeing me. Curiously she ask me to direct her in her first film in Mexico. I fell in love with her, but she always ignored me. I adored her, really and seriously adored her.[63] The film María Candelaria (1943) was written for Dolores by Fernández as a present for her 38th birthday.[64] Fernandez pursued del Río with lavish gifts. For months, he would surprise her daily with a small token of affection. When he could not afford jewelry, he sent crystal glasses with fireflies trapped inside.[65]

In 1949, del Río met the American millionaire, adventurer and theater producer Lewis A. Riley in Acapulco. Riley was known in Hollywood cinema in the forties for being a member of the Hollywood Canteen, an organization created by movie stars to support victims of World War II. After ten years together, del Río and Riley were married in New York in 1959. Dolores remained attached to Riley until the end of her life.[66]

Many anecdotes exist about del Río's purported rivalry with Lupe Vélez, another successful Mexican star in 1930s Hollywood. In private, Velez spoke ill of del Rio, but was never publicly offensive.[67] There was also media speculation about a strong rivalry between Dolores and María Félix, the other diva of the Mexican Cinema.[68] Of this "rivalry", Félix said in her autobiography: "With Dolores I don't have any rivalry. On the contrary. We were friends and we always treated each other with great respect. We were completely different. She [was] refined, interesting, soft on the deal, and I'm more energetic, arrogant and bossy".[69] Félix said in another interview: "Dolores del Río was a Great Lady. A very intelligent and very funny woman. I loved her very much and I have great memories of her".[70]


Grave of Dolores del Río in the Dolores Cemetery in Mexico City

Starting in the 1960s, Del Río suffered severe pains in her bones. In 1978, she was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, and in 1981 she was diagnosed with Hepatitis B following a contaminated injection of vitamins. In 1982, del Río was admitted to the Medical Center of La Jolla, California, where hepatitis led to cirrhosis.[71]

On April 11, 1983, Dolores del Río died from liver disease at the age of 77, in Newport Beach, California. She was cremated and her ashes were interred in the Dolores Cemetery in Mexico City, Mexico. That day she had been invited to appear at the next Academy Awards Ceremony.[71]


Dolores del Rio was considered one of the prototypes of the classic woman style of the 1930s. When Photoplay conducted a search in 1933 for "the most perfect feminine figure in Hollywood", using "medical men, artists, designers" as judges, the "unanimous choice" of these selective arbitrators of female beauty in United States was the Mexican actress Dolores del Río. The question posed by the fan magazine's search and the methodology it employed to find "the most perfect feminine figure" reveal a number of parameters that defined feminity and female beauty during that particular moment in U.S. history.[72] According to author Larry Carr (author of the book More Fabulous Faces), del Río always dressed like a star, and women all over the world also were copying her style of dress. She also attended parties where fan writers and the press found her "as dazzling in appearance as she was gracious in manner".[73]

When Dolores del Rio returns to Mexico, she radically changed her image. For her is no longer necessary the sophisticated air and the stone elegance. She becomes a woman of flesh and blood leaving aside the artistic figure. By this change she earns dignity and authentic dramatic credibility. She displays a touch on her appearance, unless adulterated and more natural than that used in the 1930s. Since then, in Indian or white roles, her image is always accompanied by an absolutely charismatic aura and unsurpassed dramatic charge.[74] In Hollywood, del Rio loses ground to the modernity of the faces. In Mexico, she had the enormous fortune that the filmmaker Emilio Fernandez will emphasize the national and indigenous features. She does not come to Mexico as the "Latina from Hollywood", but he transforms her makeup and her features and highlights her indigenism, turning her into a very attractive woman.[75] Del Rio herself express the change that her appearance suffered in her homeland: I remove furs and diamonds, satin shoes and pearl necklaces, everything swapped by the rebozo and bare feets.[76]

According to the filmmaker Josef von Sternberg, stars such as del Río, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard and Rita Hayworth helped him to define his concept of the glamour in Hollywood.[77]

Joan Crawford said on a visit to Mexico in 1963:

Dolores became, and remains, as one of the most beautiful stars in the world.[78]

Marlene Dietrich said of her:

Dolores del Río was the most beautiful woman who ever set foot in Hollywood.[79][80][81]

George Bernard Shaw once said:

The two most beautiful things in the world are the Taj Mahal and Dolores del Rio.[82]

Fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli once said:

I have seen many beautiful women in here, but none as complete as Dolores del Rio!.[83]

Diego Rivera said of her:

The most beautiful, the most gorgeous of the west, east, north and south. I'm in love with her as forty million Mexicans and one hundred twenty million Americans that can't be wrong.[84]

Photographer Jerome Zerbe said:

Dolores del Rio and Marlene Dietrich are the most beautiful women i've ever photographed.[85]

German writer Erich Maria Remarque, who compared her beauty with Greta Garbo, described that a perfect woman would be a merger between the two actresses.[86] On one occasion, during a meeting at the home of Dolores, Garbo came to her and gently placing her little finger on the belly of del Rio, she exclaimed That magnificent navel![57] When she appeared swimming naked in the movie Bird of Paradise, Orson Welles said that del Río represented the highest erotic ideal with her performance in the film.[87]

