6 Latinas Who Defined Old Hollywood

Every now and then it's great to be reminded of all the strides made by those in our community

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/RKO Pictures

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/RKO Pictures

Every now and then it’s great to be reminded of all the strides made by those in our community. While today we have the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara, Gina Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Salma Hayek, among others, these six legendary women helped define old Hollywood, while building the bridge to acting dreams for millions of Latinas everywhere. 

Not only did they pave the way for so many other women to follow their dreams, but they were busting down stereotypes and fighting for themselves in a system that distinctly rigged against them or any women of color. Still, they persevered, and there is so much that modern-day Latinas can learn from their hard work and dedication.

Dolores del Río

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/RKO Pictures

Born: August 3, 1905

Died: April 11, 1983

Stepped onto the Hollywood Scene: 1925

Born Lolita Dolores Martinez Asunsolo Lopez Negrette in Durango, Mexico, Dolores del Río is considered to be the first Latina actress to successfully do a Hollywood crossover. Del Río’s debut film in 1925, Joanna, would gain her notoriety — not necessarily because of her role, but because of her refusal to be labeled a “Spanish” actress. The iconic beauty demanded that her true heritage be used as a descriptor. A year later, del Río would see great success for her starring role in the comedy-drama What Price Glory, where she portrayed a French innkeeper’s daughter trapped in a love triangle.

On August 3, 2017, the Mexican trailblazer, who is described by TCM as “one of the most beautiful women of her era and one of the most gorgeous people ever to make it to the ranks of film stardom,” was honored with a beautiful Google Doodle where Google noted that del Río’s “acting career would establish her as an iconic figure during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.” It certainly did. After getting her start in silent films, then moving on to talking films, acting alongside the likes of Fred Astaire, she helped begin to pave the way for Latinxs to come.

Lupe Vélez

Born: July 18, 1908

Died: December 13, 1944

Stepped onto the Hollywood Scene: 1927

Lupe Vélez was born María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez in San Luis de Potosi, Mexico on July 18, 1908. Her story, while riddled with success and recognition, was quite the tragic one. Vélez arrived in Hollywood in 1927. She appeared in two short films before quickly landing a leading role in The Gaucho. The Mexican-born star was known for having a fiery persona and was nicknamed “The Mexican Spitfire,” which also happened to be the name of her extremely popular film series that was created around her personality. She was pure brilliance on screen, but Vélez’s life behind the scenes was tumultuous and emotionally charged. The Mexican Spitfire’s Baby star’s personal life often made headlines. She was known for being romantically involved with Hollywood’s top leading men, and reportedly went as far as making scenes at parties and other public affairs. But what would capture the most attention was her tragic death. Reports note that a pregnant Vélez committed suicide by overdosing on Seconal (often used to treat insomnia) after actor Harald Raymond, whose child she was carrying, said he refused to marry her.

Maria Montez

Born: June 6, 1912

Died: September 7, 1951

Stepped onto the Hollywood Scene: 1940

Dominican-born actress Maria Montez was the first Dominican actress in Hollywood. She initially launched her career as a model in New York City in 1940, before making her way to Hollywood. Her first film was 1940’s The Invisible Woman for which was paid $150 per week — but she was best known for her role in 1942’s Arabian Nights. Montez was dubbed “The Queen of Technicolor” for her work in films based as the quintessential damsel in distress in “exotic” fantasy lands.

In 2015, fellow Dominican actress, Celines Toribio, portrayed the late icon in a biopic aptly titled Maria Montez: The Movie. “Maria Montez risked it all to dare to dream big. She was very persistent when it came to achieving her dreams, she motivated me a lot,” Toribio said in an interview. “Those are the type of women I hope to follow.”

Katy Jurado

Born: January 16, 1924

Died: July 5, 2002

Stepped onto the Hollywood Scene: 1951

Hailing from Guadalajara, the “beautiful, but a tiger” (as described by her second husband, actor Ernest Borgnine) Katy Jurado was known for portraying villainous characters in Mexican films. The iconic actress, whose real name was María Cristina Estela Marcela Jurado García, began her career in Hollywood in 1951 in the film The Bullfighter & the Lady. But her most notable work came along in 1952, High Noon, for which she won a Golden Globe Award.  She was the first Latina to win a Golden Globe, and the first to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in Broken Lance. Jurado made 71 films throughout her career, including one starring opposite Elvis Presley. She even had a song written about her by the late Juan Gabriel titled “Que Re’chula es Katy.

“She planted the Mexican flag in the U.S. film industry, and made her country proud,” said Mauricio Hernandez, an official of the National Actors Assn. in Mexico, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Rita Moreno

Born: December 11, 1931

Stepped onto the Hollywood Scene: 1950

Rita Moreno was born Rosita Dolores Alverio in Humacao, Puerto Rico. She broke into Hollywood in 1950 in So Young So Bad, and has since racked up quite the catalog. She is the first Latina to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. The Hollywood veteran was also bestowed with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2004. Her most notable works — those that would catapult her career — include West Side Story and The King and I. Moreno’s credits also include Broadway and voicing characters in major animated flicks such as Rio 2. Today you can find her playing Jane Villanueva’s abuelita on Jane the Virgin and starring in Netflix’s One Day at a Time reboot. And she was recently placed on TIME’s Firsts Women Leaders list. “I really don’t think of myself as a role model,” Moreno writes in TIME. “But it turns out that I am to a lot of the Hispanic community. Not just in show business but in life. But that’s what happens when you’re the first, right?”

Carmen Miranda

Born: February 9, 1909

Died: August 5, 1955

Stepped onto the Hollywood Scene: 1940

“The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat” is probably how many know Carmen Miranda. The Portuguese-born Brazilian took her shaking hips to Hollywood in 1939, after some time on Broadway, and made her debut film, Down Argentine Way, in 1940. That same year, she was voted one of the top three most famous entertainers in the U.S. and was invited to perform for President Roosevelt. Miranda, whose real name was Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, quickly rose to success and became the highest-earning woman in Hollywood in the 1940s.

In this Article

Carmen Miranda Dolores del Rio Featured hollywood Katy Jurado Lupe Velez Maria Montanez Rita Moreno
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