Lupe Velez


Actor
Lupe Velez

About

Also Known As
Maria Guadalupe Velez De Villalobos
Birth Place
Mexico
Born
July 18, 1908
Died
December 13, 1944
Cause of Death
Suicide By Seconal Overdose

Biography

One of the first Mexican actresses to become a Hollywood success, Lupe Vélez was aptly named "The Mexican Spitfire" due to her feisty onscreen persona that often translated behind the scenes as well. After a start as a dancer in her native Mexico, Vélez moved to Hollywood where she made her film debut in "Sailors, Beware!" (1927) and quickly landed her first major part opposite Douglas F...

Family & Companions

Gary Cooper
Companion
Actor. Involved from late 1920s until his marriage to Sandra Shaw in 1933.
Johnny Weissmuller
Husband
Actor. Married 1933, divorced 1938.
Harald Raymond
Companion
Actor. The pregnant Velez commited suicide when Raymond refused to marry her in 1944.

Biography

One of the first Mexican actresses to become a Hollywood success, Lupe Vélez was aptly named "The Mexican Spitfire" due to her feisty onscreen persona that often translated behind the scenes as well. After a start as a dancer in her native Mexico, Vélez moved to Hollywood where she made her film debut in "Sailors, Beware!" (1927) and quickly landed her first major part opposite Douglas Fairbanks in "The Gaucho" (1927). From there, she starred in D.W. Griffith’s "Lady of the Pavements" (1929) and Victor Fleming’s "Wolf Song" (1929), which led to a highly-publicized romance with Gary Cooper. In fact, her personal life – which consisted of many affairs with the top leading men of her day – was a constant subject of press fascination and often overshadowed her work on screen. She eventually found a niche and strong degree of popularity in comedies like "The Half-Naked Truth" (1932) and "Palooka" (1933), but was ultimately unsatisfied and tried her hand at Broadway while appearing in a handful of Mexican films. Vélez found her way back to Hollywood in 1939 and rejuvenated her career with the popular "Mexican Spitfire" series. Despite her renewed success, Vélez opted for suicide in 1944 amidst the shame of an illegitimate pregnancy that cut short a turbulent life that had failed to live up to its true potential.

Born on July 18, 1908 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Vélez was raised by her father, Jacobo Villalobos Reyes, a colonel in the Mexican Army under the dictator, Porfirio Díaz, and her mother, Josefina Vélez, an opera singer. A rebellious youth prone to impulsive and aggressive behavior, Vélez was sent to a convent in San Antonio, TX, by her parents when she was 13 years old. Two years later, after the death of her father, Vélez left the convent in order to earn money for her family, working as a clerk at a warehouse while taking dance lessons. She began dancing in vaudeville and eventually found her way to Hollywood, where she met and was promoted by comedienne Fanny Brice. While preparing to travel to New York City for a play, Vélez was given a screen test by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and attracted the attention of famed producer Hal Roach, who cast the actress for a small part in an early Laurel and Hardy silent comedy, "Sailors, Beware!" (1927). Following a bit part in another short comedy, "What Women Did For Me" (1927), Vélez made her feature debut as a lust-fueled mountain girl opposite Douglas Fairbanks in the adventure drama "The Gaucho" (1927).

Having gained widespread exposure from her role in "The Gaucho," Vélez was cast in a series of ethnic roles deemed to exotic for her Anglo contemporaries while earning nicknames like The Mexican Panther or Miss Hot Tamale. She played a Greek peasant girl in "Stand and Deliver" (1928) and sang Irving Berlin classics in D.W. Griffith’s part-talkie "Lady of the Pavements" (1929). After playing the beloved daughter of an animal trapper in Tod Browning’s silent "Where East Is East" (1929), Vélez was a feisty woman who toys with the affections of two men in the melodramatic "Tiger Rose" (1930). By this point in her career, Vélez’s popularity rivaled Hollywood’s "It Girl," Clara Bow, prompting some to call her the "Mexican It Girl." Meanwhile, Vélez started to become known for her numerous love affairs with some of Hollywood’s top talent, including John Gilbert, Charlie Chaplin, Victor Fleming, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. She entered into a rather complicated affair with Gary Cooper, whom she met while starring in Fleming’s synchronized musical "Wolf Song" (1929).

Because of her many romances, and her penchant for making scenes at parties and other public events, the tempestuous Vélez’s escapades were receiving more press than her acting skills. But her popularity continued to rise as she starred in films like "Hell Harbor" (1930), Cecil B. DeMille’s "The Squaw Man" (1931) and "Resurrection" (1931), before finding her niche in comedies. Vélez turned in a number of brilliant comic performances during this time, playing a hot-tempered dancer in "The Half-Naked Truth" (1932), a feisty nightclub performer in "Hot Pepper" (1933) and a more glamorous cabaret singer opposite Jimmy Durante in "Palooka" (1934). Of course, most of her roles were slight variations on the same hot-blooded singer-dancer which by contemporary standards would smack of stereotypes toward Latina woman. But Vélez enjoyed her success even though parts were limited and remained a popular figure, thanks to movies like "Strictly Dynamite" (1934), "Laughing Boy" (1934) co-starring Ramón Navarro, and "Hollywood Party" (1934), where she enthusiastically engaged in a hilarious egg fight with Laurel and Hardy. Meanwhile, following her highly publicized affair with Cooper, Vélez married Olympic athlete-turned-"Tarzan" star Johnny Weissmuller, with whom she had a rocky relationship that led to numerous splits and reunions until finally ending with divorce in 1939.

