Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Monthly Muse - Lupe Velez

The start of a new month means its time for another muse and this month it is mexican screen star Lupe Velez.
Lupe Velez was born María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez on July 18, 1908 in San Luis Potosí in Mexico. She was the daughter of Jacobo Villalobos Reyes, a colonel in the armed forces of the dictator Porfirio Diaz, and his wife Josefina Vélez, an opera singer according to some sources, or vaudeville singer according to others.

At the age of 13 her parents sent her to study at  Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio, Texas. It was theree that Lupe learned to speak English and began to dance. She later admitted that she liked dance class, but was otherwise a poor student.After the Mexican Revolution began, Jacobo joined the fight and Vélez was removed from school and returned to Mexico City. To help support the family, she began working in a department store earning just $4 a week.

Lupeélez began her career in Mexican revues in the early 1920s. Her first stage appearance was in a María Conesa revue show where she sang "Oh Charley, My Boy" and danced the shimmy. In 1924, Aurelio Campos, a young pianist and friend of Vélez sisters, recommended Lupe to stage producers Carlos Ortega and Manuel Castro. Ortega and Castro were preparing a season revue at the Regis Theatre and hired Lupe to join the company in March 1925. Later that year, Lupe starred in the revues Mexican Rataplan and ¡No lo tapes!. Her suggestive singing and provocative dancing was a hit with audiences and she soon established herself as one of the main stars of vaudeville in Mexico. After a year and a half, Lupe left the revue after the manager refused to give her a raise. She then joined the Teatro Principal but was fired after three months due to her "feisty attitude". Lupe was quickly hired by the Teatro Lirico where her salary rose to 100 pesos a day.

Lupe, whose volatile and spirited personality and feuds with other performers were often covered by the Mexican press, also established her ability for garnering publicity. In October 1925, the Mexican newspaper La Prensa reported that she attempted suicide after placing second to her vaudeville rival Celia Padilla in a talent contest. The reports were likely exaggerated but the media continued to report on the matter and the feud with Padilla for several months.

In 1926, Frank Woodward, an American man whom had seen Lupe perform, recommended her to stage director Richard Bennett. Bennett was looking for an actress to portray the role of a Mexican cantina singer in his upcoming play The Dove. He sent Lupe a telegram inviting her to Los Angeles to appear in the play. Lupe had been planning to go to Cuba to perform but quickly changed her plans and traveled to Los Angeles.

While in Los Angeles, she met the comedian Fanny Brice. Brice was taken with Lupe and later said she had never met a more fascinating personality. She promoted Lupe's career as a dancer and who recommended her to Florence Ziegfeld who hired her to perform in New York City. While Lupe was preparing to leave Los Angeles, she received a call from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producer Harry Rapf who offered her a screen test. Producer and director Hal Roach saw Lupe screen test and hired her for a small role in the comedy short Sailors, Beware!, starring Laurel and Hardy.

After her debut in the short film Sailors, Beware!, Lupe appeared in another short film for Hal Roach, What Women Did for Me, in 1927. Later that year, she did a screen test for the upcoming Douglas Fairbanks film The Gaucho. Fairbanks was reportedly impressed by Lupe and quickly signed her to a contract and hired her to appear in the film with him. Upon its release in 1927, The Gaucho was a hit and critics were duly impressed with Lupe's ability to hold her own alongside Fairbanks, who was well known for his spirited acting and impressive stunts.

Lupe made her second major film, Stand and Deliver (1928). That same year, she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. In 1929, Lupe appeared in Lady of the Pavements and Where East Is East, playing a young Chinese woman. As she was regularly cast in as the "exotic" or "ethnic" women that were volatile and hot tempered (and often considered "fallen women" or simply prostitutes),  gossip columnists took to referring to Lupe as "Mexican Hurricane", "The Mexican Wildcat", "The Mexican Madcap", "Whoopee Lupe" and "The Hot Tamale".

By 1929, the film industry was transitioning from silents to sound films. Several stars of the era saw their careers abruptly end due their heavily accented English or voices that recorded poorly due to primitive recording technology. Studio executives predicted that Lupe's accent would likely hamper her ability to make the transition. That idea was dispelled after she appeared in her first all-talking picture in 1929, Tiger Rose, with Rin Tin Tin. The film was a hit, in large part due to Rin Tin Tin's popularity, and Lupe's sound career was established.

