Rita Moreno and Rita Hayworth became movie stars, but they proved that Hollywood was not exactly the most welcoming place for Latinas or those with Latino roots. Some women had to hide any trace of their ethnicity to make it on the silver screen; while others worked outside of the United States and shaped the movie industry in Latin American countries. Regardless of how they made it to the top, these 10 women with Latin roots played an important part in the history of early cinema:
10 Early Film Actresses You Need to Know
María de los Ángeles Félix Guereña was born in 1915 in Alamos, Mexico, and she became on of the most important actresses of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. She was nicknamed La Doña, and made about 47 films in Mexico, France, Spain, Argentina and Italy. She was offered roles in Hollywood, but she didn’t want to learn English and she often didn’t get the type of roles she wanted. “I was not born to carry baskets,” she said. “They offer me native roles and these roles I’ll play for my country. In foreign countries, I’ll only embody queens.” Paulette Goddard acted out a scene for The Torch that was exactly the same as Felix’s in Enamorada.
Notable film: Doña Bárbara
Born in 1891, Myrtle Gonzalez is considered one of Hollywood’s first Hispanic female movie stars. She worked in silent pictures, and was known for her vigorous heroines. Her paternal family came from Spain, and her maternal side came from Ireland. Gonzalez had a soprano voice. The actress died at age 27 of the Spanish Flu, but in her lifetime, she had 80 credits, which includes shorts and movies, under her belt.
Notable film: The Chalice of Courage
Beatriz Michelena was a silent era actress born in New York to Venezuelan parents. Not only did she star in more than a dozen movies between 1914 and 1920, she also started Beatriz Michelena Features, her own production company, in 1917. Michelena began her career as a singer. Her father was an operatic tenor. Though she was praised for her beauty, she was also talented and versatile, even doing her own stunts!
Notable film: The Woman Who Dared
Dolores del Río
Mexico-born Dolores del Río was offered a lot of cliched Hollywood roles. She got her start in silent pictures, and transitioned into “talkies,” (films with audio) though her accent made it difficult to get substantial roles. She returned to work in Mexico, and became one of the biggest stars in her country throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Notable film: Journey Into Fear
She was born Anita Evelyn Pomares in El Salvador and started working in movies with the help of actress Betty Bronson. She first started acting in the late 1920s, and was contracted by both Paramount and MGM. She decided to sign with MGM and made the transition from silent to talking pictures. At one point, she was one of the most popular stars at MGM, receiving the second largest amount of fan mail after Greta Garbo.
Notable film: The Broadway Melody
Carmen Miranda was born in Portugal, but she became a successful actress in Brazil. In the 1930s, she was worked as a singer and actress in Brazil. The following decade, she was in the Hollywood film Down Argentine Way. She was known as the “Brazilian Bombshell,” an archetype she tried to distance herself from later in her career. Though she did not succeed, Miranda had made her mark on Hollywood. She was the first star from Latin America to have her hands and feet at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and the first South American to be awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Jimmy Buffett even had a song called They Don’t Dance Like Carmen No More inspired by the actress.
Notable film: Copacabana
Andrea Palma was born Guadalupe Bracho Pérez-Gavilán in Durango, Mexico, but came to be known as The First Diva of Mexican and Latin American cinema. She had small parts in the films of her cousins Dolores del Río and Ramón Novarro. She was even Marlene Dietrich’s stunt double, and she used the actress as inspiration to create the character of Rosario for La Mujer del puerto, which was one of the most defining films of cine de pecadoras. She made a few Hollywood films and went to work in Spain. When she returned to Mexico, she became a character actor.
Notable film: La Mujer del puerto
Born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez was able to succeed in Hollywood, but it came with the nicknames “Mexican Spitfire” and “The Hot Pepper.” By 1927, she had moved to Hollywood. She was cast in The Gaucho. She started off with more serious roles, and then moved to comedies. She was the lead in Hot Pepper, and after a string of movies, she was getting parts written for her, specifically the character Carmelita Lindsay. She would go on to portray Carmelita for several movies.
Notable film: Laughing Boy
Miroslava was born in Prague, but moved to Mexico as a child and is known for her Mexican films. A beauty contest helped her break into the industry. Although she spent some time in Hollywood, she was only offered roles for foreigners or mysterious women. She appeared in more than 30 titles. She committed suicide over unrequited love and Mexican actress Katy Jurado was said to be the first to find her, and Jurado said Miroslava had a picture of Cantinflas, the Mexican actor, in her hands.
Notable film: Ensayo de un crimen
Originally from Argentina, Libertad Lamarque started acting as a child. The actress was in the first Argentine talkie, ¡Tango! She worked with Eva Perón in La cabalgata del circo, and her success was wide-reaching. She was influential in all of Latin America, and eventually worked in Mexican cinema, where she was already well loved. She became known as La Novia de América.
Notable film: Otra primavera