From Hollywood and back: Dolores Del Rio, a trans (national) star

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From Hollywood and back: Dolores Del Rio, a trans (national) star. By: Lopez, Ana M., Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, 07309139, 1998, Vol. 17
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I. Images of a Star
  • Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains produced a series of seven installation pieces or "altars" between 1983 and 1993 paying homage to Dolores Del Rio. Simultaneously of the home and of the public sphere, these altars reinscribe the figure of Dolores Del Rio into the museum and the Chicano imaginary.
  • In David Avalos's Ramona: Story of a Miscegenation (1991), an experimental Chicano video, the figure of Del Rio--in Ramona but also in other films--is one of the narrative engines used to unpack a century's worth of stereotypes in the U.S. representation of Latinos.
  • A contemporary Los Angeles restaurant menu includes as one of its salads, the 'Dolores del Rio,' which is described as "A combination of tomatoes, red onions, zucchini, celery, carrots, cucumbers, and mushrooms, all on a bed of lettuce. Your choice of dressing." This is the only salad on the menu that offers such an option.
  • In addition to copious press coverage, in 1930, even before she had made the transition to sound, Dolores had already been the subject of a book length study, published simultaneously in Madrid, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires: Dolores del Rio: La Triunfadora by Rafael Martinez Gandia.[1]
  • Many Mexican artists have used the figure of Dolores Del Rio in paintings, poetry, plays and fiction, among them Adolfo Best Maugard, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Salvador Novo, Carlos Pellicer, Alfonso Reyes, Jaime Torres Bodet, Paco Ignacio Taibo I with Siempre Dolores and Carlos Fuentes with Orquideas a la luz de la luna.[2]
  • A recent internet search disclosed not only several places in the world where her films were being shown, but also a bevy of sites in which her name appears, among them the site "Romantically Linked," in which she is associated with a series of nine personalities, other than her husbands, including of course, Orson Welles, but also Porfirio Rubirosa, Wait Disney, and Greta Garbo.

The central question which these facts and images suggest is, on the surface, straightforward: How to study a transnational star, an actress whose career overlapped with at least two national cinemas and who continues to have a presence in the United States, Mexican, and Latin American imaginaries? First we must question the relationship between stardom and nationness. Hollywood stars and stardom have been copiously studied, but always through a hegemonic and often unconscious national prism which presumes that Hollywood stardom/s stardom in and of itself. Even the most recent books and anthologies on stars and stardom barely acknowledge the troubling presence of other star systems, other bodies and other nationalities2 Furthermore, Hollywood star studies rarely acknowledge stars' acting forays in other national cinemas or the repercussions of stardom--Hollywood or otherwise--in other cultural contexts. In other national cinemas, stardom as a phenomenon has barely begun to be theorized and most so-called star studies are little more than biography. There are a number of star biographies in Mexican film studies, for example, but the kind of transnational focus that I am calling for here, goes against the grain of a scholarly project--the chronicle and defense of Mexican cinema--which is usually articulated in relationship to the national. Beyond a consideration of stars, the cinemas of Latin America, be they the New Latin American Cinema or the "Golden Age" cinemas of the 1930s and '40s have generally been studied as discrete national phenomena, framed primarily by the socio-political vagaries of each state and only incidentally linked to continental or international social changes and movements.[4] This focus on nation and the corollary search for difference and uniqueness has obscured a series of important transcontinental forces and exchanges in the classical period because in the 1940s and '50s the cinema in Latin America was already--and perhaps had always been--a transnational phenomenon.

Thus the issue of transnational influences in the classical period which the case of Dolores Del Rio highlights is a fascinating historical puzzle that questions the viability of the "national" as the sign-post of film histories by highlighting the hybridization potentially inherent to all national cinemas. Against the prevailing myth of national cinematic insularity and histories of national achievements and failures, I want to argue for the need to look at the history of Latin American cinema from a continental perspective that includes, but mediates, the national. The Mexican cinema, for example, was a national and nationalist cinema, but also profoundly transnational.[5] It is precisely its transnational contexts and alliances that allowed it to develop some of its most "nationalistic" characteristics, icons, and stars like Dolores Del Rio. I want to use Del Rio's unique career, which began in Hollywood in the silent period, continued and climaxed in Mexico in the 1940s and also featured a few subsequent appearances in Hollywood, as a catalyst to enable a discussion of the transnationality of Hollywood and of post-war Mexican cinema and their mutual industrial and ideological linkages. Thus the figure of the traveling actor--Del Rio--as a site for tracing the mediation of nationness should function as a key for opening up a space for transnational analyses of the classic cinemas, be they Mexican or Hollywood.

Del Rio's transnational stardom suggests a series of overlapping questions: Why does Dolores Del Rio become a significant Hollywood star when so many others--especially Latin American women--failed? How and why does her return to Mexico shift her star persona and produce her as a national myth? What does it mean that she still fascinates us? How does she function as a symbol of Latinidad in the United States imaginary? In order to provisionally answer these questions, I shall attempt to weave a web of socio-historical and cinematic evidence that addresses various levels of agency and determination, ranging from the individual herself--that is, from biography--to the social/national and the transnational.

II. How Hollywood Created a Star

"Lolita" was born Dolores Asunsolo Lopez Negrete on August 3, 1905 into an aristocratic Durango family that fled from Pancho Villa to Mexico City in 1910. After studying in a convent where she was educated in French and taking private lessons with a famous dancer, Lolita married her first husband, Jaime Martinez del Rio shortly after her sixteenth birthday. He was eighteen years her senior, a lawyer educated in Europe, and part of an old aristocratic Castilian family that had been in Mexico for decades and was socially prominent. After a long honeymoon in Europe, the couple settled into the elegant life of the Mexico City aristocracy: parties, dances and teas.

Her entry into the cinema was accidental: Hollywood director Edwin Carewe, honeymooning in Mexico in the summer of 1925, was brought to her house Coy painter and family friend Adolfo Best Maugard) for a "tea," and convinced her and her husband to go to Hollywood. The rationales for the move appear to have been multiple. First of all, like most young women of the period, Dolores adored the movies, read movie magazines, and collected star photographs. Simply meeting stars, much less becoming one, was an exciting prospect. Furthermore, there had already been several well-publicized Hollywood "star searches" in Mexico City which surely would have captured her interest.[6] Perhaps most importantly, the move to Hollywood offered her and Jaime an opportunity to begin a new life, away from the conservative values of their respective families. For both the move represented affirming themselves against their families. In any case, within days of their arrival in Hollywood in late 1925, Dolores was in front of the cameras in a secondary role as a Spanish countess in Joanna (1925), the film Carewe was then directing.