Once her contract with RKO Pictures was over in 1934, the studio chose not to renew and left Vélez adrift. After making "The Morals of Marcus" (1935) and "Gypsy Melody" (1936), the disappointed actress left Hollywood for Broadway, where she made her debut in "Hot Cha" (1934), before landing a role in the short-lived Cole Porter musical "You Never Know." Meanwhile, Vélez went back to Mexico to star in the Spanish-language romantic drama "La Zandunga" (1937), in which she played a young woman being courted by three men, only to regretfully marry one while being in love with another. She returned to Hollywood in 1939 and found herself cast as a B-movie actress in "The Girl from Mexico" (1939), in which she played a tempestuous entertainer hired by a straight-laced nightclub owner (Donald Woods) while striking up a friendship with his ne’er do well uncle (Leon Errol). The movie proved successful enough to commence an immediate sequel, "Mexican Spitfire" (1939), thanks in large part to Vélez’s comic scenes with Errol. In fact, the original film sparked a popular series that spawned another six films of varying degrees of quality and success, including "Mexican Spitfire Out West" (1940), "Mexican Spitfire’s Baby" (1941) and "Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant" (1942).

The popularity of the "Spitfire" pictures rejuvenated Vélez’s career and allowed her to branch out beyond the series, appearing in "Honolulu Lu" (1941) and John Barrymore’s final film, "Playmates" (1941). She tackled the dual leading role of twin sisters in the musical comedy, "Redhead from Manhattan" (1943), while churning out "Spitfire" movies like "Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost" (1942) and "Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event" (1943). Returning once more to Mexico, Vélez delivered a highly acclaimed dramatic turn in "Nana" (1944), a role that was a brief look into her wider talents but would ultimately be her last. Around this time, Vélez had been engaged in an affair with actor Harald Raymond, who refused to marry her after she became pregnant with his child. Consumed by shame over the rejection, Vélez committed suicide by consuming dozens of sleeping pills. She went to bed and died of an overdose on Dec. 14, 1944 at 36 years old. People close to Vélez disputed that shame would have been enough to have driven her to suicide, while more contemporary observers conjectured that her extreme behavior throughout her life might have been undiagnosed depression or even bipolar disorder. In the 1960s, Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger invented the legend that Velez had drowned in her toilet, an assertion which – while physically impossible – nonetheless has been widely believed.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Redhead from Manhattan (1943)
Rita de Silva/ Maria de Silva, also known as Elaine Manners
Ladies' Day (1943)
Pepita Zorita
Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event (1943)
Carmelita Lindsey
Mexican Spitfire's Elephant (1942)
Carmelita Lindsey
Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942)
Carmelita Lindsey
Mexican Spitfire at Sea (1942)
Carmelita Lindsey
Playmates (1941)
Carmen del Toro
Honolulu Lu (1941)
Consuelo Cordoba[also known as Lu]
Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga (1941)
Madame La Zonga
The Mexican Spitfire's Baby (1941)
Carmelita Lindsey
Mexican Spitfire Out West (1940)
Carmelita Lindsay
Mexican Spitfire (1940)
Carmelita
The Girl from Mexico (1939)
Carmelita Fuentes
He Loved an Actress (1938)
High Flyers (1937)
Juanita
Laughing Boy (1934)
Slim Girl, [also known as Lily]
Palooka (1934)
Nina Madero
Strictly Dynamite (1934)
Vera [Mendez]
Hollywood Party (1934)
Jaguar Woman/Herself
Mr. Broadway (1933)
At the Central Park Casino
Hot Pepper (1933)
Pepper
The Half Naked Truth (1932)
Teresita, also known as La Belle Sultana and Princess Exotica
The Broken Wing (1932)
Lolita
Kongo (1932)
Tula
Hombres en mi vida (1932)
Julia Clark
The Squaw Man (1931)
Naturich
The Cuban Love Song (1931)
Nenita [Lopez]
Resurrection (1931)
Katusha Maslova
Resurrección (1931)
Katusha Maslowa
Hell Harbor (1930)
Anita
The Storm (1930)
Manette Fachard
East Is West (1930)
Ming Toy
Oriente y Occidente (1930)
Ming Toy
Lady of the Pavements (1929)
Nanon del Rayon
Wolf Song (1929)
Lola Salazar
Where East Is East (1929)
Toyo
Tiger Rose (1929)
Rose
The Gaucho (1928)
The Mountain Girl
Stand and Deliver (1928)
Jania

Life Events

1927

US stage debut, "The Music Box Review"

1927

Film debut, "What Women Did for Me"

1927

First leading role, "The Gaucho"

1932

First comedy role, "The Half-Naked Truth"

1934

Broadway debut, "Hot Cha!"

