Dolores del Río — Sad One of the River (1930) 🇺🇸

Dolores del Rio — Sad One of the River (1930) |

February 16, 2023

Dolores del Rio. Her name in Spanish means "the sad one of the river." If you watch her face in repose, it is really a tragic mask, incredibly beautiful, with that purity of outline and modeling that one usually finds only in sculpture. The screen has given her, as it has every one else, that strange, silvery quality which seems to increase the beauty of some actresses; but it has really robbed her of her most luminous self. Silver is not her quality; it is too cool. But gold of that luscious paleness that one finds in the backgrounds of Venetian paintings. And when you meet her for the first time, that is the thing that impresses you most.

by Evelyn Gerstein

A theater dressing room, with a window high above it, barred, and beyond that a corps of policemen, because it had been discovered by her audience. Nothing to set the stage but a magnificent Spanish shawl of deep blues and orange on a white ground, flung across the divan by the far wall under the tiny prison-like window, on which she sat when she talked with me.

She talked with me, and immediately I began to think of all the extravagant tales I had heard of the Rose of Sharon and Scheherazade, and all those other Oriental ladies. Skin like honey, smooth and pale gold, with that natural patin that defies the cult of the sun-tanners; hair of luminous black; eyes so dark and burning that they shivered one; a wrap of some deep, blue-green silk that looked like an Oriental brocade.

But she was neither languid, nor darkly mysterious. I remembered all that I had heard about Spanish women and their drowsy sentimentality; and she belied them all. As she sat there, her legs curled under her on the shawl, she talked with a candor and intelligence that shook all the foundations of the fantastic world I had created for her.

A minute before she had been out there on the stage, flashing in and out, with swift, dancing steps, ear drops glittering on her shoulders, a chain of diamonds that made her seem on fire with light, a long, white gown of Hollywood manufacture — a movie queen, without the burlesque. But here in the dressing room she had thrown off the movie masquerade, and talked incessantly about Mexico, of the dancer, Argentina, of the talkies, of her gowns by Patou, Chanel, and Vionnet, of the public that always preferred gowns that were made in Hollywood, of "Evangeline" and Ramona, and The Bad One to come, in which she will continue, in a fashion, the adventures of Charmaine, of What Price Glory? with a song and dance and an accent; and all of it in that swift, tireless English, with the Spanish accent that was really only an inflection, like a scale with only three notes in it.

Her tale reverses the favorite legend of the Hollywood princesses. For she was not born in a hovel, but in a hacienda outside Mexico City and educated in a convent there, then sent abroad to be presented to the King and Queen of Spain, and to live for two years in Europe, with nothing but the arts to think of. But in due course of time, Hollywood discovered her, and she became another of the bathers on Malibu Beach, with a radio and all the rest of the small-town delights of that acting colony.

"At first I knew no word of English. I was so ashamed. When the director wanted me to turn around, look at the camera, sit down, open a door — anything, at all — he would tell it to the interpreter, who repeated it in Spanish to me. I felt so stupid." She pronounced it as if there were two "d's." "When I would go to a party and some one would talk to me, say something amusing and then laugh, I would always have to say, 'No speak English.' And it made me so unhappy, that I guess that is why I learned English so quickly."

She did not say that she already spoke French and Italian as well as Spanish.

"Now, I speak nothing else. My mother, even, speaks English now. I did not study it with a teacher, but only by talking and reading books and newspapers and magazines. When I write English, even now, I remember how I have seen the words in print, so I can spell them. My mind is photographic. I remember what I have seen."

Only once in all the time she has been in pictures — four years in all — has she been cast as a "lady," and that was in one of her first films. Hollywood has always liked high contrasts, and sheds the mantle of the grand dame on most of its gypsies, and vice versa, the rags go to the grand dames.

