Ok, we’re having a bit of fun with today’s headline. But that’s because we expect that not all of you will immediately know the actor we are discussing.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to introduce you to Pedro Armendariz. His star shone briefly, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He wasn’t handsome — although some anointed him “the Clark Gable of Mexico” — but he was talented, and Hollywood directors used his talents.
Armendariz was another of the many Mexican performers that have enriched Hollywood since the 1920’s.
Born in 1917 during the revolution, his family moved to Texas before the young Pedro found himself studying business and journalism in the early 1930’s at California’s Polytechnic Institute. Armendariz returned to Mexico City, and was supposedly discovered delivering Hamlet’s ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ monologue to American tourists in a cafeteria.
After becoming a star in a series of films during Mexico’s so-called Cinema Golden Era, Armendariz came to the attention of Hollywood directors including the estimable John Ford, who used to him to good effect in 1948’s Fort Apache. He also co-starred in Ford’s Three Godfathers and The Fugitive.
Ford liked the force of his acting, as well as the fact that offscreen, Pedro was a refined, amiable and, by Hollywood standards, an eminently decent person. (In 1961, he was a member of the Cannes International Film Festival jury.) Armendariz married just once, a union that lasted until his death.
His film credits are pretty eclectic. In 1947, he starred as a Mexican diver who discovers a precious undersea pearl in the film edition of John Steinbeck’s novel, The Pearl. (Steinbeck also wrote the screenplay.) The picture was an RKO co-production filmed in English and Spanish (as La Perla) to exploit the domestic and Mexican market. In director Michael Curtiz’ 1961 biopic, Francis of Assisi (portrayed by Bradford Dillman, a big star then but overlooked today), Armendariz was cast in the role of ‘The Sultan.’
In the summer of 1954, RKO’s The Conqueror, a period epic with John Wayne playing Genghis Khan, began filming under Dick Powell’s direction. Susan Hayward was the Duke’s costar. The film’s location was Saint George, Utah, a town fanned by radiation from multiple above-ground atomic blasts in the adjacent Nevada desert during that period.
One of the largest of those blasts had spawned a wind dubbed ‘Dirty Harry,’ which had swept across the desert in 1953, dropping radiation everywhere. In addition…tons of contaminated earth had been shipped back to Hollywood for further shooting, thereby prolonging the actors’ exposure, wrote Hayward biographer Beverly Linet.
What is indisputable is that Wayne died of cancer. So did Hayward, as did actor-director Powell. Also, Susan’s costar Agnes Moorehead succumbed to the disease as did others connected to the filming of “The Conqueror.”
One of the “others” was Armendariz, who had a supporting part in the picture.
While filming his last movie — 1963’s From Russia With Love starring Sean Connery, the second in the 23-title James Bond franchise — Armendariz learned he had cancer. Shortly after production completed, he shot himself. He was just a month shy of his 51st birthday.