1937

Reutned to Mexico to film drama "La Zandunga"

1939

Starred in "The Girl from Mexico", the first of seven "Mexican Spitfire" movies

1944

Final film, "Nana"

Videos

Movie Clip

Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - Douse The Haberdashery Crafty agent Jimmy (Lee Tracy) stops Broadway producer Farrell (Frank Morgan) from dropping the curtain, interrupting the fake Turkish princess act so Teresita (Lupe Velez) can do her saucy "Carpenter" number (by Edward Eliscu and Harry Akst), in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - Thirty Pounds Of Raw Meat Scamming promoter Jimmy (Lee Tracy) with sidekick "Achilles" (Eugene Pallette), angered at a Broadway producer's tactics, gets an idea to boost his phony Turkish princess Teresita (Lupe Velez), leading to a riff by director Gregory La Cava, in The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - All Turkish Harems Arrived in New York embarking on a new scam, carnival man Jimmy (Lee Tracy) conjures new identities for his cohorts Teresita (Lupe Velez) and Achilles (Eugene Pallette), and neatly bamboozles the concierge (Franklin Pangborne), in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1931.
Laughing Boy (1934) - It Is White Man's Way Family-oriented young Navajo (Ramon Novarro, title character) is more virtuous than his new fianceè “Slim Girl” (Lupe Velez), whom he’s bringing home to meet his folks after meeting her at a cosmopolitan tribal gathering in the southern part of the reservation, in MGM’s Laughing Boy, 1934.
High Flyers (1937) - You Need A Hobby Horace Opening with and RKO budget and aesthetic probably not suitable for MGM, a song by Dave Dreyer and Herman Ruby (the credited choreographer is Eduardo Cansino, Rita Hayworth's dad), introducing Jack Carson and Marjorie Lord, then Margaret Dumont and Paul Harvey, then third-billed Lupe Velez, in the Wheeler & Woolsey vehicle High Flyers, 1937.
High Flyers (1937) - I Always Get My Man The song is an original by RKO staffers Dave Dreyer and Herman Ruby, Lupe Velez is lively maid Juanita, doing a Dolores Del Rio schtick, in theory explaining how she proposes the frightened household should deal with the nasty criminals in their midst, in the Wheeler & Woolsey comedy High Flyers, 1937.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - As We Say In Trigonometry The disgruntled press agent (James Donlan) lights up exotic dancer Teresita (Lupe Velez), who goes gunning for carnival barker Jimmy (Lee Tracy), interrupting his spiel to the boss (Robert McKenzie), but sparking inspiration, early in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Kongo (1932) - The Swamp Is Wholesome Compared To You Having sent an assistant in a goofy mask to frighten the simple natives, Walter Huston as crippled ivory trader Flint abuses Virginia Bruce as Ann, the daughter of a rival whom he snatched years earlier from a convent school, his mistress Lupe Velez asking mercy, in MGM’s nasty pre-Code Kongo, 1932.
Kongo (1932) - Suck Lemons Joining the first conversation between crippled vengeful African ivory trader-bandit Flint (Walter Huston) and drunken/addicted doctor Kingsland (Conrad Nagel), joined by his crony Cookie (Forrester Harvey), and his mistress (Lupe Velez), hatching a plot, in MGM’s Kongo, 1932.
Kongo (1932) - Have You Ever Seen Such An Adonis? Opening MGM’s pre-Code dark jungle revenge-exploitation drama, Walter Huston is Flint, with aides Cookie and Hogan (Forrester Harvey, Mitchell Lewis) Lupe Velez his mistress Tula, his motives not yet clear but his character well-drawn, William Cowen directing, in Kongo, 1932.
Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost (1942) - Everything's Gonna Be Honky Tonky Probably just to get star Lupe Velez into the cute maid outfit, she and Leon Errol as Uncle Matt masquerade as servants to nervous Percy (Donald MacBride) and sister (Minna Gombel), to help her husband Denny (Buddy Rogers) save a business deal, in Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost, 1942.
Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost (1942) - Think Of Your Blue Blood Pressure Denny (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and his aunt and uncle (Elisabeth Risdon, Leon Errol) are discussing how to handle his snooty new potential clients when the star (Lupe Velez as Carmelita) makes her first appearance, in Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost, 1942, the 5th in the series.

Trailer

Companions

Gary Cooper
Companion
Actor. Involved from late 1920s until his marriage to Sandra Shaw in 1933.
Johnny Weissmuller
Husband
Actor. Married 1933, divorced 1938.
Harald Raymond
Companion
Actor. The pregnant Velez commited suicide when Raymond refused to marry her in 1944.

Bibliography