Lupe Velez, the "Mexican dynamite" who extended the topic of the explosive and "lethal" Latina
The actress's passage through Hollywood was so overwhelming that it almost drove Gary Cooper himself to his grave.
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"The story of my life? It's the story of a demon," Lupe Velez said quite honestly in an interview.
Why cover it up? Not only was she one of the most popular femme fatales in the Hollywood of the late 1920s, but she was also adored in the industry and feared for her fierce temperament. So much so that many of her fellow cast members, and even the celebrities who passed through her life, suffered the brunt of her violent ways of being and loving, earning her the nickname "the Mexican dynamite."
Married to the most famous Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, the makeup crew could not hide the bites Velez left on the actor's body. On one occasion, when the actress was engaged to the gallant Gary Cooper, she shot him with a gun to prevent him from leaving her.
Her jealousy and her pugilistic fury were vox populi in the industry, but Lupe Vélez was much more than a violent woman, she was one of the first great Latin actresses in Hollywood.
The harshness of her life before stardom may explain some of her fearsome, yet fun, personality.
Born as Maria Guadalupe in San Luis de Potosí, Mexico, and the daughter of a general, Lupe began working as a child to help her family, and even went out to shoot with her father during the Mexican Revolution.
She told her biographer, Michelle Vogel:
"When American children went to kindergarten, I rode with my father in the Mexican militia. I saw many men trying to kill my father. I saw my father kill many. I am not afraid of bullets."
Her explosive, sometimes depressive, sometimes sparkling nature could be due, many speculated, to a bipolar disorder, but Lupe didn't have it easy. She had been living in Texas, where she learned English, and when she returned home she found that her family no longer had any money-her father had disappeared during the war-so she began working as she fought her way into the entertainment business.
Her first jobs in the U.S. were in burlesque, but she soon started to succeed in Oliver and Hardy short-films and as the main character in Wolf Song, a role she got thanks to that same temperament that was the scourge of Hollywood. "
I'm not wild. I'm just Lupe," said the actress, who worked with celebrities such as Victor Fleming and D.W. Griffith, and who was also dubbed by the press in a rather offensive way as "the hot tamale lady" or "the Mexican panther. "
The man who had the greatest impact on her was Gary Cooper. Their affair, prior to meeting Weissmuller, lasted three stormy years in which Cooper lived dominated by the long and explosive figure of Vélez. What's more, if the actor didn't lose his life along with her, it was a miracle:
Once Lupe stabbed him with a kitchen knife during a fight, she also tried to break a train window so she could hug him, and even publicly confronted the man's mother.
In 1931, when Cooper was leaving for Europe, she met him at the train station with a gun in her hand and the bullet almost grazed the actor. That was the end.
Lupe Velez's career was far better than her love life. Her strong Mexican accent didn't stop her from surviving the transition from silent to sound movies, and she even introduced Spanish words into the films.
Her peak performance came in 1939 with The Girl from Mexico, where she played a fiery singer married to an American. It was a role that became so close to her, and by extension to Latin actresses, that it helped cement the cliché of the Latina taking on an industry that produces stereotypes as well as movies.
Her drama end came in 1944, when she became pregnant with an Austrian extra who was leading a double life and Lupe resisted being a single mother. Blinded by the impact that a religious woman like her could have on her career and reputation, she decided to commit suicide.
That day, December 13, after throwing a party at her home, she wrote a farewell letter, dressed in her silk pajamas and surrounded herself with flowers. Sixty-four pills of a powerful sedative put her to sleep so she would never wake up again.