Del Rio's rise to stardom was as quick as the disintegration of her personal life. The cinema, rather than bring the couple closer, tore them apart. Jaime did not like being "Mr. Del Rio" and his own career as a writer was going nowhere. After two trial separations Dolores filed for divorce in 1928,[7] while rumors about her relationship to Carewe were flying high. He was her manager and successfully got her roles in First National, Fox, Metro, Universal, and United Artists productions, several of which he directed himself.[8] While he directed her in Ramona in 1928 he also divorced his wife Mary Aiken, and they traveled together to Mazatlan on his own yacht for some location shooting for their next film, Revenge. Dolores denied their relationship, but called her mother to live with her to suppress the gossip. As she said years later: "Everything happened to me. Things broke down around me. Terrible and tragic things."9 In late 1928, Jaime del Rio died suddenly of blood poisoning. Now Dolores was ostensibly free to concentrate upon her career in a different way.

In the silent period, Carewe was perhaps Del Rio's best director; certainly they aided each other's careers. To begin with, Carewe's press agents Were responsible for circulating constant releases about Dolores and gave her a "name" even before she had any starring roles. As Rafael Martinez Gandis, her first chronicler, astutely complained as early as 1930,

What is most surprising in Dolores del Rio's (sic) lightning fast climb to fame is that her triumph was not due to impeccable acting before the cameras .... Dolores del Rio became a personality without proving her merits. Thanks to Carewe and to his publicity campaigns her name was known throughout the world much before her first films.[10]

This same press machinery is also the central topic of Paco Ignacio Taibo I's novel Siempre Dolores, in which the author's alter ego is none other than the young press agent/lover responsible for creating Dolores's Hollywood star image. In any case, critics did notice that in Carewe's films, Del Rio seemed at her best and he perfected her silent image as the "female Rudolf Valentino," a dark beauty with cupid lips who acted, above all, with her face, and, secondarily via hand and body movements. After the tremendous success of Ramona and Revenge, the couple arranged a lucrative five million dollar contract with United Artists. As their fortunes rose, however, their relationship cooled. Perhaps because of Jaime's death, Dolores withdrew from Carewe and, after they filmed Evangeline in 1929, Carewe sold her contract to United Artists.[11]

Carewe's role in the "creation" of Del Rio as a Hollywood star is important and linked to the already significant cinematic relations between Mexico and Hollywood. Carewe may have been on his honeymoon when he went to Mexico, but he must also have been thinking about his business. The previous two films that his small independent company had produced had been threatened with bans by the Mexican government for their depiction of Mexicans. And an independent producer with limited means like Carewe could not afford to lose the lucrative Mexican market, since his success was dependent upon quick returns on investment. The Mexican government's censorship policies were already well known and somewhat feared by Hollywood producers: rather than banning an individual film, the Mexican government had begun to ban all the films produced by companies distributing or producing offensive titles. Furthermore, they sought and began to obtain the solidarity of other Latin American nations who followed the Mexican example with similar legislation. Hollywood stood up and listened: First National, the first producer whose entire output was banned by Mexico immediately published a statement that "the wishes of the government would be respected."[12] In fact, however, rather than present "dignified" Mexicans, producers resorted to inventing imaginary countries and to "hispanicizing" California without making it either Mexican or Spanish. Nevertheless, following the spirit of the period, Carewe was careful not to offend Mexican sensibilities and stated to the press during that first visit: "The production companies have been wrong to exploit Mexican characters of the 'with a gun in their belts' types as bandits and traitors when in Mexican society there are so many distinguished women and cultured men.[13] These sentiments were echoed by Dolores shortly after her arrival in Hollywood:

What [Hollywood] needs is a high-society Mexican woman, one who may have been exposed to foreign culture and customs through travel, but who maintains our customs and the traces of our Mexican land. And then the vulgar picturesque type, so damaging because it falsities our image, will disappear naturally .... This is my goal in Hollywood: all my efforts are turned toward filling this gap in the cinema .... If I achieve this it will the height of my artistic ambition and perhaps a small glory for Mexico.[14]

Dolores became a Hollywood star, but she never achieved this dream.

III. What Price Glory? The First Hollywood Star Image

Dolores Del Rio's first successful starring role was her fifth film, What Price Glory? directed by Raoul Walsh and one of the New York Times's ten best films of 1926. As Charmaine, a French bar girl during World War I, she steals the hearts of two feuding American marines (Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe) who stoically face the horrors of war but would rather fight each other for her favors. In this film she solidified her image and there seems to be somewhat of a "fit" between her star image and her onscreen role. In other words, she fulfills the promise of stardom that the star's onscreen characters give audiences some kind of access to the personality itself. As in most of her other Hollywood films, especially in the silent period, she was a heavily sexualized and exotically beautiful foreigner, but here she also had a feisty humorous spirit which allowed for curiously independent actions. Charmaine is, above all, spontaneous, natural, innocently sexy--precisely the characteristics attributed to her great native/foreign beauty and a "fit" which Dolores herself underlined to the press: "I am not, by nature, melancholy, weepy, sorrowful, languishing, or sweet .... I am the girl of What Price Glory? There, for a bit, I could show my real serf. I am, by nature, tempestuous, fiery, stormy, eager."[15]

Our first introduction to Charmaine crystallizes the naturalizing mechanics of her sexualization: rolling a heavy barrel on the floor of the barroom, her prominently displayed derriere is the compositional center of a rather unusual image in which the camera assumes the lecherous point of view of Captain Flagg (McLaglen) and Dolores is displayed for all to see what she herself cannot possibly appreciate. This introduction tellingly turns the table on the conventional marking of a star's entrance into the narrative via luminous close-ups that underline the star's presence. Rather than the face as the window onto the soul, her sexy derriere is what the audience first recognizes as characteristic of her persona.[16] However, as her appreciative once-over of Captain Flagg when she turns around demonstrates, seduction and seductive looks are something Charmaine can return as well as receive and her sexual freedom is the focus of the nonbattle parts of the film: both marines fondle her outrageously and frequently and she sleeps with both of them (off screen). In fact, Charmaine is the only site of visual pleasure--with frequent close shots of buttocks, legs, and haft-bared shoulders---in a film which is otherwise concerned with detailing the horrors of war. Curiously for a film of this period, she is not condemned for her explicit sexuality, what Kevin Brownlow has described as "the utterly unabashed sexual content of the love scenes;"[17] on the contrary, it empowers her. When her father (Cognac Pete) attempts to force one of the men into a shotgun wedding for "ruining" her, the men acquiesce to the situation while she is the one that rebels, venting her fury on all the men around her with a virulence and freedom rather unthinkable for an "American" girl in an equivalent film situation. She is certainly neither a rebellious New Woman, an independent bachelorette, a fallen woman, nor a flapper.

At the end of the film, the men are at war and at war with each other, but Charmaine, in the act of choosing one over the other is also able to reconcile them: Captain Flagg has her heart, but Sgt. Quirt her love. Positioned as a sexual object but also as a redeeming force--the power of love and a "pure" heart despite sexual freedom--her pathos at the men's departure to yet another battle ends the film and allows Del Rio one of her best acting moments in the film.

