Happy 118th Birthday Dolores del Rio

Today is the 118th birthday of the actress Delores del Rio. Trailblazer. Timeless beauty. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

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NAME: Dolores del Rio
FULL NAME: Dolores Martinez Asunsolo y Lopes Negrete
DATE OF BIRTH: 3-Aug-1904
PLACE OF BIRTH: Durango, Mexico
DATE OF DEATH: 11-Apr-1983
PLACE OF DEATH: Laguna Beach, CA
CAUSE OF DEATH: Liver Failure
REMAINS: Buried, Panteón Civil de Dólores, Mexico City, Mexico

BEST KNOWN FOR: DescriptionDolores del Río was a Mexican actress, dancer and singer. With a career spanning more than 50 years, she is regarded as the first major female Latin American crossover star in Hollywood.

María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López-Negrete was born in Victoria de Durango, Mexico on August 3, 1904, the daughter of Jesus Leonardo Asúnsolo Jacques, son of wealthy farmers and director of the Bank of Durango, and Antonia López-Negrete, belonging to one of the richest families in the country, whose lineage went back to Spain and the viceregal nobility.

Her parents were members of the 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 prominent actress 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.

Her family lost all its assets during the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). Durango aristocratic families were threatened by the insurrection that Pancho Villa was leading in the region. The Asúnsolo family decided to escape. Dolores’s father decided to escape to the United States, while she and her mother fled to Mexico City in a train, disguised as peasants. In 1912, the Asúnsolo family reunited in Mexico City and lived under the protection of then-president Francisco I. Madero, who was a cousin of Antonia. Dolores attended the Collège Français de Saint-Joseph, a college run by French nuns and located in Mexico City. In 1919, a then 15-year-old Dolores saw a performance of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, whose interpretation influenced her to become a dancer. She confirmed her decision later when she witnessed the performances of Antonia Mercé “La Argentina” in Mexico City. She then persuaded her mother to allow her to take dance lessons with the respected teacher Felipita Lopez. However, she suffered from great insecurity and felt like an “ugly duckling”. Her mother commissioned the renowned painter Alfredo Ramos Martínez (famous painter of the Mexican aristocracy) to paint a portrait of her daughter. The portrait helped her overcome her insecurities.

In 1921, aged 17, Dolores was invited by a group of Mexican women to dance in a party to benefit a local hospital. At this party, she met Jaime Martínez del Río y Viñent, son of a wealthy family. Jaime had been educated in England and had spent some time in Europe. After a two-month courtship, the couple wed on 11 April 1921. Their honeymoon in Europe lasted two years. Jaime maintained close ties with European aristocratic circles. In Spain Dolores danced again in a charity show for wounded soldiers in the battle of Melilla. The monarchs of Spain, Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenie, thanked her deeply and the queen gave her a photograph. In 1924, the couple returned to Mexico. They decided to live on Jaime’s ranch in Durango, where cotton was the main crop. But after the cotton market suffered a precipitous fall, the couple was on the verge of ruin. At the same time Dolores discovered she was pregnant. Unfortunately, she suffered a miscarriage and her doctor informed her that she should never again become pregnant, at risk of losing her life. The couple decided to settle in Mexico City.

In early 1925, Dolores met the American filmmaker Edwin Carewe, an influential director at the First National studio, who was in Mexico for the wedding of actors Bert Lytell and Claire Windsor. Carewe was fascinated by Dolores and managed to be invited to her home by the artist Adolfo Best Maugard. In the evening Dolores danced and her husband accompanied her on the piano. Carewe was determined to have her, so he invited the couple to work in Hollywood. Carewe convinced Jaime, saying he could turn his wife into a movie star. Jaime thought that this proposal was a response to their economic needs. In Hollywood, he could fulfill his old dream of writing screen plays. Breaking with all the canons of Mexican society at that time and against their family’s wishes, they journeyed by train to the United States.

Del Río 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”). Carewe arranged for wide publicity for her with the intention of transforming her into a star of the order of Rudolph Valentino. As part of an advertising campaign, Carewe made a report dedicated to Dolores in the major magazines in Hollywood:

Dolores Del Rio, the heiress and First Lady of the High Mexican Society, has come to Hollywood with a cargo of shawls and combs valued at $ 50,000 (is said to be the richest girl in her country thanks to the fortune of her husband and her parents). She will debut in the film Joanna, led by her discoverer Edwin Carewe.

She made her film debut in Joanna (1925), directed by Carewe and released that year. In the film del Río plays the role of Carlotta De Silva, a vamp of Spanish-Brazilian origin, but she appeared for only five minutes. While continuing with his advertising campaign for del Río, Carewe placed her with a secondary role in the film High Steppers (1926), starring Mary Astor. Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios, interested in casting del Río to act in the comedy The Whole Town’s Talking (also 1926). These films were not big hits, but helped increase her profile with the movie-going public. Del Rio got her first starring role in the comedy Pals First (1926) also directed by Carewe,a lost film. The film director Raoul Walsh called del Río to cast her in the war film What Price Glory? (1926 again). The film was a commercial success, becoming the second highest-grossing title of the year, grossing nearly $2 million in the United States alone. That same year, thanks to the remarkable progress in her career, 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.

