Ricardo Cortez — His Face Is His Misfortune (1929) 🇺🇸

Ricardo Cortez — His Face Is His Misfortune (1929) | www.vintoz.com

December 11, 2023

It is a face almost any young man might be proud to own. A more than ordinarily handsome face, dark, romantic, insinuating — the sort that induces lady fans to turn a coldly critical eye on their hitherto satisfactory beaus. A face that fits neatly into the romantic tangents of almost any gal.

by Margaret Reid

In the beginning, producers took one look at this face and cried, in their various dialects, “Whoopee — here’s a sheik!” Because it was dark, they declared it dangerous to women and forthwith consigned it to such roles as required high-voltage s. a. — and little else.

So that, children, is why Ricardo Cortez has no particular affection for the movies and would rather not talk about his career, if you don’t mind. He is in the movies — they are his business and he is a good business man. But he tosses no phrases about his art. To him that would be as silly as a realtor dilating on the artistic message of selling lots. Ricardo thinks that another and more apt name for movies is “grief.”

“Because I happened to go into pictures at a time when all characters were stereotyped, my face has been held against me ever since. And after all these years of being a well-dressed come-on for the susceptible ladies in. the cast, I am pretty well fed up.

“Perhaps it’s the innate vanity of actors that they want their abilities taxed to the full. I left the brokerage business, because I hated the dull routine. I went into pictures, because acting seemed a vivid, satisfying job. But that delusion has been kicked out of me. It is no more stimulating than being a broker. It pays better, but after you’ve made a certain amount of money, the pay check isn’t quite as important as appeasing some unreasonable urge to make more of yourself.”

He is deprecating when he talks about his work, apologetic for referring to a topic that he thinks must bore others, because it has lost most of its significance to him. You get the impression that he thinks he is terrible on the screen. It is almost wistfully that he speaks of the one picture in which he was really happy. This was D. W. Griffith’s The Sorrows of Satan.

“Only a Griffith,” Ricardo observes, “would have had the temerity to cast me as a starving English author. It was a splendid role, and working for Griffith, and with an artist like Carol Dempster, was incentive such as I never felt before.”

It is still, incidentally, remembered in the studios that Griffith, the arch-technician and mentor of every detail, practically gave Ricardo free rein in this picture. Particularly in the scenes between Cortez and Carol Dempster the director almost dispensed with direction, asking Ricardo to follow his own inclinations. These scenes, it developed, were among the most charming in the picture.

After The Sorrows of Satan Ricardo hoped that others, too, might be open to the suggestion that he was not a sheik.

“Wouldn’t you think,” he said lugubriously, “that after all this time I’d be cured of optimism? But I’m not. Every picture I begin looks vaguely promising. My judgment has become so rattled that I can’t tell a good script from a bad one any more. It always seems as though the next picture is going to be better, and when it turns out to be worse I still see the one to follow in a rosy haze.”

Things really haven’t been quite so bad as all that, but he is capable of a great deal more than roles where emotion is subdued so as not to obscure the cut of his dinner coat. In proof is the fact that no matter how puerile the role, Ricardo’s work is as sincere as if it were a masterly one. He never glosses over details, or skimps on concentration. And against that day when he does finally graduate, he has in readiness a wealth of knowledge and technical assurance, earnestly acquired through these years of enforced apprenticeship. Added to this is a nice feeling for characters, a quick sense of their foibles and meaning. His heart was set yearningly on the part of the bootlegger in Broadway. And when Lulu Belle is produced on the Los Angeles stage, if he can arrange for time between pictures he wants to do the man in this.

Free-lancing since he severed connections with Paramount, Ricardo goes from one picture to another with scarcely breathing space in the intervals. Despite his high salary, he is in constant demand by directors who have learned that they can depend upon his intelligent, polished trouping. His fan following has remained, among the dizzy ascents and dizzier descents, stable and inflexible; his rating at the box office has never fluctuated. Even if the circumstances he deplores have worn the luster off Thespian ambitions, they have not injured his popularity.

It is especially ironic that, a few years ago, Ricardo missed what would have been the psychological moment by a scant twelve hours. Rex Ingram, after The Four Horsemen, was looking for a leading man to succeed Valentino. He interviewed hundreds of possibilities and one afternoon Cortez was among them. Ingram considered him carefully but said nothing, and Ricardo thought the incident closed.

At five o’clock of the same afternoon he was peremptorily summoned to Paramount and Jesse Lasky’s office. Lasky was cordial — he had seen Ricardo at the Coconut Grove on the previous evening and was convinced that he showed great promise. When Ricardo left the studio an hour later it was with a five-year contract, signed and sealed, in his pocket. And at nine o’clock the next morning Ingram sent for him, having decided that he was the only logical choice. Told of Ricardo’s contract, the director flew into a towering Irish rage which subsided only after Ricardo explained the circumstances. Later Ingram signed Ramon Novarro, while Ricardo was consigned by Paramount to the type of role which he feels he has duplicated in almost every picture since.

It is one of Hollywood’s many incongruities that Ricardo Cortez should be exploited as a sheik. For, outside of being good looking and dark, he has not one of the accepted attributes. He is a thoroughly regular person — the sort other men like for a good scout. Extremely conservative, he shrinks from the professional ostentation of the film colony and does not participate.

“We ought to feel embarrassed, I suppose, that we don’t live in Beverly,” Ricardo apologizes for the old-fashioned house he occupies with his wife, Alma Rubens, in a secluded section of Hollywood. “But our justification is that here every inch of ground and every stick of furniture is paid for. Even our cars run no risk of being attached. We try not to boast, but it is rather gratifying in this town of mortgaged mansions and bad-tempered creditors.”

Their dearest possession is a diminutive, highly pedigreed Aberdeen terrier named Andrew. Andrew is the despot of the household, with the freedom of any tapestried chair or brocaded counterpane he fancies. Ricardo thinks he looks like George Bernard Shaw. He is shaggy and volatile and, when the mood is upon him, goes through a repertoire of tricks with a faint air of bravado.

A lover of dogs, Ricardo admits that he finds it easier to wax sentimental over them than over people. He reads every known text book dealing with canines and is an authority on their care, education, and characters.

Secondary weaknesses are golf and tennis. On Sunday mornings he is up at six and on the links till mid-afternoon. When Cochet, the French tennis champ, played in Los Angeles, Ricardo and Alma entertained him.

Among their circle of friends are Corinne Griffith and Walter Morosco, Fred Niblo and Enid Bennett, Rex Ingram and Alice Terry. Ricardo rather thinks he would like to live in Europe, having acquired a taste for it during his visit there when he made a picture in the Ingram studio at Nice.

Small wonder that it grates more than a little on Ricardo’s nerves that, himself the antithesis of the sheik, he is eternally called upon to portray one. Since the gods of the cinema are as inconsistent in their maledictions as in their benedictions, it is quite possible that some approaching day may see Ricardo freed of his professional shackles and his talents employed in more intelligent roles. And in the meantime let it suffice that he is, anyway, a very nice young man.

Ricardo Cortez — His Face Is His Misfortune (1929) | www.vintoz.com

Ricardo Cortez left the brokerage business, because acting seemed a vivid, satisfying job, but he doesn’t think so now.

Photo by: George Peter Hommel (1901–1953)

Ricardo Cortez — His Face Is His Misfortune (1929) | www.vintoz.com

Ricardo Cortez, with Lina Basquette, in The Younger Generation, a Columbia picture.

Ricardo Cortez — His Face Is His Misfortune (1929) | www.vintoz.com

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, June 1929