Although she went on to work with a variety of directors, Del Rio's image in the silent period remained fairly stable albeit with a complicated degree of interpenetration between her publicly available private life and her films. Despite being insistently identified as Mexican in the public sphere, she played sexy Russians (Resurrection, 1927, and The Red Dance, 1928), sexy Spanish dancers (The Loves of Carmen, 1927, and The Bad One, 1930), sexy half-breeds (Andean in The Gateway of the Moon, 1928, and North American in Ramona, 1929), sexy gypsies (Revenge, 1928) and even a fairly sexy Acadian (Evangeline, 1929). She was not identified with Latin American characters. Rather, hers was a vaguely upper-class exoticism articulated within a general category of "foreign/other" tragic sensuality. As a sensual "other"--an object of sexual fascination, transgression, fear, and capitulation--her onscreen image did not have a specific national or ethnic provenance, simply an aura of foreignness that accommodated the disruptive potential of her explicit sexuality. Her "otherness" was located and defined on a sexual register conflated over the foreign/exotic rather than the ethnic.

Within the industrial context of Hollywood, Dolores, who was still very young and a great beauty, fit in well into the late 1920s international constellation of talent. At a time of great expansion for the industry, the Hollywood studios had begun to attract--and recruit--a bevy of international stars and directors, not only to preclude competition from other national cinemas (such as the German) but also to increase its appeal to international audiences. Dolores Del Rio fit in perfectly with the new international crowd which included, among others, Pola Negri, Greta Garbo, and Rudolf Valentino: with her elegant ways reminiscent of the "old Spanish tradition," the many stories circulated by the press about her exotic upper-class upbringing and travels, and her glamorous marriage (at least while it lasted) she complemented Hollywood's new self-conscious international image. Hollywood had needed a Mexican female star--few reviews or press releases failed to comment upon her nationality--and had finally produced it, yet this particular brand of Mexicanness--albeitbased on the colonial legacy of the old Spanish tradition--which was so essential for her image was not specifically tapped onscreen. Rather, her ethnicity was submerged under the signpost of exoticism.

IV. The Height and Fall

Her success in Hollywood in the silent period was spectacular, peaking after the release of Ramona, when United Artists also released a record which included Del Rio's rendering of the "Ramona" title song which sold by the thousands. And she was also well liked by the Mexican public, even if some reviewers had mixed feelings. In 1926 she had been selected as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars," a yearly selection by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers of thirteen young starlets headed for stardom. Among others, the 1926 roster included Mary Astor, Fay Wray, Joan Crawford, and Janet Gaynor.[18] She was picked the winner by the U.S. public. A year later, trying to determine which of its previous roster of thirteen had in fact been most successful, WAMPAS had another contest open to voters from all nations. Dolores solicited the help of her compatriots via ads in The Los Angeles Times and The Universal in Mexico City and she received hundreds of thousands of votes, winning the contest by more than two hundred thousand.

But the arrival of sound complicated her career. Del Rio had put off the transition to sound for as long as she could. As late as 1928 she dismissed the new talkies as "a passing fancy" and tried to argue that sound would destroy the kinds of movies which were "Hollywood's greatest works."[19] It was already well known that the U.S. public rejected foreign actors with accents and she was rightly worried about hers. AS is evident in the "Ramona" recording, as of 1929 her accent was thick and her English almost unintelligible. Thus, to rationalize her accent, in The Bad One, her first sound film of 1930, she played a Spanish singer and began to fall into the trap of having to portray some kind of Latin American character. And this trap---added to a series of personal problems such as a protracted illness (or nervous breakdown) and a scandal surrounding her attorney, Gunther Lessing, who sued her "for ruining his marriage" and disclosed to the press a series of unsavory allegations---would sully her image significantly. Perhaps in an effort to reconstruct a version of her previous dignified, aristocratic and "happily married" image, in 1931--the only year since her arrival in Hollywood in which she did not appear in a single film--she married the well-known MGM set designer Cedric Gibbons, the arbiter of style for the Hollywood jet-set. Rather tellingly, in a Photoplay interview, she explained her marital choice in transnational terms, mentioning but eliding her nationality as well as Cedric's:[20]

"Cedric is perfect," she asserted, and her eyes lighted up like burning candles. "First, he is American, with that dash most American men seem to possess. And he is understanding and sympathetic. He has never been to Mexico and does not know my people--but he is an artist, and in his artist's appreciation he has been endowed with the sensitivity of the Latin. A perfect husband, no?"[21]

But sensitive to Latins was exactly what her second sound film, Girl of the Rio was not. This film was a remake of The Dove, a 1927 Norma Talmadge vehicle which had been banned in Mexico and other Latin American countries, primarily because of its central character, Don Jose Maria Lopez y Tostado (Leo Carrillo), a stereotypical bandit villain. In Girl of the Rio, Del Rio is a singer in the Purple Pigeon Night Club, just over the border. Outfitted in a Spanish-dancer white lace dress, huge hair combs and a white mantilla, she entertains the bar patrons and falls in love with a good-hearted American, Johnny Powell (Norman Foster). Don Tostado decides he wants Dolores and arranges several mishaps for Johnny, including shooting him, but in the end, relents and allows Dolores to go off with her American. Although Girl of the Rio was not banned by the Mexican censors, when it was exhibited as La Paloma it generated much ill will towards Del Rio in Mexico. According to one historian, "The theater which showed the film in Mexico City received continual threats of violence and a special delegation visited Mexican President Ortiz Rubio to request immediate suspension of the film.,,22 And Luz Alba, film critic for the Mexican newspaper Ilustrado, wrote a scathing critique of her acting abilities:

Dolores Del Rio is always the same. Endlessly she inflates her nostrils and manipulates her eyes with an excessive desire to make them seen incendiary. Her mannerisms are as bothersome as a speck of dust in the eye.[23]

Although she remained a visible presence in the Hollywood jet set until her departure in 1942, Del Rio never regained her former fame. She moved among the Hollywood elite, but over the next decade her roles became less and less significant and she became much more identified with Latin American and/or Mexican characters. Furthermore, her decline was also linked to the shifting imperatives of the industry throughout the 1930s and early '40s.

Most significantly, sound had opened the floodgates to music and by the mid 1930s it was almost impossible to conceive of "Latin-ness" in Hollywood without music. Although Del Rio starred in four musical vehicles in the early '30s and ostensibly had musical talent, especially dancing, she did not "take" as either a singer or a dancer. For example, although she was the top-billed actress of Flying Down to Rio (Thorton Freeland, 1933), she lost the film to the introduction of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as a dancing couple. In Wonder Bar (Lloyd Bacon, 1934) she is only a featured player and got lost in the shuffle of a cast that included Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dick Powell, Ricardo Cortez, and Busby Berkeley choreographies. To add insult to injury, another one of her musicals, In Caliente (Lloyd Bacon, 1935), had a border setting and was banned by Mexican censors because of its undignified depiction of Mexicans which included songs with lyrics such as "In the language of the gringo I'm so hotcha, muchacha, I'll watchya ... just like a cat would watch a little cucaracha."

