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Velez, Lupe (1908–1944)

Velez, Lupe (1908–1944)

Mexican-American actress. Born Maria Guadalupe Velez de Villalobos on July 18, 1908, in San Luis Potosí, Mexico; committed suicide in late 1944; educated in a convent in San Antonio, Texas; married Johnny Weissmuller (an actor and swimmer), in 1933 (divorced 1938); no children.

Selected filmography:

Sailors Beware (1927); The Gaucho (1927); Stand and Deliver (1928); Wolf Song (1929); Lady of the Pavements (1929); Where East Is East (1929); Tiger Rose (1929); Hell Harbor (1930); The Storm (1930); East Is West (1930); Resurrection (1931); The Cuban Love Song (1931); The Squaw Man (1931); The Broken Wing (1932); Kongo (1932); Hot Pepper (1933); Palooka (1934); Strictly Dynamite (1934); Laughing Boy (1934); Gypsy Melody (1936); Mad About Money (1938); The Girl from Mexico (1939); Mexican Spitfire (1940); Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga (1941); Playmates (1941); Honolulu Lu (1941); Ladies' Day (1943); Redhead from Manhattan (1943); Nana (1944).

An actress who led an uninhibited life and came to a sad end, Lupe Velez was known as "The Mexican Spitfire" in recognition of her personal magnetism, flamboyant ways, and sharp temper. Her youth was a binational one: she was born Maria Guadalupe Velez de Villalobos in 1908 in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, but received her education at a Catholic convent in San Antonio, Texas. She performed as a dancer in both Mexico and Hollywood during her teenage years, and broke into the movies when she was hired in 1926 for a group of comedy shorts directed by Hal Roach; the following year, she appeared with Laurel and Hardy in Sailors Beware.

A leading role opposite actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., in The Gaucho that same year put her in the minds of moviegoers for good. That film launched a period of stardom during which Velez played a series of passionate women onscreen, and lived an equally passionate existence in real life. She had affairs with actors John Gilbert and Gary Cooper (whom she met on the set of the 1929 Western Wolf Song) before marrying Olympic swimmer and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller in 1933. The marriage was a stormy one, enduring a series of separations that were splashed across the pages of the scandal-oriented press. Velez and Weissmuller divorced in 1938.

Despite her personal problems, Lupe was riding high as an actress through much of the 1930s. Winning starring roles not only in the United States but also in Britain, Velez became wealthy and purchased a Spanish-style mansion in Beverly Hills. She became known as something of a party animal. After her divorce from Weissmuller, however, Velez suffered a decline in popularity. In the early 1940s she found work only in a succession of low-grade comedies, and her personal life also ran into trouble. Beset by mounting debts, she endured several failed love affairs. In 1944, she was linked with 27-year-old actor Harold Ramond, and in November of that year, still a practicing Catholic, she discovered that she was pregnant. Ramond agreed only to a paper marriage, and even that engagement was soon broken off, but religious considerations dissuaded Velez from having an abortion.

Instead she planned an elaborately theatrical suicide. After filling her mansion with flowers and enjoying a last supper with two female friends, Velez swallowed a huge overdose of Seconal. She wrote to Ramond in her suicide note that she would rather kill herself and her baby than bring shame to the child. She then arranged herself attractively on her bed and waited to die. However, the combination of spicy food, alcohol and some 75 pills made her ill, and during the night she staggered drugged and vomiting to the bathroom, where she slipped, struck her head and drowned in the water in the toilet bowl. Lupe Velez was 36 years old when she died; the unfortunate manner of her death is now generally remembered more than the fact that it was a suicide.

sources:

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. NY: HarperCollins, 1998.

Kohn, George C. Encyclopedia of American Scandal. NY: Facts on File, 1989.

suggested reading:

Conner, Floyd. Lupe Velez and Her Lovers. Barricade, 1993.

James M. Manheim , freelance writer, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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