María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez. (Lupe Vélez)

July 18th, 1908 - December 13th, 1944

By Fototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Organización Editorial Mexicana

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo El Sol de MéxicoFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

The records on the personal and professional life of Lupe Vélez is the perfect example for understanding the value of returning to sources coetaneous with the actress. Returning to the initial story.

In 1959, a book was published on the scandalous events of the first decades of Hollywood movies. In spite of it being writing without qualms or basis, it marked the memory of this woman’s life and transformed it into urban legend that triggered mockery, thus losing the chance to understand Lupe Velez’ interesting story.

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo fotográfico El Sol de MéxicoFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

She was born in San Luis Potosí on July 18, 1908; she was registered by her parents as María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez. She kept her mother’s surname as her stage name, and will be known as Lupe Vélez, “la niña Lupe” or “la niña Lupi”. At fifteen, she studied at a school run by Catholic nuns in San Antonio, Texas for one year. Her family enjoyed a comfortable economic position until they lost everything as a result of the Mexican Revolution. Her father actively took part in the Civil War and, for many years, it was thought, mistakenly, that he died in battle. From an early age, Lupe Vélez began to work for her family’s sustenance.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Although sources differ on the precise date, Lupe Vélez was already working in theater in Mexico when she was 16 years old. “There are many mature men who remember that girl with swift hips, who devoted to the fury of Charleston, when that dance reached Mexico, and perched in the dusty stage of the Medinas coliseum, the famous Lírico. Her twisted grin, a very personal movement of hers by tilting her head to the back and squinting her eyes, lifting her breasts; her half open laugh, her voice […] always fidgety and renewed.” (ESTO, December 15, 1944) Actor Roberto Soto known as “el Panzón Soto” mentioned that Lupe Vélez’ first popular major success was the play “Barba Azul” (Blue Beard). (La Prensa, December 15, 1944) She was young, sleek, measured 1.65 m and thoroughly enjoyed dancing in public. In several interviews she mentioned that she enjoyed acting and dancing since her early childhood and was especially happy catching audiences’ attention.

Lupe Velez in newspaper advertisement (SIGLO XX) by Archivo La PrensaFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

In a country that claimed modernity and praised urban life, Lupe Vélez appeared as the perfect icon of a modern girl. Her short hair, make-up, high heels, a dressed targeted for masses, her expression of trustworthiness, the desire to present herself exercising feminine power as the new image of the modern and post-revolutionary Mexico. Lupe Vélez’ appearance in advertising for beauty products became part of the development of a new material culture with advertising targeted to the Mexican middle-class modern woman.

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Still underaged, Lupe Vélez parted from her family, her friends and her country, seeking a new future in a new yet promising industry. Her first steps in movies, even silent. In 1925, Richard Bennett saw her acting and invited her to Los Angeles. The first attempt to cross the border failed; an underaged girl traveling on her own. After a successful second attempt, in 1927 she began as extra in silent movies and climbed fast. In August, she was featured in What Women Did for Me, in September Sailors, Beware! and in November, The Gaucho. In the latter, she danced tango with Douglas Fairbanks and had such success that Walt Disney was immediately inspired by the couple and created a similar dance between Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo El Heraldo de ChihuahuaFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Lupe Vélez embodied an Argentinian woman in The Gaucho and thereafter represented women: Chinese, Franco-Canadian, Caribbean, Native American, Cuban, Portuguese, Latin, Spanish bullfighter and many times, Mexican. She represented all women who do not conform to the American, white and blond stereotype. Vélez became that otherness in strength.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo El Heraldo de ChihuahuaFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Few actresses and actors had the chance of surviving the transition from silent to sound movies. Lupe Vélez achieved it wonderfully and was one of the few who worked in the two versions of the same movie. During the transition and to avoid losing customers, films were made in English and in Spanish. The same movie with a different cast. Lupe worked the same role several times, in the two versions.

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Her role as Carmelita in the “Mexican Spitfire” series (1939-1943) centered in the romantic comedy of an explosive Mexican inside North American society, will set the foundations for the future Latin/American relationship stereotype. This pairing will continue with many more. From Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, until Sofia Vergara in the “Modern Family” series.

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Lupe Vélez also worked in Broadway theater and even in England (1935-1936). Her love life profoundly covered the press’ space. Her intimate relationship with Gary Cooper, the marriage and divorce from Johnny Weissmüller —known for his role as Tarzan, king of the Jungle— and with Arturo de Córdova, to mention some of her love affairs. Reports on her loves and hates went hand in hand with the accounts of her explosive character from huge joy to tantrums. An emotional seesaw probably never diagnosed then.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Her North American films were dramas and comedies where race and gender discourses are undermined using comedy, some of them even lower-budget movies; Lupe Vélez comes back to Mexico to play star roles focused on strengthening Nationalistic agendas. An example of this is the movie La Zandunga. A film by Fernando de Fuentes in which Vélez shared credits with Arturo de Córdova, Rafael Falcón, María Luisa Zea and Rafael Icardo.

