Portrait of actress Dolores del Rio, wearing a large hat and holding a parasol, in a film still, circa 1920. (Photo by Archive Photos/Moviepix/Getty Images)

Dolores del Río arrived in Hollywood just when the studios were looking for a female Latin Lover—a feminine version of the extraordinarily popular Rudolph Valentino. Due to her talent, beauty, and remarkable work ethic, she became a star practically overnight. Her limited English was no problem because in those days, films were silent. When, in 1927, talkies were introduced, many actors—even native speakers of English—were terrified that audiences might find their voices unappealing, in which case, their careers would be over. However, Lola made the transition beautifully. She worked hard to master English and then used her accent to an advantage by always playing foreigners—Frenchwomen, Brazilians, even Russians. She made one film after another: Evangeline, The Bad One, Bird of Paradise, Flying Down to Rio, I Live for Love. Her exotic beauty thrilled fans. In 1932 a committee of “experts”—designers, artists, medical authorities—even named her the most beautiful woman in the world!

However, in the period preceding World War II, many Americans became xenophobic. Foreign actors were often deemed “box office poison” and couldn’t get jobs. Greta Garbo abandoned film and went back to Sweden. Marlene Dietrich became a U.S. citizen and went to work for the USO, entertaining troops during the war. Lola was also labeled “box office poison,” but instead of giving up, she returned to Mexico and became one of the most important figures of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. In 1946, María Candelaria, a film in which she starred, won first prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Mexican film to be screened at the Festival and the first Latin American film to win.

Despite her wealth and success, Lola never lost sight of those less fortunate than herself. Toward the end of her career, she started numerous daycare centers for the children of women working in the film and theater industries, mostly in menial positions—as janitors, cooks, carpenters, or seamstresses.

Dolores del Río was a trailblazer, a woman who contended with misogyny and racism in her career. However, her intelligence and extraordinary resilience enabled her to face the obstacles undaunted. Today, she is revered as a Hollywood legend.

Miss del Rio