Dolores Del Rio, the legendary beauty who won fame playing exotic heroines in Hollywood films of the 1920s and ‘30s—and later returned to her native Mexico to reign there as queen of films—has died at her home in Newport Beach. The Orange County coroner’s office said Miss Del Rio, who was 78, died Monday of liver failure brought on by hepatitis contracted many years ago.
Her husband of 23 years, producer-director Lewis A. Riley, was with the actress at the time of her death, a coroner’s spokesman said.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
Born Lolita Dolores Martinez Ansunsolo Lopez Negrette on Aug. 3, 1904, in Durango, Mexico, she was educated at St. Joseph’s Convent in Mexico City. She was presented to the King and Queen of Spain in 1919 and remained abroad, studying voice in Madrid and in Paris.
She married in 1920 to Jaime Martinez Del Rio, an attorney 18 years her senior, and became a wealthy society matron.
But that changed in 1925 when film director Edwin Carewe persuaded her to accept her first screen role in “Joanna.”
A 1926 role in “High Steppers” was followed by a triumph as Charmaine, the French heroine of “What Price Glory,” the title role in “The Loves of Carmen” in 1927, and starring roles in several other films.
But a peculiar form of type-casting—she once said she felt her name was the first considered any time a “foreign” or “exotic” part was offered—became a major source of irritation.
She was a Russian peasant in Tolstoy’s “Resurrection,” a half-Indian girl in “Ramona,” and a Polynesian in “Bird of Paradise,” and by the early 1940s, she was simply tired of it.
The marriage to Del Rio had ended at about the time she reached true star status in 1928, and a subsequent marriage—to MGM chief art director Cedric Gibbons—was also unsuccessful.
So, she said, “I went home.”
She became Mexico’s leading screen star, winning four Arieles—Mexican Academy Awards—and a Quixote, the Oscar of Spain.
A love affair with Orson Welles, which began shortly after the breakup of her marriage to Gibbons, led her to make “Journey Into Fear” with him in 1942.
In 1947 she appeared in John Ford’s “The Fugitive,” and made “Cheyenne Autumn” for the same director in 1964.