Dolores Del Rio, the vampish gypsy who gave up Hollywood for a share of the profits

Delores Del Rio

Dolores Del Rio was a second cousin to silent film star Ramon Novarro, a relationship that provided her entrée into an endless stream of Hollywood parties. At one such star-studded affair, Dolores caught the attention of director Edwin Carewe, who was so dazzled by her ultra-elegant Mexican beauty that he cast her in his film Joanna (1925). Stardom followed on the heels of this debut outing, and Del Rio next headlined a number of major silent productions, including What Price Glory?, Resurrection, and The Loves of Carmen (all in 1927), and Ramona (1928).

Quite a bit more caliente than the herd of WASP actresses dotting the 1930s Hollywood landscape, Del Rio specialized in vampish gypsy and peasant girl roles, but gradually became positioned as an exotique in early thirties movies like The Bad One (1930), Bird of Paradise (1932), Flying Down to Rio (1933, a film in which she introduced the two-piece bathing suit), and Madame Du Barry (1934) – she managed the transition to talkies fairly effortlessly because she already spoke fluent English.

This stylized use of her, which not surprisingly coincided with her marriage to famed M-G-M art director Cedric Gibbons, got a bit out of hand when one Hollywood columnist wrote items in his column suggesting that the beautiful and glamorous actress ate orchid omelets and used butterfly wings for a backscratcher. Irked by his preposterous claims, Del Rio invited him to her house for an interview luncheon, at which the butler served an arrangement of gardenias on a silver platter. Both Del Rio and the writer partook of the fragrant meal, though he declined a second helping.

Delores Del Rio

Following her divorce from Gibbons, the south-of-the-border hot-house flower was considered the most eligible bachelorette in Hollywood; a subsequent, well-publicized romance with the much-younger Orson Welles blossomed in 1942’s Journey Into Fear. Despite her undeniable success in Hollywood, Del Rio grew tired enough of what she saw as a stereotyped function that she returned the next year to her native Mexico, where she secured a lucrative percentage-of-profits film contract that offered her far more intellectually and creatively rewarding assignments. Del Rio returned to Hollywood only occasionally, generally in character parts like her portrayal of Elvis’s mother in 1960’s Flaming Star. The still beautiful actress retired completely from the business in 1978 to devote her time to writing, painting, and the management of her vast real estate portfolio.

classic quote
I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. — Orson Welles