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Lupe Vélez in Laughing Boy (1934)
July 18, 1908(1908-07-18)
San Luis Potosi, Mexico
Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Lupe Vélez (July 18, 1908 – December 13, 1944) was a Mexican film actress. Vélez began her career in Mexico as a dancer, before moving to the U.S. where she worked in vaudeville. She was seen by Fanny Brice who promoted her, and Vélez soon entered films, making her first appearance in 1924. By the end of the decade she had progressed to leading roles. With the advent of talking pictures Vélez acted in comedies, but she became disappointed with her film career, and moved to New York where she worked in Broadway productions.Returning to Hollywood in 1939, she made a series of comedies. She also made some films in Mexico. Vélez’s personal life was often difficult; a five year marriage to Johnny Weissmuller and a series of romances, were highly publicized. Vélez committed suicide in 1944. She is often associated with the nicknames “The Mexican Spitfire” and “The Hot Pepper”.
Vélez was born María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez in the city of San Luis Potosí in Mexico, the daughter of an army officer (Jacobo Villalobos Reyes) and his wife (Josefina Vélez), an opera singer, both from prominent families in the state of San Luis Potosí. Because at that time becoming an artist and coming from a well-to-do family was seen as embarrassing, her father refused to let her use his last name in theater, so she used her mother’s surname. Lupe was educated at a convent school in Texas. From an early age, she had a strong temper and an explosive personality. She took dancing lessons and in 1924, made her performing debut at the Teatro Principal in Mexico City. In 1923 she moved to Texas, where she began dancing in vaudeville shows and finding work as a sales assistant. She moved to California, where she met the comedienne Fanny Brice, who promoted her career as a dancer. In 1924 she was first cast in movies by Hal Roach.
with Ramón Novarro in Laughing Boy (1934).Vélez’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) and Cecil B. de Mille in The Squaw Man in 1931. By the end of the silent era the sparkling personality of Lupe rivalled that of the Flapper Girl, Clara Bow.Within a few years Vélez found her niche in comedies, playing beautiful but volatile foils to comedy stars. Her slapstick battle with Laurel and Hardy in Hollywood Party and her dynamic presence opposite Jimmy Durante in Palooka (both 1934) are typically enthusiastic Vélez performances. She was featured in the final Wheeler & Woolsey comedy, High Flyers (1937), doing impersonations of Simone Simon, Dolores del Río, and Shirley Temple.In 1934, Velez was one of the victims of the “open season” of the “reds” in Hollywood. With Dolores del Río, Ramón Novarro and James Cagney, she was accused of promoting communism in California.Vélez was now nearing 30 and hadn’t yet become a major star. 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, Vélez looked for film work in other countries. Returning to Hollywood in 1939, she snared the lead in a B comedy for RKO Radio Pictures, The Girl from Mexico. She established such a rapport with co-star Leon Errol that RKO made a quick sequel, Mexican Spitfire, which became a very popular series. Vélez perfected her comic character, indulging in broken-English malaprops, troublemaking ideas, and sudden fits of temper bursting into torrents of Spanish invective. She occasionally sang in these films, and often displayed a talent for hectic, visual comedy. Vélez enjoyed making these films and can be seen openly breaking up at Leon Errol’s comic ad libs.The Spitfire films rejuvenated Lupe Vélez’s 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. In one of her last films, Columbia’s Redhead from Manhattan, she played a dual role: one in her exaggerated comic dialect, and the other in her actual speaking voice, which was surprisingly fluid and had only traces of a Mexican accent.Lupe Vélez 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 Nana (1944), which was well received. Subsequently, she returned to Holly
Emotionally generous, passionate, and high-spirited, Vélez had a number of highly publicized affairs, including a particularly emotionally draining one with Gary Cooper, before marrying Olympic athlete Johnny Weissmuller (of Tarzan fame) in 1933, and later, in 1938, Mexican actor Arturo de Córdova. About her romance with Cooper Marlene Dietrich said “Gary was totally under the control of Lupe”.. The marriage with Weissmuller lasted five years; they repeatedly split and finally divorced in 1938.
In the mid-1940s, she had a relationship with the young actor Harald Maresch, and became pregnant with his child. Vélez, following her Catholic upbringing, refused to have an abortion. Unable to face the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child, she decided to take her own life. Her 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.Andy Warhol‘s underground film, Lupe (1965), starring Edie Sedgwick as Lupe, is loosely based on this fateful night, suggesting that she was found with her head in the toilet due to nausea caused by the overdose. Another report says she tripped and fell head-first into the toilet, knocking herself unconscious and drowning. However, Kinder reports finding Vélez having died peacefully in her bed.In a poll of Mexican filmgoers, actresses like Marquita Rivera and Amalia Aguilar were chosen to star in a Hollywood film based on the life of the actress. However, due to the controversy over Vélez’s suicide at that time, the film was never produced.There is skepticism surrounding whether it was simply the shame of bearing an illegitimate child that led Vélez to end her life. Throughout her life she showed signs of extreme emotion, mania and depression. Consequently, it has been suggested that Vélez suffered from bipolar disorder, which, left untreated, ultimately led to her suicide. Rosa Linda Fregoso writes that Vélez was known for her defiance of contemporary moral convention, and it seems unlikely that she could not have reconciled an “illegitimate child.”Lupe Vélez was encrypted at the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres in México City.
