Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, recalling a period when Mexican movie stars were a hot commodity in Hollywood.
Last month we discussed the actor Arturo deCordova, a star in his native Mexico and who was wooed to Hollywood in the early 1940s when the studios needed male leads to fill the ranks left by men serving in the Armed Forces.
By the way, the late Donald Gordon, who left us his marvelous cache of early Forties photos —The Donald Gordon Collection — wound up on the Columbia studio lot in similar circumstances. All the studios were really hungry for presentable male stars back then. No questions asked.
Regarding deCordova, you will be forgiven if you ask, Arturo who?
Born Arturo Garcia Rodriguez in Mexico City, he became a big action star in Mexico before getting the summons to Hollywood to play Latin Lover roles. If you think of him as a low-rent Fernando Lamas, you wouldn’t be far off.
Anyway, de Cardova costarred with Betty Hutton in Incendiary Blond, a musical biopic of entertainer Texas Guinan, with a solid supporting cast including Charles Ruggles and Barry Fitzgerald. And, opposite Joan Fontaine in Frenchman’s Creek, he played a lusty French pirate to her proper British lady letting loose.
The important point here is that Arturo was featured above the title with his leading ladies in ads for those two films, a longtime definition of star power. (Almost forgotten today, de Cordova had quite a career in the mid-40s Hollywood, and after he returned to Mexico, became a big star in South America and Spain.)
We started thinking about other Mexican actors who had scored big in Hollywood. The arrival of South-of-the-Border talent predates the early Forties. Each decade of Hollywood’s Golden Era can boast of several stars from Mexico.
(Outside of the movies directed by Robert Rodriguez — 2010’s Machete starring Danny Trejo, Los Angeles-born of Mexican extraction; and 2003’s Once Upon A Time in Mexico — contemporary Hollywood doesn’t provide many starring roles for Hispanic performers.)
Two of the all-time biggest silent screen stars of the 1920s, Dolores del Rio and Ramon Navarro (both pictured above), came from Mexico.
The son of a wealthy Durango dentist, Navarro (born Jose Ramon Gil Samaniego in 1899) got a locational head start on a Hollywood career when his family moved to Los Angeles to escape the Mexican revolution of 1916.
A year later, after stints as a ballet dancer, piano teacher and singing waiter, Navarro landed a job as a film extra. He caught the eye of director Rex Ingram, who cast him in The Prisoner of Zenda.
del Rio (also from Durango, born Lolita Dolores Asunsolo de Martinez in 1905) began her movie career in the mid-Twenties (Joanna, High Steppes, Pals First).
But her career flourished well after the silents were history. Among Frank’s favorite performances is Dolores’ turn as a worldly-wise cabaret performer in 1943’s Journey Into Fear. del Rio became noticed early on as one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses. She had many romances including an extended fling with Orson Welles.
Now we ask our readers. Who are the other big stars who came from south of the border?