Some rumors said that her diet consisted of orchid petals and that she slept 16 hours a day. However, del Rio scoffed at these claims saying: "No one can live only eating flower petals. Also, I'm a woman with many occupations, how could I sleep so long, if the day only has 24 hours?"[88] In 1952 she was awarded with the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, and was named the best-dressed woman of America.[88]

In art, literature and music[edit]

The qualities of Dolores del Río have led to her ongoing veneration, even beyond death. From a young age, Dolores del Río was surrounded by personalities of the intellectual milieu. The myth of Hollywood placed her in another realm, as became one of the women involved in the rebirth of the Mexican culture and customs. She met the famous group of Mexican writers and playwrights known as "Los Contemporáneos" (The Contemporaries): Jaime Torres Bodet, Xavier Villaurrutia, Celestino Gorostiza and Salvador Novo. Novo wrote her a sonnet and translated all her stage plays. She inspired Jaime Torres Bodet's novel La Estrella de Día (Star of the Day), published in 1933, which chronicles the life of an actress named Piedad. Vicente Leñero was inspired by del Río to write his book Señora.[89]

In 1916, when Dolores was 11 years old, she was portrayed for first time by Alfredo Ramos Martínez, very popular painter among Mexican high society. In the 1920s, the actress was also captured on the canvases of the Mexican painters Roberto Montenegro and Ángel Zárraga. In 1938, the actress was portrayed by her close friend, the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The portrait was done in New York. It was the favorite portrait of Dolores and occupied a special place in her home in Mexico. Rivera also captured the image of Dolores in some of his paintings and murals, noting La vendedora de flores (The Flower Seller). La pollera and La Creación (The Creation), the latter located at the Colegio de San Ildefonso, in Mexico City. In this mural, the actress represents The Justice.[90]

In 1941, Dolores was also portrayed by the famous Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco. The portrait it was made at the request of Orson Welles. Unfortunately, when the artist painted the portrait, he was losing his sight. Dolores said: "He painted his tragedy in my face!". Although the portrait was not liked by the actress, this was a very important place in her house "La Escondida" in Mexico.[91] Other artists who recorded her image in their paintings were Jose Clemente Orozco, Miguel Covarrubias, Rosa Rolanda, Antonieta Figueroa, Frances Gauner Goshman, Adolfo Best Maugard and John Carroll. The Mexican composer and social activist Concha Michel composed for her a corrido after the return of Dolores to Mexico in 1943. The sculptor Francisco Zúñiga also created a bronze sculpture of del Riio

In his will, Dolores del Rio stipulated that all her artworks were donated to the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature of Mexico, for display in various museums in Mexico City, including the National Museum of Art, the Museum of Art Carillo Gil and the Home-Studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.[92]

Legacy and memorials[edit]

"Hollywood needs a high-society Mexican woman, one who may have been exposed to foreign culture and customs through travel, but who maintains the customs and the traces of the Mexican land. And then, the vulgar and picturesque stereotype, so damaging because it falsities our image, will disappear naturally. This is my goal in Hollywood: all my efforts are turned toward filling this gap in the cinema. If I achieve this it will be the height of my artistic ambition and perhaps I'll give a small glory for Mexico"[93]

—Del Río commenting about her role as a Mexican woman in Hollywood.
Dolores del Río's star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dolores del Rio was the first Mexican to succeed in Hollywood. The others are Lupe Vélez, Katy Jurado and now, Salma Hayek.[94]

Viewed from today's perspective, what is striking about her representation in the media are the adjectives used to describe her. They were not words like Latin bombshell, hot tamale, sultry, spitfire, or hot cha cha. Rather, they were words like sophisticated, aristocratic, refined elegance, glamorous, sedate and "ladylike". Also surprising is the extent to which the references to her clothes often matched these adjectives and how she, nonetheless, retained her Latin-ness, i.e., her Mexican origins in the coverage.[95] Consequently, given this picture of Mexican segregation, some might find it surprising to find any major Mexican stars at the box office during this period and to find them depicted in the way Dolores del Río was.[96]

The "Four Ladies of Hollywood" gazebo at the western border of the Walk of Fame: Del Río, Dorothy Dandridge, Anna May Wong and Mae West

Dolores del Río's career highlights the potential for Latina agency and negotiation through Hollywood film, but has also sparked the myth of the Hollywood Latina as a racialized and sexualized mediator in Hollywood film. Current stars Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, Eva Mendes, and Penélope Cruz follow in the footsteps of the trailblazing Dolores del Rio.[26]

Dolores del Río was the model of the statue of Evangeline—fictional heroine of the poem Evangeline by Longfellow—at St. Martinville, Louisiana. The statue was donated by del Río.