- In the first episode of the sitcom Frasier, “The Good Son“, Frasier Crane‘s producer Roz Doyle tries to improve Frasier’s outlook on his life by telling him the story of Lupe Vélez, “last seen with her head in the toilet”. Apparently according to Roz, the pills she had taken did not mix well with “the enchilada combo plate she sadly chose as her last meal.” When Frasier asks how her story is supposed to make him feel better, Roz responds that sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to, but can work out in the end, anyway. She adds, “All she wanted was to be remembered. Will you ever forget that story?”.
- She was mentioned The Simpsons episode titled “Homer’s Phobia“. Guest star John Waters, gave the Simpson family, sans Homer, a driving tour of Springfield‘s shopping district, where he pointed out the store where reportedly Vélez bought the toilet she drowned in.
- In 2009 Mexican film director Martin Caballero made the short film Forever Lupe with Mexican actress Marieli Romo as Lupe Vélez.
- She is mentioned in the Michael Chabon novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
|1927||What Women Did for Me||uncredited||short subject|
|Sailors, Beware!||Baroness Behr (uncredited)||Laurel and Hardy silent short|
|The Gaucho||The Mountain Girl||Douglas Fairbanks adventure.|
|1928||Stand and Deliver||Jania|
|1929||Hollywood Snapshots #11||Herself||short subject|
|Lady of the Pavements||Nanon del Rayon||aka Lady of the Night (UK)|
|The Wolf Song||Lola Salazar|
|Where East Is East||Toyo Haynes||With Lon Chaney|
|1930||Hell Harbor||Anita Morgan|
|The Storm||Manette Fachard|
|East Is West||Ming Toy||Spanish language version was
filmed, also starring Vélez
|The Squaw Man||Naturich|
|The Cuban Love Song||Nenita Lopez|
|1932||The Voice of Hollywood No. 13||Herself||short subject|
|Men in Her Life||Julia Clark||Spanish language version of 1931 film|
|The Broken Wing||Lolita|
|The Half Naked Truth||Teresita|
|1934||Palooka||Nina Madero||aka Joe Palooka|
|Strictly Dynamite||Vera Mendez|
|Laughing Boy||Slim Girl|
|Hollywood Party||The Jaguar Woman
Jane in Schnarzan sequence
|Laurel and Hardy have a cameo appearance|
|1935||The Morals of Marcus||Carlotta|
|1937||High Flyers||Maria Juanita Rosita Anita Moreno del Valle|
|Stardust||Carla de Huelva||aka He Loved an Actress (USA)|
|La Zandunga||Lupe||First Spanish-speaking movie in México|
|1939||The Girl from Mexico||Carmelita Fuentes|
|1940||Mexican Spitfire||Carmelita Lindsay|
|Mexican Spitfire Out West||Carmelita Lindsay|
|1941||Recordar es vivir||short subject|
|Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga||Madame La Zonga|
|Mexican Spitfire’s Baby||Carmelita Lindsay|
|Honolulu Lu||Consuelo Cordoba|
|Playmates||Carmen del Toro|
|1942||Mexican Spitfire at Sea||Carmelita Lindsay|
|Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost||Carmelita Lindsay|
|Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant||Carmelita Lindsay|
|1943||Ladies’ Day||Pepita Zorita|
|Redhead from Manhattan||Rita Manners/Elaine Manners|
exican Spitfire’s Blessed Event
- Ramírez, Gabriel (1986). Lupe Vélez: La Mexicana que escupía fuego. Cineteca Nacional.
- Corona, Moises (1996). Lupe Velez, a medio siglo de ausencia. EDAMEX. ISBN 968-409-872-3.
- Agrasánchez Jr., Rogelio (2001). Bellezas del cine mexicano/Beauties of Mexican Cinema.. Archivo Fílmico Agrasánchez. ISBN 968-5077-11-8.
- Lupe Vélez at the Internet Movie Database
- Lupe Vélez at the Internet Broadway Database
- Lupe Vélez at Find a Grave
- Lupe Vélez at the TCM Movie Database
- Lupe Vélez at Allmovie
- (Spanish) Lupe Vélez at the Cinema of Mexico site of the ITESM
- Straight Dope Staff Report: Did Lupe Vélez really drown in the toilet? at straightdope.com “Did Lupe Vélez Really Die On the Toilet?” at The Straight Dope
- The fourth chapter of Tex(t)-Mex: Seductive Hallucination of the “Mexican” in America by W. A. Nericcio, focuses on the life and death of Lupe Vélez and is entitled, Lupe Vélez Regurgitated or Jesus’s Kleenex: Cautionary, Indigestion-inspiring Ruminations on “Mexicans” in “American” Toilets.