In addition to sound and the emphasis on musicality, other forces were also shifting Hollywood's interests. First of all, the July 1934 enforcement of the Production Code--the industry's self-censoring mechanism designed to forestall federal intervention--radically changed the level and intensity of sexuality that could be portrayed onscreen. That which had been Dolores's forte---her body, unabashed sensuality and extraordinarily explicit sexuality--could no longer be represented. In fact, her first film to be submitted for Production Code approval, Madame duBarry (William Dieterle, 1935) was a major cause of dispute between the studio and the Hays office, primarily because it presented the court of Louis XV as a sex farce centered around Del Rio.

Secondly, shortly thereafter the beginning of World War II shifted Hollywood's priorities. Prior to the war the industry had derived a large percentage of its gross revenues from foreign markets, and upon the closing of the European and Japanese markets, it set out, in Bosley Crowther's words, on "a campaign to woo Latin America," with films of "Pan-American" interest? Pan-Americanism led to the creation in 1940 of the State Department Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA) headed by Nelson Rockefeller and to the resurrection of the Good Neighbor Policy. In addition to sponsoring the production of documentaries, newsreels and shorts "to carry the message of democracy below the Rio Grande," the OCIAA worked with the Production Code Administration's newly appointed Latin American expert to pressure the studios to become more sensitive to Latin issues and portrayals.[25]

Thus the Good Neighbor policy, among other things, further reinforced the musical tendency which was perceived as politically harmless and also redefined the terms of Hollywood's Latin/Latino representation. Dolores Del Rio's kind of ethnically undifferentiated sexual persona was no longer either adequate or desirable. For example, whereas in a precursor of the Production Code and the Good Neighbor films like Flying Down to Rio, the explicit and irresistible sensuality of her aristocratic Carioca character (all she has to do is look at a man across a crowded nightclub and he is smitten forever) could be articulated because in the end it would be tamed by marriage to the North American hero, in the films of the Good Neighbor period, that resolution/partial appeasement of the ethnic/sexual threat of "otherness" she unleashed was no longer available. A kind of embryonic identity politics was beginning to emerge---symbolized by demands for authenticity in representation--which called for a sanitizing of sexuality: instead of Del Rio's sultriness, Hollywood produced Carmen Miranda in a tutti-frutti hat and tropicalization became the dominant trope for Hollywood Latins.

In order to recognize this shift, it is useful to analyze Del Rio's image in the pre-Production Code and pre-Good Neighbor Policy period as an elegant and sensual aristocrat in Flying Down to Rio and as the no less sensual, albeit less elegant, South Seas princess Luana in Bird of Paradise (King Vidor, 1932). Both films are significant within her filmography and demonstrate not only her new "look" but also her search for a different star image. In both, but especially in Flying Down to Rio, Del Rio appears sporting an absolutely "modern" look. Possibly influenced by the makeup revolution introduced by Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich or by her husband's (Gibbons) well-known fascination with art deco set design, almost overnight Del Rio's physical appearance changed: short soft hair rather than a severe center-parted chignon; a wider softer mouth rather than small heart-shaped lips; makeup that emphasized her high cheekbones and called even more attention to her luminous also well-made up eyes; and, in Flying Down to Rio, elegant white or black svelte clothing that highlighted her famous esqueletico rumhero.

Playing Carioca aristocrat Belinha Rezende in Flying Down to Rio, she is still extraordinarily sensual, but now suffused with elegance, sophistication, and glamour. As Aurelio de los Reyes has commented, this is the first time that her onscreen image fully coalesced with her off-screen persona, the elegant socialite Mrs. Cedric Gibbons who hobnobbed with the elite and had weekends at San Simeon with the Hearsts.[26] However, already we can see traces of the changes about to come which would radically alter Hollywood's representation of Latinos and the place and function of Latinos in the industry. In the crucial scene early in the film when Belinha easily seduces Roger, the gringo bandleader, simply by setting her smoldering eyes upon him (emphasized in a close-up in which the rest of her face is framed by an evening hat low on her brow, the billowing sleeves of her white gown, and an evening purse mirror which she uses like a flirtatious mask), there is a clear hint of an important displacement. After Belinha and Roger begin to dance, one of the four blonde American women left behind at the table remarks to her companions: "What do these South Americans have below the equator that we haven't?" Ostensibly an innocent remark, her comment is nevertheless extraordinarily telling of how the film maps Del Rio's sexuality on a geopolitical axis. First, it is obviously a statement which textually produces the effect of difference ("What do they have that we don't have"); an "us" and a "them" with well-defined essentialized boundaries; but it can also be read as referring explicitly to Del Rio's sexuality ("What do these South Americans have below ... the waist?") and how it can stand in as a characteristic of South Americans, especially women, in general: no matter how elegant, aristocratic and/or glamorous, Latin American women are above all erotic, passionate, and mesmerizing. In the conjunction of region/nation ("South Americans") with implicit sexuality (below the waist), the statement also figuratively displaces that sexuality onto the map, and, by suggesting its tropicalization ("below the equator"), somewhat diffuses its implied threat.[27] This tropicalization, albeit subtle, is pervasive: Belinha is, like her theme song in the movie, like an exquisite orchid, an exotic flower from a lush hot house like Del Rio herself, who was described by at least one critic as "orquidaceous."[28] Similarly, within the diegesis, the "native" rhythm the "carioca" is easily learned and "transformed" by dancing stars Astaire and Rogers despite their original dismay at its verve, complexity, and entertainment value.

Flying Down to Rio was one of Del Rio's last pre-Production Code screen appearances, but the film already seems to embody a consciousness of the repression of sexuality about to come.[29] When Belinha and Roger--who also happens to be a pilot find themselves having to spend the night alone on a desert island (it is actually Haiti, and the bandleader has tricked her), they begin to fall in love as they sing "Orchids in the Moonlight." But what is most fascinating about this scene is not only the commonplace that a Latin American woman and an American are falling in love, but how the scene's potentially explicit sexuality is displaced. Rather than show their interaction, the characters' encounter is displaced onto "others," ghostly apparitions of themselves (alternatively their conscience or ids), who are then empowered to act out the forbidden (their kiss and passion) and are only subsequently--after the "fact"-incorporated into the "self."