Lupe appeared in a series of Pre-Code film like Hell Harbor, The Storm and the crime drama East Is West.  In 1931, she appeared in Squaw Man. In 1932, Lupe filmed The Cuban Love Song. That same year, she had a supporting role in Kongo.She also starred in Spanish-language versions of some of her movies produced by the Universal Studios. Lupe soon found her niche in comedy, playing beautiful but volatile characters.

In February 1932, Lupe took a break from her film career and traveled to New York City where she was signed by Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. to take over the role of "Conchita" in the musical revue Hot-Cha! The show was fraught with problems from the beginning. By 1932, Ziegfeld had lost most of his fortune due to the Great Depression and dwindling audience attendance to pricey Broadway shows. In order to finance the show, Ziegfeld was forced to accept money from Eddie Cantor and two known mobsters: Dutch Schultz and Waxey Gordon who insisted that the racy show be subtitled Laid In Mexico. Upon its March 8 premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre, the show was largely overshadowed by the Lindbergh kidnapping. It was generally panned by critics who found the script weak and the risque elements to be "crass". Hot-Cha! ran for 119 performances, closing on July 18, 1932.

In 1933, she appeared in The Half-Naked Truth. Later that year, she returned to Broadway where she starred opposite Jimmy Durante in the musical revue Strike Me Pink. In 1934, she filmed Palooka and Strictly Dynamite. That same year, Lupe was cast as "Slim Girl" in Laughing Boy with Ramón Novarro. The film faced opposition from film censor Joseph Breen who called it "a sordid, vile and dirty story that is definitely not suited for screen entertainment" due its references to prostitution and supposed portrayals of "illicit" sexual activities. M-G-M changed the material that Breen deemed offensive, but poor writing coupled with Novarro's waning popularity sank the film. Laughing Boy was quietly released and largely ignored. The few reviews it received panned the film but praised Lupe's performance.

Although Lupe was a popular actress, RKO Pictures did not renew her contract in 1934. Over the next few years, Lupe worked for various studio as a freelance actress; she also spent two years in England where she filmed The Morals of Marcus and Gypsy Melody . She returned to Los Angeles the following year where she appeared in the final part of the Wheeler & Woolsey comedy High Flyers (1937). In a routine she had been performing since her vaudeville days, Lupe impersonates popular actresses of the era Simone Simon, her longtime rival Dolores del Rio and Shirley Temple.

Lupe made her final appearance on Broadway in the 1938 musical You Never Know, by Cole Porter. The show received poor reviews from critics but received a large amount of publicity due to the feud between Lupe and fellow cast member Libby Holman. The two instantly disliked each other which was furthered when Holman took offense that Porter had written songs specifically for Lupe. Holman was also irritated by the attention Lupe garnered from the show with her impersonations of several actresses including Gloria Swanson, Katharine Hepburn and Shirley Temple. In turn, Lupe reportedly urinated outside of Holman's dressing room door. The feud came to a head during a performance in New Haven, Connecticut after Lupe punched Holman in between curtain calls and gave her a black eye. The feud effectively ended the show.

Upon her return to Mexico City in 1938 to star in her first Mexican film, Lupe was greeted by ten thousand fans. The film La Zandunga, was directed by Fernando de Fuentes and co-starred Mexican actor Arturo de Córdova. It was a critical and financial success and Lupe was slated to appear in four more Mexican films. She instead returned to Los Angeles and went back to work for RKO Pictures.

In 1939, Lupe was cast opposite Leon Errol and Donald Woods in a B-comedy The Girl from Mexico. Despite being a B film, it was a hit with audiences and RKO re-teamed her with Errol and Wood for a sequel, Mexican Spitfire. That film was also success and lead to a series of Spitfire films (eight in all). In the series, Lupe portrays "Carmelita Lindsey", a temperamental yet friendly Mexican singer married to Dennis "Denny" Lindsay (Wood), an elegant American gentleman.  The Spitfire films rejuvenated Lupe's career and she was cast in a series of musical and comedy features for RKO, Universal Pictures, and Columbia Pictures Some of these films were Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga (1941), Playmates (1941) opposite John Barrymore and Redhead from Manhattan (1943). In 1943, the final film in the Spitfire series, Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event was released. By that time, the novelty of the series has begun to wane.

