A Latina Star and Hollywood Success
Mexican actor Dolores del Río's rapid rise in American film
“If I ever see my name in incandescent lights, I know I will walk around the block five times to look at it, I will be so thrilled.” So declared 22-year-old Mexican actress Dolores del Río (1904–1983) to the Los Angeles Times in a 1926 article. As she said those words, they were becoming reality. That year she was selected by Fox Film Corporation to play her first leading role, the French barmaid Charmaine in the World War I silent comedy drama What Price Glory. From then on, she was a major box-office draw.
Only six months earlier, she had arrived in Hollywood at the invitation of film director Edwin Carewe, who had “discovered” her at a soirée while vacationing in Mexico. Struck by her beauty, Carewe asked del Río if she would like to make a movie, to which she replied “Yes,” uttering the only word she knew in English.
Del Río’s debut turned her into the first internationally revered Mexican movie star and one of the very few Latinas in Hollywood at the time. Her extraordinary beauty and expressive face earned her principal roles in The Trail of ’98 (1928) and Ramona (1928), among other films. As the silent era ended and talkies were introduced, del Río was among the few actors who survived the transition. Owing to her accent, however, she was often typecast as ethnic and exotic characters, among them a Polynesian princess in Bird of Paradise (1932) and a Brazilian belle in Flying Down to Rio (1933). At the same time, her fair skin and aristocratic bearing made her ideal for such European characters as the mistress of Louis XV in Madame Du Barry (1934). All the while, she fought to be recognized as a Mexican actress in Hollywood, particularly when the media repeatedly referred to her as Spanish.
By the early 1940s, del Río’s career in the United States was starting to decline, and she went back to her home country, where she became one of the divas of Mexican cinema’s Golden Age.
—Taína B. Caragol, Curator of Painting and Sculpture and Latinx Art and History, National Portrait Gallery