Lupe Velez fashion (SIGLO XX) by Revista PaquitaFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

At 26, Lupe Vélez enjoyed popularity, work, economic stability. She frequently appeared in the press and her photographs coated the covers of American and Mexican magazines alike. She knew how to tailor clothes; from the time she began doing theater in Mexico, she got used to transforming her own wardrobe. Her excellent biographer, Michelle Vogel, points that she regarded buying furs and jewels, especially diamonds, as an investment. Regarding dresses, Lupe would design them, and her seamstress would make them. She enjoyed buying very cheap fabrics with models that would enhance her physical attributes.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo La PrensaFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

By mid-1944 she had several offers for future movies in Argentina, Mexico and the United States, and professional engagements for Broadway theater. Many people depended on her work, contacts and income. To begin with, her entire family: mother, sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces and brothers-in-law. She supported them to get jobs and also contributed economically to their sustenance. Lupe Vélez was a very generous woman, with her own people and with strangers.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

“Naná”, written by Émile Zola, was her last endeavor in Mexico. Her working hours began at 5:45 AM and ended at 10 PM.

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Lupe Vélez’ professional life had certain symmetry with the work of Dolores del Río. In the North American imaginary, both represented the other, the exotic, the foreign, the not-so-fair skinned. However, del Río played a more European or refined version of Mexican, both are regarded as a way to search for an imaginary dialogue with the Southern neighbor with whom, from 1930 to 1944, there were several attempts to improve relationship between both countries. In all of that, Dolores del Río played a major role as promoter of Mexican culture.

Lupe Vélez newspaper cover (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

On December 14, 1944, Lupe Vélez committed suicide. She passed away in her home in 732 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, California. The news shocked the public. Many newspapers handled the news as front-pager and continuing providing information days after.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo La PrensaFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Before passing away, she left two handwritten notes, in an engraved paper she always used for her personal matters. Only these two letters and the bottle of pills were in the bed where she died. One of them addressed to her boyfriend at the time. Lupe Vélez was pregnant. She had asked him to get married and, long story short, he said no. In that letter, she told him that she preferred to take her life away than have her baby face the shame that lied ahead. The other letter was addressed to her loyal friend and every-day partner, Beulah Kinder. She asks her to forgive her, to take care of her mother and dogs, and to bid farewell to her friends for her.
That is how she said good-bye.

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

In the last line of her letter to Beulah Kinder, she asks to say goodbye to “the American press, that has always been very kind to me.” Lupe Vélez kept a very tight and friendly relationship with the press. She herself called the reporters, photographers or journalists to discuss either her professional projects or her personal matters.

Lupe Vélez newspaper cover (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

The suicide of Lupe Vélez confronted public opinion. Value judgements established by a mostly Catholic society in Mexico, which Vélez herself shared, provided that both, pregnancy outside of wedlock and suicide, were sins. So, from the religious perspective, she was in a dead end.

Lupe Vélez newspaper cover (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

From a playscript narrative, the sudden death of Lupe Vélez is explained as the result of an outburst before an unrequited love. In the United States, they talked about Harald Ramond. In Mexico, many said they witnessed Lupe’s one-sided love to Arturo de Córdova. Reality seems to point that she did not feel sufficiently strong to face social judgement and the pressure she and her baby would undergo due to the lack of father. This is how cruel rigor can be and lack of humanity entailed in value judgements.

Lupe Vélez in a journalistic note (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

Research following her demise showed that her last two requests for help were addressed to Harald Ramond, who rejected marriage proposal or accepted upon execution of prenups that Vélez found humiliating and disappointing. The second to her sister, Josephine. Lupe asked her to pretend it was her child and that the actress would adopt the baby one year later. The sister said she would think about it, left and never came back. Lupe Vélez died feeling neglect from those she always cared for and sustained. When her last will and testament was opened, then all those who left her to her own future were included in the claims, with Josephine at the frontline.

Photography Lupe Vélez (SIGLO XX) by Archivo ESTOFototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña

After taking an overdose of sleeping pills, she passed away at 36, in her lovely home in Beverly Hills, which is still standing. Lupe Vélez was found sleeping on her bed by her secretary and friend for ten years, Beulah Kinder. She was wearing a silk blue pajama and, next to her, the two handwritten letters. (ESTO, December 15, 1944) Clinton H. Anderson, the first police officer to enter the scene, mentioned that she looked so small in her huge bed that, at first, they took her for a doll. Her material fortune vanished in a quick auction. It disappeared between legal lawsuits to claim her belongings, her money and her likeness. Conflicts sank Lupe Vélez in oblivion from which she is slowly and gradually making a comeback.

Credits: Story

Curatorship, Research and Texts:
Dra. Marina Vázquez Ramos.
Investigation:
Arq. Irina Escartín Arciniega.
Yolanda Ramos Ortíz.

Translation to English:
José Luis Martínez Fernández.

Multimedia Design:
Ángel Alberto Arriaga Hernández.
Jonathan Sánchez Reyes.

Organización Editorial Mexicana.
Fototeca, Hemeroteca y Biblioteca Mario Vázquez Raña.
Archivo Fotográfico El Sol de México.
Periódico El Heraldo de Chihuahua.
Archivo Fotográfico ESTO.
Periódico La Prensa.
Periódico ESTO.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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