The Girl From Mexico
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Lupe Velez got her big break in Hollywood when Dolores del Rio proved unavailable to costar in The Gaucho (1927) opposite Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Though Velez often acted in dramatic roles early in her career, she had been discovered for Hollywood pictures by producer Hal Roach and later distinguished herself as a comic talent in Fox's Hot Pepper (1933), United Artists' Palooka (1934), and Strictly Dynamite (1934) from RKO Radio Pictures. RKO tapped the fiery Latina again to play The Girl from Mexico (1939), a songbird from South of the Border spirited away by ad man Donald Woods to New York City and a spot on national radio. Velez's fractured English, elastic beauty, and penchant for calamity made her a hit with moviegoers, who packed New York's Rialto for three weeks during the film's initial theatrical run, and with critics, who branded Velez "a first rate comedienne." The success of The Girl from Mexico prompted RKO to give the actress her own film series, beginning with Mexican Spitfire (1940) and running to six sequels. (Series regular Leon Errol would stay with the franchise to the very end, while Donald Woods was replaced in subsequent films as Velez's long-suffering husband by Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Walter Reed.) Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event (1943) marked Velez's final American film before her untimely death in 1944 at the age of only 36 - a tragic demise that fueled endless speculation and a particularly unsavory chapter of Kenneth Anger's muckraking Hollywood Babylon.
By Richard Harland Smith