María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete was a niña bien (high-society girl) born in Victoria de Durango in Durango, Mexico on August 3, 1904.
She had a Hollywood career in the 1920s and 30s staring in silent movies and then was part of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema from the 1935 – 1964. She returned to Hollywood in the 1960s.
Del Río is remembered as one of the great Hollywood beauties. In 1933, “Photoplay” magazine named her “the most perfect female figure in Hollywood.” It sounds glamorous, but working in that era was difficult even for big stars.
Racism meant being cast in sexual or subservient roles. That’s hard work for a high-class woman. Del Río paved the way for Mexican-American actresses to follow. She always dreamed of showing the real Mexico in all its dignity and beauty. The movie publicity photo from 1961 is telling. She is beautiful, but there is a sadness in her eyes.
The best description of the situation (which continues today) is Del Río’s own words.
What [Hollywood] needs is a high-society Mexican woman, one who may have been exposed to foreign culture and customs through travel, but who maintains our customs and the traces of our Mexican land. And then the vulgar picturesque type, so damaging because it falsifies our image, will disappear naturally …. This is my goal in Hollywood: all my efforts are turned toward filling this gap in the cinema …. If I achieve this it will the height of my artistic ambition and perhaps a small glory for Mexico.”Dolores Del Río
This is from an academic paper “From Hollywood and Back: Dolores Del Rio, a trans (national) star” by Ana M. Lopez in 1998. Lopez cites “Nascimiento de un mito” (Birth of a Myth) by De los Reyes.
Today we can build on Del Rio’s words to say that participating in society at the highest levels will be perhaps a small glory for Mexico, but a great glory for the United States.
Dolores Del Río died in Newport Beach, California in 1983. She is buried at the Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City, Mexico.