In 1944, Lupe returned to Mexico to star in an adaptation of Émile Zola's novel Nana, which was well received. It would be her final film. After filming wrapped, Lupe returned to Los Angeles and began preparing for another stage role in New York.

Lupe's career was often overshadowed by her personal life as she was involved in several highly publicized and often stormy relationships over the course of her career. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, she was linked to actors Tom Mix, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable Her first long-term, high profile relationship was with actor Gary Cooper. The pair met while filming The Wolf Song in 1929 and began a two-year affair. The relationship with Cooper was passionate but often stormy. When angered, Lupe reportedly physically assaulted Cooper. Cooper eventually ended the relationship in mid-1931. By that time, the rocky relationship had taken its toll on Cooper who had lost 45 pounds and was suffering from nervous exhaustion. Paramount Pictures ordered him to take a vacation to recuperate. While he was boarding the train, Lupe showed up at the train station and fired a pistol at him.

After her breakup with Cooper, Lupe began a short lived relationship with actor John Gilbert. They began dating in late 1931 while Gilbert was separated from his third wife Ina Claire. They were reportedly engaged but Gilbert ended the relationship in early 1932 and attempted to reconcile with Claire.

Shortly thereafter, Lupe met actor Johnny Weissmuller while the two were in New York. After they both returned to Los Angeles, they dated off and on while Lupe also dated actor Errol Flynn. On October 8, 1933, Lupe and Weissmuller were married in Las Vegas. This relationship was also stormy with reports of domestic violence and public fights. In July 1934, after ten months of marriage, Lupe filed for divorce citing cruelty. She withdrew the petition a week later after reconciling with Weissmuller. On January 3, 1935, she filed for divorce a second time and was granted a interlocutory decree. That decree was dismissed when the couple reconciled a month later. In August 1938, Lupe filed for divorce for a third time again charging Weissmuller with cruelty. Their divorce was finalized in August 1939.

Lupe began dating actor Guinn "Big Boy" Williams in late 1940. They were reportedly engaged but never married. In late 1941, she became involved with author Erich Maria Remarque. Actress Luise Rainer later recalled that Remarque told her "with the greatest of glee" that he found Lupe's volatility wonderful. He recounted to Rainier an occasion when Lupe became so angry with him that she took her shoe off and hit him with it. After dating Remarque, Vélez was linked to boxers Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey.

In 1943, Lupe began an affair with her La Zandunga co-star Arturo de Córdova. De Córdova had recently moved to Hollywood after signing with Paramount Pictures. Despite the fact that de Córdova was married to Mexican actress Enna Arana with whom he had four children, Lupe granted an interview to gossip columnist Louella Parsons in September 1943 and announced that the two were engaged. Lupe vended the engagement in early 1944, reportedly after de Córdova's wife refused to give him a divorce.

Lupe then met and began dating a struggling young Austrian actor named Harald Maresch. In September 1944, she discovered she was pregnant with his child. She announced their engagement in late November 1944. On December 11, five days before her death, Lupe announced she had ended the engagement and kicked him out of her home.

On the evening of December 13, 1944, Lupe dined with her two friends, Estelle Taylor and Benita Oakie. In the early morning hours of December 14, Lupe retired to her bedroom where she consumed 75 Seconal pills and a glass of brandy. Her secretary, Beulah Kinder, found the actress' body on her bed later that morning. A suicide note addressed to Harald Ramond was found nearby. It read:

"To Harald, May God forgive you and forgive me too, but I prefer to take my life away and our baby's before I bring him with shame or killing him. - Lupe."

On the back of the note, Vélez wrote:

"How could you, Harald, fake such a great love for me and our baby when all the time you didn't want us? I see no other way out for me so goodbye and good luck to you, Love Lupe."

The day after Lupe's death, Harald Ramond told the press that he was "so confused" by her suicide and claimed that even though the two had broken up, he had agreed to marry Lupe anyway. He admitted that he once asked Lupe to sign an agreement stating that he was only marrying her to "give the baby a name", but claimed he only did so because he and Lupe had had a fight and he was in a "terrible temper".

