The 1930s had many Hollywood stars who had come from south of the border. There were the one name ones, Movita (Castenada) and Margo. There was that most Mexican of all (although he’d been born in the U.S. and his family had been in California for generations) Leo Carrillo.
And there was the “Mexican Spitfire,” Lupe Velez.
Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to clear up some misconceptions about Lupe Velez, whose career spanned over 18 years, and who is not terribly well understood by today’s audiences.
Although, as noted, she’s often referred to as the “Mexican spitfire,” Lupe Velez was a major star in Hollywood long before she made those “B” films with Leon Errol at RKO in the late 30s and early 40s which gave her that nickname.
She had started in silents, and had even co-starred opposite the great Douglas Fairbanks in The Gaucho. Despite what people today think, she spoke perfect English with only a slight accent. She had come from an upper class Mexican family, and had been educated at a convent in San Antonio.
When talkies arrived Lupe was in great demand. Many films in the early days of talking pictures were shot in two languages simultaneously, and of course, she spoke perfect Spanish. Because of her exotic looks she was often cast in parts calling for an ethnic beauty.
Her personal life was tumultuous. She, like her contemporary, Clara Bow, lived the life of a liberated flapper. She had affairs with John Gilbert and Gary Cooper (pictured below)
Lupe married only once — to Johnny Weissmuller in 1933. They divorced in 1939. She reportedly had affairs with Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin and Erich Maria Remarque.
When her film career stalled in the late 30s, she went to back to Mexico and filmed La Zandunga, costarring Arturo de Cordova, with whom she was also romantically involved. It was her first film shot in her home country.
Then she tried Broadway. Back in Hollywood she struck gold again with the “Spitfire” series. In the films she spoke in broken English, and displayed her fiery temper reinforcing the stereotype we have of her today.
Again, dissatisfied at being typecast, she returned to Mexico to display her range of talent by portraying Nana in a Mexican film based on the famous Emile Zola novel.
Through the years many myths have been spun about her suicide.
Fact: she was pregnant.
Myth: that the child was Weissmuller’s or Gary Cooper’s.
It was in fact by Austrian actor Harald Maresch (below).
Fact: She took an overdose of sleeping pills and left a suicide note. Her body was found by her companion and secretary of ten years, Beulah Kinder. Newspaper reports of the day said she was discovered on her bed which was strewn with flowers.
Those are facts.
But through the years there has been much conjecture. Andy Warhol’s film, Lupe, starring Edie Sedgwick has her dying with her head in a toilet bowl. And this myth has been promulgated through other contemporary media, via an episode of “Frazier,” and another of “The Simpsons.”
Remember: that is Andy Warhol’s version of events. Not Ms. Kinder’s.
We encourage you to see the films of Lupe Velez (if you can locate them). She was a unique performer and one of Mexico’s most alluring exports.