Dolores del Rio was a legendary actress of the silent film era. She worked in Hollywood, off and on, all her life. However, she found her greatest artistic success in Mexico, where she appeared in a series of prize-winning roles.
Maria de Dolores Asunsolo y Lopez Negrete was born into a good family on August 3 1905, in Durango. Her family was wealthy in her earliest childhood, but lost all its assets in the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910. Her father, a bank director, took the side of Porfirio Diaz, and the family’s assets were confiscated.
As a teenager, she met Jaime Martinez del Rio, a member of an old Mexican family. Though he was 34 and she 16, the couple married. They spent three years in Europe, then returned to his ranch and then Mexico City. Their marriage would end in Hollywood.
In Mexico City, movie producer Edwin Carewe discovered Dolores Del Rio. He offered the couple work in Los Angeles, where she could act, and her husband could become a screenwriter. This was still the era of silent films, and Carewe would direct del Rio in many.
Her films of the late 1920s include Johanna, High Steppers, Loves of Carmen, Resurrection, and Ramona, from the Helen Hunt Jackson novel. Del Rio recorded a song called Ramona, as well as starring in the film.
She made her first sound movie in 1930. When she had to speak in films, her accent became apparent. She still had plenty of work, but many roles she was offered were shallow, surface parts.
In The Bad One, 1930, she is a nightspot entertainer in Marseilles. Her lover is a sailor, who until he met her was working on having a girl in every port. They fall in love, and things get rather melodramatic, but end well.
She also made Flying Down to Rio, Madame du Barry, and Bird of Paradise. In Wonder Bar, a musical, she plays Latin nightclub dancer Inez, who kills the man she loves in a fit of jealousy. The actress was in demand. She was also popular with the Hollywood elite, who knew her for a cultivated person.
In 1940, she was divorced from her second husband, Cedric Gibbons, probably because she was becoming involved with Orson Welles. She made Journey into Fear with him, though she was costumed in a catsuit at one point. However, their bond did not last.
Beginning in the thirties, she had a series of roles in Mexico. Flor Sylvestre, Wildflower, tells the story of the Mexican Revolution, as seen through the eyes of a young girl from a poor family who found love with the son of a wealthy landowner. At the age of 37, Dolores del Rio became a star in Mexico.
Maria Candelaria, another famous role, won the Best Picture award at Cannes, the first Latin American film to do so. The Fugitive, directed by John Ford, was also made in this period. Adapted from the Graham Greene novel the Power and the Glory, it tells a story of faith and redemption in a time when Catholic priests were prosecuted. Though the country where the film takes place is unnamed, plainly it is Mexico. Miss del Rio was herself a devout Catholic.
In 1954, during the McCarthy years, she was denied permission to work in the United States. However, in 1956 she made Anastasia, another success. Later, she would be part of a sterling cast in Cheyenne Autumn. She won the Silver Ariel award, the highest acting award in Mexico, four times.
In 1959, she married Lewis A. Riley, whom she had known for about ten years. She still worked. Her last picture, made in 1979, was The Children of Sanchez, about the culture of poverty.
In 1983, she died, in Newport Beach California. Her body was cremated, and the ashes taken to the Panteon de Dolores in Mexico, D.F. On the centennial of her death they were moved to the section of the cemetery called the Rotunda de las Personas Ilustres. Nearby are the remains of such artists as Orozco and Rivera, as well as great scientists, politicians, writers, and others who embodied the spirit of Mexico.