"It seems that I am always a peasant. I like to play in old clothes, though. Then I do not have to think of anything but the character. Besides, those are the most exciting roles. You cannot fling yourself around when you are supposed to be a lady. I love tragic parts. They are the most honest, the most real. That is why they are most dramatic. Some day I would like to play a Mexican woman. I would like to show you what life in Mexico really is. People think it is a country of peons and revolutions, and that the only costume women wear is the mantilla and the comb. They know nothing of life in the haciendas.

"Americans know nothing about the women in Mexico — how they are brought up, just as they were hundreds of years ago. They are so carefully watched. They must always wear things on their heads, and they cannot move without a duenna. You would not believe that possible to-day, would you? It is a different world from here. No one has shown that side of Mexico, the social side, or the artistic. There are dances, too, that no one knows anything about here. Americans only know a few Spanish dances.

"I would like to do some that I know, from the little towns, to the music of Albeniz or De Falla. They are marvelous. You have seen Argentina. She is a genius. She has taken the dances from the villages and she has done something wonderful to them. They are the same, and yet they are not the same, when you are watching her dance them. Perhaps I can do some of them when I am in the cabaret scenes in The Bad One. I sing and dance on the table.

"It is funny with the talkies." Her "funny" sounded as if there were an "a" in it somewhere. "When I first came to Hollywood I always was singing. Then for a whole year I did not open my mouth. Now, when there are talkies, they say, 'But you sing,' and I have forgotten. So I must learn all over again, and try to get back my voice.

"You cannot imagine what the talkies are. Sometimes they make you crazy. You must learn the whole play, as on the stage. That is not so bad, only instead of going through it from the beginning to the end, they take the scenes the way they always did with silent pictures, and you never know what comes next. There is no continuity, so that you cannot work yourself up to a tragic moment, a dramatic scene. You must be ready to jump from one mood to another. "It is much harder than the stage. In the theater, you have only to depend on your voice. You must persuade with your voice. The audience does not think how you look. It only listens. But with the talkies it is different. The first thing is your pantomime, because they are movies. Everything matters. With close-ups you can see how the actors look, and you can tell if they really mean what they say. You know when they are not thinking about the thing they are saying. Then, in the talkies, you must think how your voice sounds, how close you are to the microphone. You must mean everything you say, or the public will know. You can fool people with your voice, but when they see your face in close-ups, you cannot fool them. Now, you must do two kinds of acting, with the face and the voice."

It is like Hollywood that of all the heroines coming Del Rio's way, there have been Russians and Acadians and French and Indian, but never a Mexican. She is Ramona to that vast movie world of fans now, and she says that in her fan mail she is addressed quite seriously as Ramona. The role has become identified with her. Yet, despite it, she thinks that so far she has done her best work in Resurrection.

While she once thought the movies a charming diversion, she cannot wait now to be on the set again. And what does she do when there is a moment's respite? Sun herself on the beach at Malibu, where all the best Hollvwooders play. Yet, despite the attack of Americanism, she is too complete a cosmopolitan to go entirely Hollywood. And add this, in giant letters: Dolores del Rio is the first actress, in quite a list that we might draw up for your perusal, who has ever suggested that a part that she wants to play might also be done by some one else as well. It was about a Mexican story of a woman "who might really be called a Mexican 'Joan of Arc' I am crazy to play it. But I think Lupe Velez could do it as well."

And she was on the stage again, bowing low in the white gown, her earring's dripping light on her shoulders, diamonds on her neck and wrists, a movie queen a-glitter. The smooth-haired, somber-eyed girl of the dressing room, with the poise that is not taught in Hollywood, had vanished.

Dolores del Rio says that Lupe Velez could play a coveted role as well as she.

In the story opposite, Evelyn Gerstein gives a description of Dolores del Rio which is unlike those usually written. Seen in her dressing room between stage appearances, she reveals two distinct personalities — one which the public expects and another, too.

Photo by: George F. Cannon

Collection: Picture Play MagazineJanuary 1930