The Goddesses of Mexican Cinema in the 1940ies.
Amidst of all the crises going on in the world in the forties, the second world war and its devastating impact, artists stayed focused and inspired; building dreams so mankind would not lose faith in the ongoing disaster altogether during these years and thank heavens for that…. While Marlene Dietrich kept the fire in the hearts of the troops going by performing for the allied forces and Vera Lynn brought tears to the eyes of many a soldier singing her comfort to the soul;’we’ll meet again…’ in another part of the world, in tropical Mexico, dreams were built in a major way.
The movie industry in the US had a strong focus on propagandistic films because of WWII. Meanwhile south of the border the Mexican cinema had a chance this way to flourish without much competition from Hollywood… and so it did… the Golden Age, the rise of the Mexican Cinema mainly took place in the 1940ies and continued to go strong beyond that period. In that paradise like country, later so often serenaded by Elvis and of course many others, many movies saw the light that make the pride and joy of (obscure) movie collectors all over the world. The foundations were built in that era for a strong movie industry that maintains a powerful and cultlike status today with impressive actors, actresses and directors.
As we cannot deny, the Mexican culture in all its forms has influenced and is influencing modern day fashion and art quite a bit and why not have a closer look at a few divine beauties that are still style icons today like they were yesterday and who, with stunning beauty and performances, continue to have an everlasting hypnotic power to the senses.
Let’s go back to the 40ies;
Quite a few Mexican actresses were already very productive in the silent movie era (1896/1929) in which they also had been working in Hollywood during a decline in movie production in their homeland due to an oppressing political climate in the 1920ies.
This way they reached stardom in Mexico as well as in the US.
In the very early years Sara Garcia enjoyed great popularity and is still known as ‘ The Grandmother of Mexico’ by mainly playing granny-roles.
With Dolores Del Rio (1905-1983) heading off as the first Mexican actress becoming popular outside of Mexico, others followed after her.
During her relationship with Orson Welles she played a role that was not her greatest but is mostly remembered for it’s showstopping skintight outfit (the leopard woman in ‘ Journey into Fear’,1943).
That same year she starred in ‘ Maria Candalera’, a movie directed by Emilio Fernandez, awarded by the Cannes Film festival in 1943. Due to the fact that Cannes was situated in pro nazi territory at that time, the award was not collected until 1946. Many consider this to be Dolores Del Rio’s masterpiece.
Next in line Lupe Velez (1808-1944). She and her fellow Goddesses of Temperament where heating up the scene quite a bit, with not only impressive acting, impressive beauty, but evenly impressive personal lives that were overflown with drama, explosive, overexposed love affaires and more of those aspects that seem to be inevitably connected with stardom.
After a romance with Cary Cooper, Lupe was married to Johnny Weismuller for 5 years before she fell from one romance into another. Due to her explosive personality she was often nicknamed the ‘Hot Pepper’ or the ‘Mexican Spitfire’, names that were taken from a series of movies she performed in. Already in the thirties she played sparkling roles als a comedian, for example in the Laurel and Hardy slapstick Hollywood Party in 1934.
Perhaps Lupes lifestory was the most dramatic… suiciding while being pregnant at the age of 36 in 1944.
Kathy Jurado (1924-2002), came along not much later, after her debut in 1943 in ‘ No Mataras’ she became the next bombshell from Mexico heading for fame in the US.; she was particularly popular in Western movies and her part in ‘High Noon'(1952), is, of course, epic. She was a dear friend to Marlon Brando who also was her director in later years (One eyed Jacks, 1960).
Both Kathy Jurado and Dolores Del Rio played parts in Elvis flicks; Dolores in ‘Flaming Star’ (1960) and Kathy in ‘Stay away Joe'(1968).
A phenomenon in Mexico in the 1940ies was the ‘Rumberas’ film, One of the greatest stars of that genre is without a doubt Rosa Carmina (born in 1929), she was part of the pack of ‘Tropical Queens’ alongside dynamite dancers like Meche Barba, Marquita Rivera, Maria Antonieta Pons and Amalia Aguilar to name but a few. In the forties, Rosas’ performances in ‘Una Mujer de Oriente’ (1946),’La Bandida’ (1948) and ‘Amor Salvaje’ (1949) were best known.
A brilliant book written in 1993 by Fernando Munoz Castillo, called: ‘Las Reinas del Tropico‘ features all these extraordinairy Rumberas stars. And please do yourself a big favour and watch all the YouTube videos you can find on the Rumberas Queens.
Of course these pages are not nearly enough to do honour to all the magnificent actresses and performers coming from Mexico, but hopefully by seeing this glimpse of all the glamour, style, enchantment and talent that once took place in an era long gone but still so alive, you might be inspired to find out a little more on Mexican cinema, past and present, as its’ history is one very interesting. Because we want to shine a light on style and glamour in this article, I will not focus on the political aspects involved in the rise of Mexican Cinema, as this is not the place for that, but for those of you who would like to read more;
– Mexican Cinema; reflections of a society 1896/2004.(Carl J. Mora)
– Mexican National Cinema. (Andrea Noble)
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