On this day, María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López Negrete was born in Durango, Mexico, on August 3, 1904. She came from an aristocratic family of Basque-Spanish bankers and farmers.
A MEXICAN PRINCESS
A beloved only child, as an adult she recalled, that her family had a fine coach that was “the envy of my cousins. I would climb up in the carriage and I felt like a princess. My mother sat in the back part and I accompanied her to church, on visits, to the seamstress… I loved the gifts of necklaces, bracelets, earrings! My mother’s friends gave me sweets while they had tea.”
ENTERTAINER IN TRAINING
Dolores developed an early fascination with performance and dance. “How I would look at myself in front of the mirror, how I would smile or make faces, studying myself,” she later said. “In these moments, I was already acting.”
THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION AND HER FAMILIES’ ROLE
When revolutionary forces attacked Durango, her mother pulled her out of bed, hid her in a big basket, and then rushed her to the railroad station to catch the last train for Mexico City just ahead of the arrival of the revolutionaries. As she described it,
“We fled early in the morning with the other important people of Durango, because at the shout ‘Here comes Pancho Villa!’ everyone ran.”-Dolores del Rio
The next few tumultuous years would bring her mother’s cousin Francisco Madero to power in Mexico, only to have him assassinated in 1913, forcing her family to hide in the basement. After the country stabilized, the convent-educated del Río’s charmed life in Mexico City resumed. In 1921 she married the much older, artistic and distinguished Jaime Martínez del Río.
Bored and Unimpressed by the Rich
Dolores had already scandalized her aristocratic circles by posing for the communist Diego Rivera, soon found herself, according to Hall, bored to tears by “dinners, dances, and the same people—in winter the opera, in summer the bullfights.” So when an American director named Edwin Carewe invited her to try her hand at Hollywood stardom, del Río jumped at the chance, much to Mexican society’s chagrin.
“No daughter from a good family ever became an actress,” her mother said. “Very well then,” del Río replied.
“I will be the first!”-Dolores del Rio
Problematic Hollywood and its Men
Del Río’s first years in Hollywood would be confusing, tumultuous and tragic. “I lived in a hotbed of intrigue, of politics, of lies and malice, of crosscurrents of human purpose,” she later said. “I was hurt so often, I was afraid to express myself.”
Promoted by her obsessive protector Carewe as the “female Rudolph Valentino,” del Río’s aristocratic, Spanish-European background was constantly pushed to counteract Hollywood’s racism against Mexicans. Carewe took total control of her life, dismissively calling her and Jaime his “chili peppers” and insisting on managing what she wore and who she saw. After del Río shot to stardom with the release of the 1926 film What Price Glory?, her husband became increasingly jealous and embarrassed by his wife’s status as a sex symbol.
As the battle between the two controlling men in her life intensified, del Río found herself typecast as an exotic, sexualized “Latin”lover.
“When they give you wonderful clothes, they give you bad parts.”-Dolores del Rio
She had roles on a string of successful films, including Resurrection (1927), Ramona (1928) and Evangeline (1929) in her years in Hollywood during the American “silent” era.
Leaving behind controlling men and racist Hollywood in the US, Dolores returned to her homeland, Mexico.
The Golden Age Mexican Film and An Actress’ Freedom
When del Río arrived back in Mexico City in 1942, she found herself in the center of a flourishing artistic renaissance.
“[I had to] leave stardom to convert myself into an actress and I could only do that in Mexico.”-Dolores del Rio
In Mexico, del Río finally got the parts she had longed for: earthy, dramatic roles tackling social issues of war, race and poverty. Partnering with director Emilio Fernández, cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, and actor Pedro Armendáriz, she made legendary Mexican films including Flor Silvestre, Maria Candelaria and The Abandoned.
Del Río was the undisputed muse of this golden age of Mexican cinema.
Always for the Art
Based at her famed home of La Escondida in Coyoacan, del Río was a leading cultural and philanthropic figure in Mexico until her death in 1983—supporting the arts, opening day care centers for working mothers throughout the country, and travelling the world in plays produced by her final husband, Lewis Riley.
In her career, she won four Ariel Awards (the Mexican equivalent to an Oscar).,
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Entertainment with a Social Justice Twist!