Lupe Velez, The Mexican Spitfire.
The lives of Hollywood stars are frequently tragic and messy tales of absent fathers, cruelly ambitious mothers, and madly dysfunctional families.
Mexican-American actress, Lupe Velez (July 18, 1908 – December 13, 1944) “The Mexican Spitfire” was a beautiful, passionate, emotionally unstable woman best known for a series of 1930’s B movies in which she plays a delightfully scatter-brained character who speaks broken English mixed with streams of rapid fire Spanish.
Her first feature-length film was in the Douglas Fairbanks blockbuster, The Gaucho (1927), where she plays a high spirited Spanish dancing girl. Velez performed in a further eighteen films before settling into comedy–she had a Carol Lombard vibe, a flair for screwball situations, but her accent limited her appeal–most notably in the seven “Mexican Spitfire” series of films (1939-1943).
Lupe Velez and Douglas Fairbanks in The Gaucho, 1927.
In private life, Velez carried on a number of highly publicized Hollywood romances. Gary Cooper had an affair with the dark beauty as did the great director–and ladies man–Victor Fleming.
In a 1929 interview with Motion Picture World, Velez said:
“And Victor Fleming! I like him because he is a devil with womens… But I am more than a devil than he is. That is why I never fall in love with him.”
In another interview, Velez said of herself:
“I have flirt with the whole film colony. Why not? I am not serious. What harm is a little flirting? No I do not kiss many mens. But when I kiss them, they stay kissed!”
Lupe’s casual demeanor was a carefully constructed image serving to conceal a troubled and vulnerable personality–possibly bi-polar–a young woman almost continually in the grip of a turbulent and painful love life.
In 1933 she married Olympic athlete turned Hollywood Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. They fought loudly and drunkenly, frequently in nightclubs and restaurants, hurling insults, drinks and punches at each other. The marriage lasted five years. They divorced in 1938.
Velez’s father, an army officer, was so humiliated by his daughter’s chosen profession that he refused to let her use his last name, Vallalobos. Velez was her mother’s maiden name.
Lupe Velez and Gary Cooper in Wolf Song, 1929.
Esther Ralston, (here’s my three part series about Ralston) a Hollywood star for a few brief years during the silent era, at one point earning as much as $8,000 a week, gives a remarkable insight into Velez’s difficult life in Raltson’s obscure but invaluable autobiography, Some Day We’ll Laugh.
Not too many months later, Gary [Cooper] had transferred his affections [from Clara Bow] to the Mexican bombshell, Lupe Velez. Lupe came to my brand new star dressing room one day to tell me about it. Then she launched into an impassioned recital of the troubles she was having with her mother.
“No matter what I do for her,” she wailed, “I cannot satisfy her.”
“I can’t see what your mother can find to complain about, Lupe,” I tried to comfort her. “You’ve given her a house, a mink coat, clothes, diamond bracelets, everything. What in Heaven’s name is she fussing about?”
“My mother, she say to me,” Lupe explained, “For nine months I carry you in my body. You owe me RENT!”
Velez, in the mid 1940’s, had an affair with a young actor named Harald Maresch, and became pregnant. Unwilling to marry her, Maresch demanded that Velez get an abortion, (Hollywood abortions will be the subject for a future and tragic post here at BH) but Lupe was a faithful Catholic and flatly refused.
The actress, with a weakness for liquor and drugs, spiraled into a clinical depression. Increasingly isolated, the fragile young woman felt unable to bear the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child.
Velez sat down and composed a note:
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
Lupe Velez took an overdose of Seconal and died in her bed–not with her head in the toilet as the ugly myth contends–on December 13, 1944.
She was 36 years old.
Here’s an absolutely heartbreaking clip from The Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event, 1943.
[youtube PnV7Z1qZONg nolink]
Copyright Robert J. Avrech