Actress Estelle Taylor, who was with Lupe from 9pm the previous night until 3:30 am the morning she died, told the press that Lupe had told her of her pregnancy but said she would rather kill herself than have an abortion. Beulah Kinder, Lupe's secretary, later told investigators that after Lupe broke off the relationship with Ramond, she planned to go to Mexico to have her baby. Kinder said Lupe soon changed her mind after concluding that Ramond "faked" the relationship and considered having an abortion.

The day after Lupes's death, the Los Angeles County coroner requested that an inquest be opened to investigate the circumstances surrounding her death. On December 16, the coroner dropped the request after determining that Lupe had written the notes and that she had intended to kill herself.

On December 22, a funeral for Lupe was held at the mortuary at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Among the pallbearers were her ex-husband Johnny Weismuller and actor Gilbert Roland.After the service, her body was sent by train to Mexico City where a second service was held on December 27. Her body was then interred at Panteón Civil de Dolores Cemetery.

Despite the coroner's ruling that Lupe committed suicide to avoid the shame of bearing an illegitimate child, some authors have theorized that the official account was not entirely true.

In the book From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture, Rosa-Linda Fregoso writes that Lupe was known for her defiance of contemporary moral convention and that it seems unlikely that she could not have reconciled having a child out of wedlock. Fregoso believes that, in the final year of her life, Lupe had exhibited signs of extreme mania and depression. Fregoso goes on to speculate that Lupe's death may have been the result of an untreated mental illness such as bipolar disorder.

Journalist Robert Slatzer claimed that a few weeks before Lupe's death, he interviewed her at her home and she confided in him that she was pregnant with Gary Cooper's child. According to Slatzer, Lupe said that Cooper refused to acknowledge the child believing that Harald Ramond was the father. After Lupe died, Slatzer said he asked Cooper about the situation and Cooper confirmed that it was possible he might have been the father. Slatzer further claimed that he also interviewed Clara Bow who revealed that shortly before Lupe's death, Cooper called her and screamed that he was going to kill Harald Ramond for impregnating her. Slazter claimed that Bow told him that she never believed Lupe's baby was fathered by Ramond, and that she was convinced that she had attempted to get Ramond to marry her to protect Cooper's reputation.

Biographer Michelle Vogel speculated that if Cooper was the father, his rejection of Lupe and their child coupled with the idea of having to raise a child alone may have sent her "over the edge".

Lupe death was recounted in the 1959 book Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger. In Anger's retelling, Lupe planned to stage a beautiful suicide scene atop her satin bed, but the Seconal she took did not mix well with the "Mexi-Spice Last Supper" that she had eaten earlier that evening. As a result, Anger said she became violently ill. Instead of dying on her bed as planned, Anger claimed that a dazed she stumbled to the bathroom to vomit, slipped on the bathroom floor tile and fell head first into the toilet where she subsequently drowned. Anger claimed that Lupe's "chambermaid" Juanita found her mistress the next morning. Despite the fact that Anger's version of events contradict published reports and the official ruling, his story became something of an urban legend and is often repeated as fact. Lupes biographer Michelle Vogel points out that it would have been "virtually impossible" for her to have "stumbled to the bathroom" or even get off her bed after having consumed such a large amount of Seconal. Seconal is noted for being fast acting even in small doses and Lupe's death was likely instantaneous. Her death certificate lists "Seconal poisoning" due to "ingestion of Seconal" as the cause of death, not drowning. Further, there was also no evidence to suggest Lupe had vomited.

Lupe's Legacy:
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Lupe Vélez has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard.

Lupe was a gifted actress whose talent stood out despite her tumultuous private life that was often made public and the fact that she was often cast in stereotypical roles. She successfully made the transition from silent movies to 'talkies' and even in her roles in movies that were panned her talent was still noted.

♥ The first time you buy a house you think how pretty it is and sign the check. The second time you look to see if the basement has termites. It's the same with men.

♥ In a church, I am a saint. In a public place, I am a lady. In my own home, I am a devil....My house is where I can do as I please, scream and yell and dance and fall on the floor if I like. I am myself when I am in my home.

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