Birds of Paradise, although produced a year earlier, is significant for pointing in a different direction--one which Del Rio would not follow-towards the explicit tropicalization that would eventually produce Carmen Miranda as an exuberant tropical rather than only a sexualized fetish. As the South Sea princess Luana, she is exquisitely sensual and given great freedom to display herself erotically and barely clothed in leis and sarongs (the Cecil Beaton photographs of her in costume are among her most revealing and exquisitely display her great beauty).[30] She is the object of the hero's (Joel McCrea) desire and reciprocates freely, unfettered by social taboos other than those of her own tribe. But here, as a racialized other, her sexuality, although available in terms of an interracial romance and played out onscreen explicitly--specially in the nude underwater sequence in which she lures McCrea off his friends' yacht like a mermaid, as Variety commented, "an eyeful of undraped symmetry"[31]--cannot be assimilated. This white American hero is one she cannot marry: "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet," as one character says at the end of the film right before Luana gives up Johnny and walks into a roaring volcano off screen.

Both films are significant because of the explicit sexuality of the characters Dolores plays, but in both we can also see why Del Rio could not establish herself as a musical star: in contrast, say, to her swimming or when she is being seductive, her dancing is stiff and tense. She already appears aware of herself as performer; the great star condescending to dance rather than a dancer. In contrast to the native extras' far more rhythmic moves in Bird of Paradise, for example, her tribal dancing sequences are stiff and serf-consciously performed for the camera and/or white voyeur. Similarly, while dancing to "Orchids in the Moonlight" in Flying Down to Rio she manages to look utterly uncomfortable in Fred Astaire's arms, posing for the camera/diegetic nightclub audience rather than dancing with her partner.

In her 1930s/early 1940s films, Del Rio demonstrated her already sculptural great beauty--what Mexican poet/playwright Salvador Novo described as "only the material form of talent"[32]--but not her acting skills or popularity. As Aurelio de los Reyes remarks, "it seems that Dolores got her roles more because of her social relations than her box-office success."[33] Her life in the Hollywood jet set was, simultaneously, her highest achievement and part of her downfall. On the one hand, it secured her status--star-studded Sunday lunches, couture fashions, the best social connections--and international recognition: as one of the "Universal Mexicans" she was an official guest at the 1934 inauguration of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. On the other, it brought her to Orson Welles: their 1938-40 secret affair caused a great scandal and led to her repudiation by the Hearsts and their crowd (because of Citizen Kane) and to her divorce from Cedric Gibbons in 1941. Welles cast her in his new film Journey Into Fear (1943), but unfortunately, he lost the film--it was finished by 'Norman Foster--and Del Rio lost Welles, who left her for Rita Hayworth and the filming of Lady of Shanghai.

In Journey into Fear, Del Rio is a travesty of her former star persona. She is still exotic, but now she is a secondary character, a nightclub entertainer dressed in a catsuit, whom Joseph Cotten, the protagonist of the film, constantly refers to as "the girl that meant nothing to me" in his voice-over narration. Above all, here we recognize that, as Novo had intuited, her beauty was her talent. In Journey into Fear she remains magnificently beautiful, but static, immobile, a frozen effigy in the midst of a paradoxically fast-moving and convoluted espionage plot (based on the Eric Ambler novel). It was obviously time to leave: she sold her Hollywood home and fled back to Mexico, where, after all the film business was looking good.

V. The Myth is Reborn

But in Mexico, although recognized as an "achiever," Dolores was not necessarily well-liked by the public. As she remarked in the 1970s to Elena Poniatowska,

If my going to Hollywood was criticized by all Mexican society, my return was much worse. You can't imagine the rumors when I said that I wanted to make films in Mexico. They began to say: "With whom are you going to make films here?" I wanted to help to make Mexico known throughout the world?

Nevertheless, astoundingly quickly, in Mexico Dolores Del Rio was reborn as a, if not the great star of the newly thriving national industry. She was a founding member of the most famous filmmaking team of the industry, joining forces with director Emilio "El Indio" Fernandez (the "Pygmalion" of her Mexican career), cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, screenwriter Mauricio Magdaleno, and the actor Pedro Armendariz, her most frequent onscreen partner (of her 17 Mexican films between 1943 and 1966, she costarred with Armendariz in 10). With this team, she starred in two of the most significant films of el gran ano [the great year] of the Mexican Golden Age, 1943: Flor silvestre and Maria Candelaria, the most significant of the two because of its subsequent success at the first post-war Cannes film festival.

Now ensconced in an industry with an ostensible nationalist agenda, Del Rio's persona underwent a radical transformation. Her previous sophisticated exoticism disappeared under the weight of a new image premised on a then fashionable indigenismo. Advised by Diego Rivera and other intellectuals and artists she jumped at the opportunity to be "Mexican" and took on "El Indio" Fernandez's nationalist project:

If to your beauty and fame we add the tragic spirit of the Mexican people, Lolita you can be sure to conquer Europe. You must win the hearts of the Mexican people, who have been resentful of your contemptuous attitude .... You must communicate that you are Mexican and proud of it and, moreover, that you identify with the oppressed classes.[35]

Stripped of her high-fashion gowns and Hollywood glamour, Dolores assumed the onscreen image of a prototypical meek, ignorant, and barefoot Indian girl. She was finally portraying a Mexican woman, but not the sophisticated cultured one that she had dreamt of introducing to Hollywood in 1925. With some exceptions, from Flor Silvestre in 1943 on, Del Rio played essentially the same character: a humble and/or quietly dignified indigenous and/or rural woman who suffers and must subordinate herself and her desires to a man and/or the nation. Confined to the melodramatic genre, her characters--although physically perfect, especially when photographed by Gabriel Figueroa or Alex Phillips--were always controlled or driven by others or external forces. The immobility already evident in her later Hollywood films was exacerbated, the phenomenon Monsivais has dubbed a "facial ideology:" "In order to excuse the unrepeatable beauty of a native, local racism makes her hieratic--the negation of happiness, a reservoir of suffering and dignity."[36] In the 1940s, Del Rio became a larger than life archetype, a crucial emblem of Mexicanness, one of the great "myths" of the Mexican cinema. As Emilio Garcia Riera argues:

The new tragic Dolores Del Rio who has had to return to her country in order to no longer be the impassive exotic beauty that Hollywood created, in the future will never stop playing this role, being faithful to her image rather than to her characters[37]

It is rather curious, however, that, internationally, this second "impassive" version of "Dolores Del Rio," star, crystallized in Flor Silvestre and especially Maria Candelaria, was perceived as real, as the "authentic" version. For example, Georges Sadoul, after watching Maria Candelaria at Cannes (where the film was well received and awarded), wrote the following in Les Lettres Francaises in 1946:

We thought we knew her.., but all we had seen was the Hollywood mask ... Without artifice, her pure face framed by long braids, and dressed with the simple clothes of a Mexican peasant, Dolores Del Rio appeared completely new and speaking her native tongue. Like her face, her acting lacked artifice. We did not face an actress, but rather, a woman.[38]

