Filled Under: Lupe Velez

Lupe Valez: “The Mexican Spitfire”

 

“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.” ~ Lupe Velez

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Lupe Velez

Lupe Velez was a Mexican film actress who had a very successful career in early Hollywood. She was born Maria Guadalupe Villalobos Velez on July 18, 1908 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, the daughter of an army officer (Jacobo Villalobos Reyes) and his wife (Josefina Velez), an opera singer, both from prominent families in the state of San Luis Potosi. In 1924 Velez began her career in Mexico as a dancer making her performing debut at the Teatro Principal in Mexico City where she wowed her audiences with her grace and beauty. She moved to California, where she met the comedienne Fanny Brice, who promoted her career as a dancer. In 1926 she was cast in her film by Hal Roach, a Laurel and Hardy silent short called “Sailors, Beware!”. Velez’s first feature-length film was “The Gaucho” (1927) starring Douglas Fairbanks. The next year, she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, the young starlets deemed to be most promising for movie stardom. Most of her early films cast her in exotic or ethnic roles (Hispanic, Native American, French, Russian, even Asian). She worked under the direction of notable film directors like Victor Fleming in “The Wolf Song” (1929) opposite Gary Cooper, D.W Griffith in “Lady of the Pavements” (1928), Tod Browning in “Where East is East” opposite Lon Chaney and Cecil B. de Mille in “The Squaw Man” in 1931. Next, Velez found her niche in comedies, playing beautiful but volatile foils to comedy stars. Her slapstick battle with Laurel and Hardy in “Hollywood Party” (1934) and her dynamic performace opposite Jimmy Durante in “Palooka” (1934) were typical enthusiastic Velez performances. She was featured in the final Wheeler & Woolsey comedy, “High Flyers” (1937), doing impersonations of Simone Simon, Dolores del Rio, and Shirley Temple.

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Lupe Velez

 

 

In 1934, Velez became one of the victims of the “witch hunt” of communists in Hollywood. With Dolores del Rio, Ramon Novarro, and James Cagney, she was accused of promoting communism in California. Disappointed, she left Hollywood for Broadway. In New York, she landed a role in “You Never Know”, a short-lived Cole Porter musical. After the run of “You Never Know”, Velez looked for film work in other countries. Returning to Hollywood in 1939, she was able to land the lead in a B comedy for RKO Radio Pictures, “The Girl from Mexico”. She established such chemistry with co-star Leon Errol that RKO made a quick sequel, “Mexican Spitfire”, which became a very popular series with seven “Mexican Spitfire” movies made from 1939 to 1943. The Spitfire films rejuvenated her career, and for the next few years she starred in musical and comedy features for RKO, Universal Pictures, and Columbia Pictures in addition to the Spitfire films. Velez was very popular with Spanish-speaking audiences. In 1943, she returned to Mexico and starred in the movies “La Zandunga” (1938), and an adaptation of Émile Zola’s novel “Nana” (1944), which were both successful.

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Lupe Velez - "Mexican Spitfire" (1940)

 

 

Lupe Velez was a popular movie star but was just as well known for her stormy love affairs including a particularly emotionally one with Gary Cooper. In 1933 she married Johnny Weismuller in 1933. The marriage with Weissmuller lasted five years, they repeatedly split and finally divorced in 1938. However, her love affair with Gary Cooper lasted until her death. In the mid-1940s, she had a relationship with the young actor Harald Maresch, and became pregnant with his child. Unable to face the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child, on December 14, 1944 at age 36, in Beverly Hills, California, she decided to take her own life. Her alleged suicide note 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.” She retired to bed after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. According to newspaper accounts, her body was found by her secretary and companion of ten years, Beulah Kinder, on her bed surrounded by flowers. Lupe Velez was laid to rest in the Civil Cemetery of Sorrows (Panteon Civil de Dolores), in the Tacubaya section of Mexico City, in a walled section within the itself walled cemetery, reserved for artists and administered by the (Mexico) National Association of Actors.

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Lupe Velez

 

Despite the suicide note, there is some controversy surrounding the reason for Velez’s suicide. Throughout her life she showed signs of extreme emotion, mania and depression. Consequently, it has been suggested that Velez suffered from bipolar disorder, which, left untreated, ultimately led to her suicide. Rosa Linda Fregoso,  an award winning author and professor and former Chair of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, writes that Velez was known for her defiance of contemporary moral convention, and it seems unlikely that she could not have reconciled an “illegitimate child”.
Other reliable accounts say Gary Cooper, with whom Lupe had had a romantic relationship for years up until her death, was the father of her unborn child, either making her alleged suicide note bogus, or Maresch merely a scapegoat.

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