At 85, Argentine actress and singer Libertad Lamarque still has the grace and charm that made her an international movie star during the Mexican cinema's Golden Age in the 1940s.
Although beginning her singing career in Argentina at the age of 17, she made most of her films in Mexico after being exiled from her mother country for--according to legend--slapping her co-star Eva Duarte in 1944 during the filming of a movie.
Duarte later became Evita Peron, wife of Argentine President Juan Peron. Lamarque denies the incident occurred, but her career in Argentina did come to an end after Peron took power.
She moved to Mexico in 1946 where her career took off again, acting and singing before sold-out performances, including a U.S. appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1947.
On Friday, Lamarque was honored by Celebrando Magazine, a nationally distributed, predominantly Spanish-language publication. Local politicians and members of her North Hollywood-based fan club came to honor her 70 years in film, theater and music, and her dedication to philanthropic causes.
"Libertad Lamarque makes real the dreams of many Latin Americans," said Celebrando Editor Yolanda Medina C., explaining why Lamarque was selected as the recipient of the magazine's first lifetime achievement award. "With great effort, much faith, and thoroughly convinced of what she wanted out of life, she managed with great dignity to lift herself up from poverty and ignorance--she is self-taught--until she attained the place she now occupies as a living legend."
Lamarque, who has been dubbed both the "Queen of Melodramas" and "La Novia de America" ("America's Sweetheart," in this case referring to Latin America), seemed humbled by the accolades heaped on her during a brief ceremony at Universal Studios in Universal City.
"I don't know what to say. I am very emotional," she said after receiving numerous commendations and plaques while a costumed Woody Woodpecker held an umbrella over her head to shade her from the bright midday sun.
"As an actress, there is no other like her," said Georgina Corrales, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Libertad Lamarque Fan Club based in North Hollywood. "She made good, pure family films. She made you cry and she made you laugh. She is unique."
"Although she is not Mexican, we feel she is part of our culture," said Lorenza del Rio de Icaza of the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles.
Lamarque was born Nov. 24, 1908, in Rosario, a town in the province of Santa Fe in Argentina. At the age of 7, while participating in a stage competition, she won a first prize, and her career was launched.
She has recorded more than 140 albums, the most recent in 1991, called "Nadie se va del todo" ("Nobody Goes Away Completely"). Her debut album on RCA Victor (now owned by BMG) in 1926 included "Chilenito" and "Gaucho Sol," now considered classics.
She has recorded tangos, boleros, waltzes, milongas, huapangos and Mexican rancheras.
She is still under contract to BMG. "She will always be with BMG," company spokesman Carlos Ortega said.
Lamarque made her professional stage debut in 1923 in the stage show "Madre Tierra," and her first movie was the silent film "Adios Argentina" in 1929. In 1932, she starred in "Tango," Argentina's first sound film.
In Mexico, she made films with movie legends Jorge Negrete, Dolores del Rio, Pedro Infante, Arturo de Cordoba, Jorge Rivero and Julio Aleman.
In 1940, she was offered a seven-year contract by Paramount Pictures to come to the United States, but she had other commitments and was afraid to leave her native Argentina.
"At the time I was very scared because I didn't think anybody knew me in the U.S.," she in an interview at the Bel-Age Hotel in West Hollywood. "I also said no because I didn't speak English and that was also frightening."
Lamarque, who now splits time living in Miami, Mexico and Argentina, still doesn't speak English, but said she was able to overcome it because she feels she was born to be an artist.
"I was born an actress," she said. "I make a movie and I'm an actress, but when I sing I'm also interpreting songs like an actress."
At an age when most of her contemporaries have long retired or died, Lamarque says she is far from retirement.
"No, not yet," she says, with a look of surprise at such a suggestion. "I don't know what else I would do. I would be bored. It would be sad for me to leave it."
"I would like to make another movie, or maybe two or three movies. Those old films I made were family films that everyone could watch together. I think people want to see those films again."
As for advice to aspiring singers and actors, she said: "Don't do it the way I did it. I didn't study, but that was because we were poor and couldn't afford it. Young people should study. If I had studied other languages I could have worked much more, especially if I had learned English."