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Carewe, with the support of the United Artists directed and produced Resurrection (1927), based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy. Del Río was selected as the heroine and Rod La Rocque starred as leading man. Due to the success of the film, Fox quickly began shooting The Loves of Carmen (also 1927), also directed by Raoul Walsh. Fox Film called her to star in the film No Other Woman (1928), directed by Lou Tellegen.

When actress Renée Adorée began to show symptoms of tuberculosis, del Río was selected for the lead role of the MGM film The Trail of ’98 (also 1928), directed by Clarence Brown. The film was a huge success and brought favorable reviews from critics. Around the same time, she was hired by United Artists for the third film version of the successful novel Ramona (also 1928), directed by Carewe. The success of the film was helped by the same name musical theme, written by L. Wolfe Gilbert and recorded by del Río. Ramona was the first United Artists film with synchronized sound.

In late 1928, Hollywood was concerned with the conversion to sound films. 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 to be an actress with skills for sound cinema.

Although her career blossomed, her personal life was turbulent. Her marriage to Jaime Martínez ended in 1928. The differences between the couple emerged after settling in Hollywood. In Mexico she had been the wife of Jaime Martinez del Rio, but in Hollywood Jaime became husband of a movie star. The trauma of a miscarriage added to the marital difficulties and del Río was advised not to have children. After a brief separation, Dolores filed for divorce. Six months later, she received news that Jaime had died in Germany. As if this were not enough, Del Río had to suffer incessant harassment from her discoverer, Edwin Carewe, who did not cease in his attempt to conquer her.

Del Rio made her third film with Raoul Walsh, The Red Dance (1928). Her next project was Evangeline (1929) a new production of United Artists also directed by Carewe and inspired by the 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.

In 1930, del Río met Cedric Gibbons, an art director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and one of the most influential men in Hollywood, at a party at Hearst Castle. The couple began a romance and finally married on August 6, 1930. The del Rio-Gibbons were one of the most famous couples of Hollywood in the early thirties. They organized ‘Sunday brunches’ in their Art Deco house at 757 Kingman Avenue in Pacifc Palisades. Gibbons designed the interiors of the house. Shortly after her marriage, del Río fell seriously ill with a severe kidney infection. The doctors recommended long bed rest. When she regained her health, she was hired exclusively by RKO Pictures. Her first film with the studio was Girl of the Rio (1931), directed by Herbert Brenon.

She had been sought by Mexican film directors since the late 1930s, but economic circumstances were not favorable for the entry of del Río to the Mexican cinema. She was a friend of 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 returned to Mexico.

In 1957, she debuted in television in the role of a Spanish lady in the American television series Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, with Cesar Romero. Del Río and her husband founded their own production company called Producciones Visuales and they produced numerous theater projects featuring del Río. Mexican writer Salvador Novo became the translator of her plays. Her first production in Mexico City was Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, which she had made as a film in Argentina a decade earlier. She toured Mexico in the play, an enterprise that was both financially and critically successful, and she later took it to Buenos Aires. Others of her successful theater projects were The Road to Rome (1958), Ghosts (1962), Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters (1963), La Voyante (1964), The Queen and the Rebels (1967), and The Lady of the Camellias (1968). Del Río returned to Hollywood after 18 years. She was hired by Fox to play the role of the mother of Elvis Presley’s character in the film Flaming Star (1960), directed by Don Siegel.

She appeared in John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn released in 1964. Her last Mexican film, Casa de Mujeres (1967). Around the same time, the Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi invited her to be part of the movie More Than a Miracle (also 1967) with Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif. She played Sharif’s character’s mother.

She also appeared in the TV shows The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (1960), the TV movie The Man Who Bought Paradise (1965), I Spy, and Branded (1966). In 1968, del Río first performed on Mexican television in an autobiographical documentary narrated by her. Her last appearance on television was in a 1970 episode of Marcus Welby, M.D..

Del Rio’s last film appearance was in The Children of Sanchez (1978), directed by Hall Bartlett and starring Anthony Quinn. She made a brief appearance playing the grandmother.

In 1978, she was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, and in 1981 she was diagnosed with hepatitis B following a contaminated injection of vitamins. She also suffered from arthritis. In 1982, del Río was admitted to Scripps Hospital, La Jolla, California, where hepatitis led to cirrhosis.

On 11 April 1983, Dolores del Río died from liver failure at the age of 78, in Newport Beach, California. It is said that the day she died, an invitation to attend the Oscars was sent to her. After dying, she was cremated and her ashes were moved from the United States to Mexico where they were buried at the Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City, Mexico, specifically on The Rotunda of Illustrious Persons.

The Children of Sanchez (22-Nov-1978)
More Than a Miracle (1-Nov-1967) · Queen Mother
Cheyenne Autumn (3-Oct-1964) · Spanish Woman
Flaming Star (20-Dec-1960)
The Fugitive (3-Nov-1947) · An Indian Woman
María Candelaria (20-Jan-1944)
Journey Into Fear (7-Aug-1942) · Josette Martel
The Man From Dakota (15-Feb-1940) · Jenny
International Settlement (4-Feb-1938)
Lancer Spy (8-Oct-1937)
I Live for Love (28-Sep-1935)
In Caliente (25-May-1935)
Madame Du Barry (13-Oct-1934) · Madame Du Barry
Wonder Bar (28-Feb-1934)
Flying Down to Rio (22-Dec-1933) · Belinha De Rezende
Bird of Paradise (12-Aug-1932) · Luana
The Trail of ’98 (20-Mar-1928)
What Price Glory (23-Nov-1926)

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