Sadoul's comment about Del Rio's acting is rather perceptive, not because in Maria Candelaria she lacked artifice, but because after Maria Candelaria and once again winning an international reputation, cinematically Dolores Del Rio's star image functioned very differently in the Mexican cinema that it had in Hollywood. Despite her Hollywood "defeat," despite the Mexican public's initial resistance, she returned to Mexico a star and all her Mexican films, especially after Maria Candelaria, are overpowered by her presence as a star. The performative serf awareness which was already evident in her Hollywood dancing sequences in the 1930s was adopted as an acting style. In other words, the process of manufacturing the star image became an integral part of her acting. It is as if the distinction invoked by Jean Louis Comolli between the "body acting" (the actor) and the "body acted" (the character) to explain the disjunction that occurs in historical films because the characters have real historical referents[39] had become naturalized: the real historical referent here is always Dolores Del Rio, the star. She doesn't act anymore; she simply is Dolores Del Rio, la grande dame, the great face which after Bugambilia (Emilio Fernandez, 1944) will be endowed with even more expressive eyes and extraordinarily mobile eyebrows.[40]

The visible split between her star and onscreen images in this period--society lady/all-powerful star rs. endless humility, suffering, and abnegation--is disconcerting, producing fascinating tensions (for example, as Maria Candelaria she constantly walks around holding a pig, "la martanita" that will allow her to buy a wedding gown, but all we notice is her impeccable designer-Indian dress and the perfection of her features) which are, paradoxically, most evident in the films in which she does not play indigenous, rural, or historical characters. In La otra, a 1945 urban melodrama directed by Roberto Gavald6n, for example, she plays a double role as physically identical but vastly different twin sisters (Maria, a manicurist, and Magdalena, a millionaire) one of whom kills the other and takes her place. The narrative of the film is about otherness and Maria's struggles to pass herself off as Magdalena, but, as Emilio Garcia Riera perceptively noted in a capsule review of the film: "a film which could have been about otherness--after all it is called The Other---ended up being about the film star being herself."[41] Nevertheless, La otra is perhaps her best Mexican film--rivaled only by Dora Perfecta (Alejandro Galindo, 1950)--and its double roles and byzantine plot (written by Jose Revueltas) allow Del Rio to turn the tables on her traditional melodramatic submissiveness to be simultaneously arrogant and aggressive. The diegetic emphasis on identity and the film's many scenes in which a silent Maria/Magdalena struggles with her fears, guilt, and the practical difficulties of pretending to be someone else are a perfect frame for Del Rio's kind of acting. For example, shortly after burying her sister, when she struggles with how to falsify her signature convincingly, we watch as frustration, fear, and ingenuity criss-cross her face in complete silence, culminating in her decision to maim her right hand with a fire-iron in order to be able to justify signing with her left. The camera closes in on her face, marked by the shadows of the flickering fire, and the marked arching of her right eyebrow--inordinately sustained--communicate her decision to maim herself. An even tighter close-up documents the burn as her face becomes a mask of pain, relieved only by satisfaction when she realizes she has accomplished her objective and can now have a new signature.

If, as Christine Gledhill has argued, the first promise of the star is access to the personality, in this film the visibility of the star system itself discloses that possibility as an illusion. Here there is an excess of stardom produced by the emphasis on identity that the narrative can never fully recuperate. What is obvious in La otra, a film which includes a tremendous number of scenes without dialogue, is that Dolores Del Rio always remained a silent cinema actress even though it was the Mexican sound cinema that produced her as myth.

VI. Transnationality and Returns

Del Rio's triumphant return to a thriving industry and transformation into a national myth and an international icon of Mexicanness must also be understood in the context of transnational relations. First of all, the OCIAA wartime programs instituted in Mexico had led to the modernization and expansion of Mexican film production in the style of Hollywood, providing raw film stock, equipment, and personnel. As Seth Fein has argued, working through Hollywood, the OCIAA sought to develop the Mexican cinema sector as a publicly autonomous and culturally authentic source of mass entertainment propaganda for Latin America.[42] To a large degree, it was these economic arrangements that enabled the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. After the war, this integration and collaboration climaxed in the partnership between RKO and the group headed by Mexican media magnate Emilio Azcarraga to build Estudios Churubusco. Earlier, RKO had already been the studio that had collaborated the most with the U.S. government's cultural/ideological agenda. Now, by providing a transnational mode of producing Mexican mass culture, RKO's investment in Estudios Churubusco was central to postwar US propaganda production in Mexico.

Coincidentally, these transnational arrangements were crystallized in a film which was also Del Rio's first return to a "Hollywood" now located in Mexico City: John Ford's The Fugitive (1947). Produced by Argosy, Ford's independent company, filmed at the Churubusco studios and distributed by RKO, The Fugitive shrewdly featured the Mexican cinema's best-known screen couple--Del Rio and Pedro Armendariz--with wellknown U.S. star Henry Fonda and reproduced the Golden Age visual style through Gabriel Figueroa's cinematography and Emilio Fernandez's (uncredited) collaboration as assistant director.

Although an adaptation of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, a novel indicting Mexican anti-clerical policies in the 1930s, the film takes place in an anonymous Latin American nation controlled by a corrupt authoritarian state that invokes pseudo-communist rhetoric and oppresses Catholic peasants and the clergy in the name of social equality and modernization.[43] The film not only fit the U.S.'s cold war ideological international imperatives, but also coincided with the Mexican state's domestic policies: as its previous (1930s) commitment to social justice and agrarian reform waned, the regime needed to justify social status quo as consistent with the nation and to equate radicalism with subversion, while simultaneously clarifying the state's ideological stance during the cold war.

In The Fugitive we have not only an example of transnationality that reveals the profound economic and ideological connections between the U.S. and Mexico in this period, but also Dolores Del Rio's first reassociation with Hollywood. No longer the elegant exotic, she was now its antithesis although just as narrowly defined. Her character in the film, Maria Dolores, is an indigenous woman who, of course, suffers with great dignity. Seduced and abandoned by the Armendariz character, a despotic police chief, she bears his child, works as a cantina girl, but risks all for her faith and its pursued representative,the intense priest played by Henry Fonda. She is appropriately introduced in the shadowy interior of a church, wrapped in a modest rebozo, holding a sleeping infant in her arms, and illuminated only by the sun streaming through a church window. She is silent, almost immobile, and the mise-en-scene compounds the tension by postponing the full revelation of her beauty. She is more sexualized here than in Maria Candelaria--the prototype for her character-since this is after all a Hollywood film, but she is on display as an object of desire only once, when she dances on top of a cantina table to distract the policemen from searching for the priest she has hidden in the back room. But even here, the moment is narratively contextualized and the camera treats her figure with devotion. When the exhausted priest arrives at the cantina, she offers to run away with him to "save" him by pretending to be his wife and child. But, immediately, she realizes that this suggestion of a forbidden sexuality is perhaps offensive and apologizes event though the priest has fainted and cannot hear her. Thus, narratively, her sexual potential is relegated to an other secular and inaccessible realm. Similarly, when she flirts with the police Sergeant and offers to dance, it is clearly done in the spirit of a great sacrifice rather than of pleasure. Visually, her sexuality is dissected--her sexualized beautiful legs and feet are self-consciously separate from her face/soul. Thus when she emerges from the back room in a flirtatious dress, an unexpected fast track follows her in a blur of movement from the doorway to the top of the cantina bar and ends in a level close shot of her bare feet and legs marking the beginning steps of a dance. A low-angle canted close-up then shows us her face, animated and fairly seductive, alternatively masked by the fan she rhythmically waves, but also in a very distinct visual space. It is only the third shot of the sequence that "joins" the sexualized body and the face: beginning with a medium shot of her bared legs and a policeman trying to peer up her skirt, the camera tilts up slowly on her body until it reaches her oddly animated face which can now be read as utterly artificial. When several shots later the dancing is interrupted by the arrival of Rafael (Pedro Armendariz), a visual echo corroborates her "purity" and, simultaneously, the high price and perhaps even the inadmissibility of sexuality as his entrance is marked by a close-up of his shiny black boots entering the doorway. In The Fugitive Del Rio's stardom is sanctified: she is a Madonna, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the ultimate figure of devotion. By 1947 Del Rio was already a national and Latin American icon with an immutable image and The Fugitive was the vehicle that reinscribed this new persona permanently within the Hollywood imaginary.