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1630 Vine Street, in recognition of her contributions to the motion picture industry. Dolores del Río has also a statue at Hollywood-La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles, designed by Catherine Hardwicke built to honor the multi-ethnic leading ladies of the cinema together with Mae West, Dorothy Dandridge and Anna May Wong. Del Río has also a mural painted on the east side of Hudson Avenue just north of Hollywood Boulevard painted by the Mexican-American artist Alfredo de Batuc.[97] Del Río is one of the entertainers displayed in the mural "Portrait of Hollywood", designed in 2002 by the artist Eloy Torrez in the Hollywood High School.[98][99]

The memory of Dolores del Rio is also revered with three monuments in Mexico City. The first is a statue located in the second section of Chapultepec Park.[100] The other two are busts. One is located in the Sunken Park, in the south of the city,[101] and the other is in the nursery that bears her name. In Durango, Mexico, her hometown, one of the most important avenues is named after her.[102]

After her death, the Dolores del Río's picture archive was given to the Center for the Study of History of Mexico CARSO by her widowed Lewis Riley.

Del Río is one of the celebrities who appear in vintage footage in the Woody Allen's film Zelig (1983).

Since 1983, the society Periodistas Cinematográficos de México (Mexican Film Journalists) (PECIME) has been giving the Diosa de Plata "Dolores del Río" Award for the best dramatic female performance.

She was played by the actress Lucy Cohu in the TV film RKO 281 in 1999.

In 2005, on the centenary of her birth, her remains were moved to the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres in Mexico City.º

In 2015 Dolores was chosen as the image of the AFI Fest. The face of the Mexican star served to illustrate invitations, posters and presentations at the festival. The director of this event, Jacqueline Lyanga, said: "Dolores del Rio had a great magnetism on the big screen in the 1930s and had a huge impact on the American Cinema." Lyanga also said: "Dolores del Rio goes perfectly with the direction of the festival whose mission is to bring the best of the international cinema to the Capital of the World Cinema".[103] The film Flying Down to Rio was projected during the event.[104]



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  • McNulty, Thomas (2004). Errol Flynn: The Life and Career. McFarland. ISBN 9780786417506. 
  • Moreno., Luis (2002). Rostros e Imagenes (Faces and Images). Editorial Celuloide. ISBN 9789709338904. 
  • Noble, Andrea (2005). Mexican National Cinema. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415230100. 
  • Price, Victoria (2014). Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography. Open Road Media. ISBN 9781497649408. 
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  • Revista Somos: Dolores del Río: La Mexicana Divina (Dolores del Río: The Divine Mexican). Editorial Televisa S.A de C.V. 2002. 
  • Revista Somos: Katy Jurado: Estrella de Hollywood orgullosamente mexicana (Katy Jurado: Proudly Mexican Hollywood Star). Editorial Televisa S.A de C.V. 1999. 
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  • Riva, Maria (1994). Marlene Dietrich. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38645-0. 
  • Torres, Jose Alejandro (2004). Los Grandes Mexicanos: Dolores del Río (The Greatest Mexicans: Dolores del Río). Grupo Editorial Tomo, S.A. de C.V. ISBN 970-666-997-3. 
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Further reading[edit]

  • Agrasánchez Jr., Rogelio (2001). Bellezas del cine mexicano/Beauties of Mexican Cinema. Archivo Fílmico Agrasánchez. ISBN 968-5077-11-8. 
  • Bodeen, DeWitt (1976). From Hollywood: The Careers of 15 Great American Stars. Oak Tree. ISBN 0498013464. 
  • E. Fey, Ingrid., Racine, Karen (2000). Strange Pilgrimages: Exile, Travel, and National Identity in Latin America, 1800-1990s: "So Far from God, So Close to Hollywood: Dolores del Río and Lupe Vélez in Hollywood, 1925-1944,". Wilmington, Delaware, Scholarly Resources. ISBN 0-8420-2694-0. 
  • Lacob, Adrian (2014). Film Actresses Vol.23 Dolores Del Rio, Part 1. On Demand Publishing, LLC-Create Space. ISBN 9781502987686. 
  • Lopez, Ana M. (1998). "From Hollywood and Back: Dolores Del Rio, a Trans (national) Star." Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 17. ISSN 0730-9139.
  • Mendible, Myra (2010). From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-77849-X. 
  • Nericcio, William (2007). Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-71457-2. 
  • Parish, James Robert (2002). Hollywood divas: the good, the bad, and the fabulous. Contemporary Books. ISBN 9780071408196. 
  • Parish, James Robert (2008). The Hollywood beauties. Arlington House. ISBN 9780870004124. 
  • Ramón, David (1993). Dolores del Río: Historia de un rostro (Dolores del Río: Story of a Face). Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, CCH Dirección Plantel Sur. ISBN 9789686717099. 
  • Rivera Viruet, Rafael J.; Resto, Max (2008). Hollywood: Se Habla Español. Terramax Entertainment. ISBN 0-981-66500-4. 
  • Rodriguez, Clara E. (2004). Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-195-33513-9. 
  • Ruíz, Vicki; Sánchez Korrol, Virginia (2006). Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. 1. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34681-9. 
  • Shipman, David (1995). The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years. Little Brown and Co. ISBN 0-316-78487-7. 
  • Taibo, Paco Ignacio (1999). Dolores Del Río: mujer en el volcán (Dolores del Río: Woman in the Volcano). GeoPlaneta, Editorial, S. A. ISBN 9789684068643. 

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