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Starring Dolores del Rio
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Starring Dolores del Rio - 5/20

Dolores del Rio, the first major Latina actress to break through to mainstream stardom in Hollywood, enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame in silent and sound films in the U.S. in the 1920s and '30s. Returning to her native Mexico in the 1940s, she became a leading star in the Golden Age of Mexican filmmaking. TCM celebrates her stardom with a night of her American films from the years 1928-1947.

During her long and varied career, del Rio also performed on television, radio and the stage. She was known as one of the entertainment world's greatest beauties and most magnetic personalities. A cousin of Ramon Novarro, she was referred to early in her career as "a female Valentino." Her friend Marlene Dietrich thought she was "the most beautiful woman in Hollywood." And Orson Welles, with whom del Rio had an extended love affair in the early '40s, called her "the most exciting woman I ever met."

María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete was born into an aristocratic family in Durango, Mexico, on August 3, 1904. In the early 1920s she was "discovered" by Hollywood producer/director Edwin Carewe, who brought her to Hollywood and cast her in her first film, Joanna (1925). Carewe's silent version of Ramona (1928) made her a star, and the advent of sound only advanced her popularity. She would later acknowledge that she had to "work very, very hard at my English."

After her Hollywood career began to decline and del Rio returned to Mexico, she became associated with Mexican director Emilio Fernández. Filming for the first time in Spanish, she starred in a number of landmark movies including Flor Silvestre (1943), María Candelaria (1944), The Abandoned (1945) and The Unloved Woman (1949).

Del Rio returned to Hollywood in 1960 and continued make films in both the U.S. and Mexico until her final film in 1978, The Children of Sanchez, a U.S./Mexican production costarring Anthony Quinn. Notable later films also included Flaming Star (1960), in which she played Elvis Presley's mother; and the John Ford Western Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

Del Rio was married three times, to attorney/screenwriter Jaime Martínez del Río (1921-28), art director Cedric Gibbons (1930-40) and producer-director Lewis A. Riley (1959 to her death). She died on April 11, 1983, at her home in Newport Beach, CA.

Here are the films in our tribute to Dolores del Rio:

The Trail of '98 (1928) is a silent epic originally released by MGM in an experimental wide-screen process called "Fanthom Screen." Clarence Brown directed this tale of the Klondike gold rush of 1897, with del Rio as a young beauty who travels to the Yukon with relatives in hopes of striking it rich. Ralph Forbes plays her adventurous love interest. The film is remembered partly because of an accident during the rigorous filming in which at least three stuntmen were killed during scenes in which they were shooting the rapids on Alaska's treacherous Copper River.

Flying Down to Rio (1933) is remembered chiefly as the movie that introduced the star dancing team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but it is top-billed Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond who have the leads. Raymond plays an aviator who is also the leader of the band providing music for the Astaire/Rogers numbers, and del Rio is the Brazilian temptress he falls for. Highlights in this escapist entertainment created for Depression-era audiences are the number performed on airplane wings and the picture-stealing Astaire/Rogers performance of "The Carioca."

Madame Du Barry (1934) has del Rio in the title role as the last mistress of the aging King Louis XV of France (Reginald Owen). Maynard Holmes plays the Dauphin who will become Louis XVI and Anita Louise is his bride, Marie Antoinette. Directed by William Dieterle, the emphasis is on saucy humor, although the fact that the film's release coincided with the establishment of the Hollywood Production Code meant that some of the bawdiness had to be subdued.

Devil's Playground (1937), shown in its TCM premiere, concerns two Navy officers (Richard Dix and Chester Morris) who are best friends until they clash over a dance-hall girl (del Rio), who marries Dix but has a fling with Morris. The romantic conflicts are put aside when a submarine commanded by Morris sinks and Dix is the only one who can save him. A New York Times reviewer wrote that, "With proficiency born of long practice in their calling," the three leads "breeze through the story." Erle C. Kenton directed.

Journey Into Fear (1943) is a spy thriller with the imprint of Orson Welles, although he did not take credit as producer, co-scenarist (with Joseph Cotten) or co-director (with Norman Foster). Cotten stars as an American munitions expert pursued by Nazi agents as he flees Istanbul on a small steamer. Del Rio is the femme fatale and Welles himself plays the small but crucial role of a Turkish colonel. As with much of Welles' work, the film faced interference from outside influences (in this case, RKO Pictures).

The Fugitive (1947), an American drama shot in Mexico, is based on the Graham Greene novel The Power and the Glory. Under the direction of John Ford, Henry Fonda plays a fugitive priest in the Mexican state of Tabasco, where religion is outlawed. Del Rio plays a Native American woman who conspires with a bandit (Ward Bond) to save the priest's life. Also in the strong cast are Pedro Armendáriz, J. Carrol Naish and Leo Carrillo.

by Roger Fristoe

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