In all her subsequent Hollywood work, it is this quintessential Del Rio--framed by braids as Sadoul says, but obviously no less a construct than her first star persona--that prevailed internationally. In other Hollywood forays she would always play strong yet suffering indigenous women: the "Spanish Woman" in John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Elvis Presley's Indian mother in Flaming Star, and the grandmother in Hall Bartlett's The Children of Sanchez (1978), her last screen appearance.

VII. Memory and Re-Iconicity

In the U.S. imaginary, once the distinction between the star as person and the star as performer had collapsed, Dolores Del Rio was wedded to her Mexicanness, this time not as an exotic other, but explicitly as an indigenous and/or ethnic other. Rather than across the axis of nationality, her star persona is now plotted upon a class-based register: as a too-youthful looking grand-dame she condescends to play "others" because she is a great actress and, as a great actress, literally condescending. Above all, we remember Del Rio as an image rather than as an actress, silent and unsmiling, a visual icon in stasis rather than in movement. In 1952, for example, the Parisian entertainment magazine Cinemonde featured her in an "exclusive" article in which she ostensibly "presents" an exhibit of Mexican art at the Louvre, but which really functions to position her on the same artistic altar--stanced, appreciative, priceless--as the works: the large earrings of a rare pre-Colombian figurine are just like her own gold hoops; the statue of Chacmol is significant because she appeared in a film with it; strategically positioned in front of David Alfaro Siqueiros' "Imagen de nuestro tiempo," she is the object offered to the world by the painting's outstretched hands.[44]

Thus perhaps the Amalia Mesa-Bains altar installations cited earlier provide us with the most prescient--and most problematic=representation of her transnational stardom.[45] First of all, Dolores was herself a fan of "altars" and displayed objects: "When I was a little girl I collected all kinds of things: I had small boxes filled with rings, bracelets, earrings, beads... and boxes full of ribbons that I classified by color and width."[46] When she went to Hollywood she took along many family heirlooms which she exhibited in her homes and in many publicity stills as if to invoke her own personal and cultural identity. Secondly, she self-consciously positioned herself on altars of stardom, high art, elegance and sophistication--and was therefore enshrined as a sculptural icon. The Mesa-Bains altars, filled with myriad personal objects which could have been hers and publicity stills, echo her own self-representations. They capture her as image, and, while providing a personal or human context through objects of everyday life, simultaneously transform her star glamour into a kind of divinity (the photos, lace, and glitter linked to the candles and religious icons): her Mexicanness, synonymous with her beauty, is reinscribed as sacred.[47] The altars contextualize her image domestically, but as a cinematic icon she is, by definition, not of the world of domesticity. In fact, the altars return her to the museum, the one site which most productively condenses her image and secular sainthood. But the altars also reinscribe her nationality: she is Mexican but of two "nations," of the world of Hollywood and a Mexico now also located in the U.S. Ironically, in the heterotopic space produced by these altar-installations--hergreatest transformation--the elite socialite Del Rio becomes a Chicana cultural heroine, rescued from Hollywood and Mexico for the transnation.


Research for this essay was made possible, in part, by grants from the Royer Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. My thanks to Rebecca Ellner for her diligent research of Dolores Del Rio's Hollywood career. Versions of this paper were presented at the National Film Theater (London) and the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (New York University).

