Born in Durango during the Porfiriata (the presidential reign of Porfirio Díaz), she soon moved with her family to Mexico City, began dance classes and met her first (of three) husbands, Jaime Martínez del Río y Viñent, to whom she owes her stage surname. They married when she was still in her teens and he was 34. However, her affair with Orson Welles, who considered her the love of his life, was arguably her most high profile relationship.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, her US success was unprecedented for a Mexican actress and she was widely recognized as being one of the most beautifully striking and talented stars of the time, as well as one of Hollywood’s most important actresses, Latina or otherwise. She continued what was to be a long and illustrious acting career in the era of silent films, first with the 1926 hit What Price Glory?, before going on to be highly praised for her star turn in Ramona. So renowned was del Río that her obituary was even written up by The New York Times.
She was notably proud and defensive of her Mexican heritage too – her first film appearance in 1925’s Joanna had her billed as Spanish to begin with, which she pushed to have altered. She also refused to star in a 1935 film (Viva Villa!) as she believed it was anti-Mexican. However, it was arguably her country of origin that also held her back, as she was regularly cast as the exotic woman by US directors, a trend which only worsened with the onset of talking pictures. Despite this, del Río still managed an incredible level of success, starring in over 50 films between 1925 and 1978. Some of the most notable ones include Birds of Paradise (1932), Flying Down To Rio (1933) (in which she introduced the two piece swimsuit) and Madame du Barry (1934).
Dolores del Río returned to Mexico in the 1940s and became a significant part of the Mexican film industry’s Golden Era during this period. She was the muse of director Emilio Fernández and starred most notably in Las Abandonadas (1944) and La Malquerida (1949). On a national and even international level though, Dolores del Río will perhaps always be best remembered for her role in the 1946 classic María Candelaría. A must-see of Mexican cinema, this is said to be the film about which she was most proud. It also marked the first tentative steps of the Mexican film industry into the world of serious cinema. Equally, she may be familiar from playing opposite Henry Fonda in The Fugitive (1947).
For the rest of her career she dabbled in theater and TV, as well as returning at various points to the silver screen. Her legacy is incredible though; she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as a statue at Hollywood-La Brea Boulevard in LA. Over the duration of her career, she was also awarded three Silver Ariel Awards, and received an invite to the Oscars on the day she died. Beyond acting, del Río also helped found Guanajuato’s Cervantino Festival and the Estancia Infantil Dolores del Río, a nursery which provided child care for members of the Mexican Actors Guild.
By Lauren Cocking