  1. Rafael Martinez Gandia, Dolores del Rio: La Triunfadora (Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires: Compania Iberoamericana de Publicaciones, S.A., 1930).
  2. Paco Ignacio Taibo I, Siempre Dolores (Barcelona: Planeta, 1984) and Carlos Fuentes, Orquideas a la luz de la luna (Barcelona: Seix Carral, 1982).
  3. With one notable exception, Christine Gledhill's Stardom: Industry of Desire (New York/London: Routledge, 1991) which recognizes this problem and includes an essay on three Indian female stars and an essay of Dorothy Dainbridge, Lena Horne, and questions of race.
  4. One exception is the work of Paulo Antonio Paranagua, beginning with Cinema na America Latina: Longe de Deus e perto de Hollywood (Porto Alegre, Rio Grade do Sul: L&PM Editores Ltda., 1985) and continued in "America Latina busca su imagen," Historia General del Cine, Vol. X., Carlos F. Heredero and Casimiro Torreiro, eds. (Madrid, Spain: Ediciones Catedra, 1996).
  5. See Seth Fein's essay in this volume and his "Hollywood, U.S.Mexican Relations, and the Devolution of the 'Golden Age' of Mexican Cinema," Film-Historia, vol iv, no. 2 (1994), 103-136.
  6. See Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro and Patricia Torres San Martin,Adela Sequeyro (Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara/Universidad Veracruzaha, 1997), 13-19.
  7. It is a curious coincidence that Gunther Lessing, her attorney for these proceedings, was the same lawyer that some years earlier had negotiated the contract between Pancho Villa and the Mutual Film Corporation.
  8. For First National: Joanna (Carewe, 1925), High Steppers (Carewe, 1926), and Pals First (Carewe, 1926). For Fox: What Price Glory? (Raoul Walsh, 1926), Loves of Carmen (Raoul Walsh, 1927), The Gateway of the Moon (Raoul Walsh, 1927), The Red Dancer of Moscow (Raoul Walsh, 1928), and No Other Woman (Leon Tellegen, 1928). For MGM: The Trail of '98 (Clarence Brown, 1928). For Universal: The Whole Town's Talking (Edward Laemmle, 1926). For United Artists: Resurrection (Carewe, 1927), Ramona (Carewe, 1928), Revenge (Carewe, 1928), Evangeline (Carewe, 1929), and The Bad One (George Fitzmaurice, 1930).
  9. Cited by James Robert Parrish, The Hollywood Beauties (New York: Arlington House, 1978).
  10. Martinez Gandia, 15, 16-17. Unless otherwise noted all translations from foreign-language sources are my own.
  11. Either because he had lost his star or for other reasons, Carewe's career fizzled after he lost Lolita. He remarried his former wife, Mary Aiken, remade Revenge with Lupe Velez in the Del Rio role, and committed suicide in 1940.
  12. Cited by Allen Woll, The Films of Dolores del Rio (New York: Gordon Press, 1978), 13 and corroborated by Emilio Garcia Rivera, Mexico visto por el cine extranjero Vol. 1 (Guadalajara, Mexico: Ediciones Era/Universidad de Guadalajara, 1987), 109-111, 125-126.
  13. "La vida en Hollywood," El Universal, 26 July 1925, 2nd section, 4; cited by Aurelio de los Reyes, "Nacimiento de un mito: Dolores del Rio," Historia, leyendas y mitos de Mexico: Su expresion en el arte (Mexico City: Universidad Aut6noma de Mexico, 1988) 320.
  14. De los Reyes, "Nascimiento de un mito," 320.
  15. Cited in De Witt Bodeen, 'The Career of Dolores Del Rio," Films in Review ( May 1967), 266-267.
  16. As Eileen Bowser describes it, "this kind of shot is almost a Raoul Walsh trademark," Film Notes (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1969), 62.
  17. Cited by Timothy W. Johnson, "What Price Glory?," Magill's Survey of Cinema: Silent Films, vol. 3 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press, 1982), 1210.
  18. James Robert Parish, The Hollywood Beauties, 16.
  19. New York Times (August 19, 1928), cited by Woll, The Films of Dolores del Rio, 40.
  20. Eliding not only their nationalities, but, in light of Gibbon's wellknown preference for men and Del Rio's own relationship with Garbo at the time, their sexual preferences as well. See Alex Madsen, The Sewing Circle: Female Starx Who Loved Other Women (New York: Carol Publishing, 1995).
  21. Photoplay, April 1934; cited by Woll, The Films of Dolores del Rio, 42.
  22. Woll, The Films of Dolores del Rio, 42.
  23. Luz Alba, llustrado (12 May 1932), cited by Garda Riera, Mexico visto por el cine extranjero, Vol I, 161.
  24. Bosley Crowther,"That Night in Rio," New York Times (March 10, 1949), 21.
  25. See, Allen L. Woll, The Latin Image in American Film (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publication, 1977) and Gaizka S. de Usabel, The High Noon of American Films in Latin America (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1982).
  26. Aurelio de los Reyes, Dolores Del Rio (Mexico City: Servicios Codumex, 1996), 80.
  27. This part of the analysis is indebted to Rebecca Ellner's excellent thesis, "Tropicalizing Latin Americanness: Hollywood, Ethnicity, and the Colonial Discourse," MA Thesis, Tulane University, 1997.
  28. David Shipman, "Dolores del Rio," The Great Movie Starx: The Golden Years (New York: Crown, 1970), 154.
  29. Of course, although the Production Code was not fully enforced through the Production Code Administration until 1934, it had already been adopted in 1930. For more details, see Lea Jacobs, The Wages of Sin (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).
  30. Although Cecil Beaton was apparently not taken with her at all, and he described her as "difficult" to photograph because "she had fixed ideas on how she should pose." See Hugo Vickers, Cecil Beaton (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1985), 130, 158. The famous Beaton photograph with Del Rio clad only in a lei was reprinted illustrating Carlos Monsivais's article "Dolores del Rio: Las responsibilidades del rostro," Mexico en el arte, vol 1 (1983), 52; translated by John Kraniauskas as "Dolores Del Rio: The Face as Institution," in Mexican Postcards (London: Verso, 1997), 71-87.
  31. "Bird of Paradise," Variety Film Reviews, Vol 4, Sept. 13, 1932 (New York: Garland, 1983).
  32. Salvador Novo cited by Monsivais in "Dolores Del Rio: The Face as Institution," 79.
  33. De los Reyes, Dolores Del Rio, 83.
  34. Elena Poniatowska, "Dolores Del Rio," Todo Mexico, vol. II (Mexico City: Editorial Diana, 1993), 25.
  35. Emilio Fernandez's words, recalled by his daughter Adela Fernandez in El Indio Fernandez: Vida y mito (Mexico City: Panorama, 1986), 190-191.
  36. Monsivais, "Dolores Del Rio: The Face as Institution," 81.
  37. Emilio Garcia Riera, Historia documental del cine mexicano, 1st ed, vol 2 (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 1970), 121.
  38. Cited by Garcia Riera, Historia documental, 1st ed., vol. 2, p. 169.
  39. Jean-Louis Comolli, "Historical Fictions: A Body Too Much," trans. Ben Brewster, Screen vol 19, no. 2 (1978).
  40. Aurelio de los Reyes credits her eye/eyebrow expressivity to Emilio Fernandez's influence. See Dolores Del Rio, 105-107.
  41. Garcia Riera, Historia Documental, 1st ed., vol. 3, 50.
  42. Seth Fein, "Cold-War Hollywood in Postwar Mexico: Anticommunism and Transnational Feature-Film Production," forthcoming in Chon Noriega, ed., Visible Nations, University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
  43. A significant prologue added to the film at the insistence of Joseph Breen, the head of the Production Code Administration, disclaims any identification with Mexico and links the story to contemporary coldwar issues, describing it as a "timeless and topical story" that is "still being played in many parts of the world."
  44. Georges Beaume, "Dolores Del Rio: Reine du Mexique," Cinemonde, no. 932 (13 June 1952), 9-11.
  45. Mesa-Bains's "An Ofrenda for Dolores del Rio" (1984) was reconstructed in 1990 for the CAllA (Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation) show at the Wright Gallery at UCLA. See Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna, and Yvonne YarbroBejarano, eds., Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985 (Los Angeles: Wright Art Gallery, UCLA, 1991), 63.
  46. De los Reyes, Dolores del Rio, 192.
  47. For an interesting analysis of the Mesa-Bains altars see Jennifer A. Gonza1ez, "Rhetoric of the Object: Material Memory and the Artwork of Amalia Mesa-Bains," Visual Anthropology Review, vol. 9, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 82-91.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Dolores Del Rio in the silent era: a female Valentino.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): The "new" art-deco Dolores Del Rio in 1930s Hollywood.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): "Framed by braids" and enshrined in the Mexican landscape: Dei Rio in Maria Candelaria (1943).

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Dolores Del Rio on the altar of art as the "offering" of David Alfaro Siqueiros "Imagen de Nuestro Tiempo" in Paris, 1952.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Amalia Mesa-Bains, "An Ofrenda for Dolores Del Rio, 1984/1990."


By Ana M. Lopez, Tulane University

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