The Original Mexican Spitfire
Hi, I'm Kat!
What I am most passionate about is to inspire you to see that your life is your own and biggest masterpiece.
Lupe Velez was actually born Maria Guadalupe Villalobos Velez on July 18, 1908 into a wealthy Mexican family in San Luis Potosí. At the age of 13, she was sent to the US, to learn English and dance in San Antonio, Texas. Both of which she excelled at – all other subjects she was a rather poor student in.
She was the original bad girl
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Lupe’s start in Mexico
Lupe started out as a revue dancer and was even introduced by her mother to one of the most famous vedettes of Mexico. Vedettes is a French word and describes the revue dancers you would know from the Lido, Moulin Rouge or the Ziegfeld Follies. They dance, act and sing – with flashy dresses and costumes and baring a lot of skin. She was a huge success and established herself as one of the stars of Mexican vaudeville theatre when joining stage producers Carlos Ortega and Manuel Castro. Her suggestive singing and provocative dancing were a huge hit with audiences. When she was refused a raise, she joined another theatre but was let go because of her „feisty attitude“. Not long after she got another deal that payed her what she wanted.
Lupe Velez & Hollywood
How did Lupe Velez come to Hollywood? She was recommended to stage director Richard Bennett, who coincidentally is the father of famous actresses Joan and Constance Bennett. Bennett was looking for an actress that could portray a Mexican singer – and Lupe Velez seemed like the perfect fit. So, Bennett sent a telegram to Mexico, asking her to come to Los Angeles.
And then, MGM sent for her – asking for a screen test. And that obviously was a hit. So, she started with small rolls in Hal Roach shorts.
Her breakthrough role though was alongside Douglas Fairbanks in „The Gaucho“ – it was her first full-length movie. Her first roles in Hollywood cast her as an erotic, ethnic or exotic woman with a hot temper and a short fuse. Magazines nicknamed her „The Mexican Wildcat“, The Mexican Madcap“, „Whoopee Lupe“ and „The Hot Tamale“. She had made her niche as a volatile, hot-tempered beautiful woman. And she excelled at that. She made many more films with MGM – but then MGM did not renew her contract. Maybe just as with Dolores del Rio – they didn’t see much potential for Latin stars and focused on their roster of high-profile stars. So, Lupe did freelance work for various studios in the US, relocated to England for two years, returned briefly to Mexico and then returned to LA to work for RKO. And that is where she made her mark on American movie history. With her Spitfire series.
The Spitfire Series
In 1939, Velez was teamed with Leon Errol and Donald Woods in „The Girl from Mexico“. It was a B movie actually, but a huge hit with the audiences. So, the three were reteamed for Mexican Spitfire – and then led to 6 more Spitfire movies. Velez plays a temperamental Mexican singer that is married to an elegant American gentleman. The basic plot line was about mistaken identities and lots of comic relief. This really refueled Velez’s career and made her the first Latina to headline in eight movies straight.
For Lupe Velez, on-screen and off-screen blurred – she was a hot-tempered woman on the screen and in real life. She is recalled by journalist Bob Thomas to have been „a lively part of the Hollywood scene“. She wore colorful and bold clothing and made as much noise as possible to get attention.
When it came to her love life, they were as hot and tumultuous as her personality and provided continued fodder for the tabloid press. When Lupe was contacted by the press, she readily gave information. She had a relationship with Gary Cooper (who we know had a dalliance with Tallulah Bankhead earlier, and she attributed him to possibly have given her gonorrhea) – during which she chased him with a knife, cutting him severely and after their breakup showing up with a revolver attempting to shoot him. Actually, she tried to shoot him when he was boarding a train to take a vacation to recuperate after the exhausting two years with Velez. He had lost 45 pounds and suffered from nervous exhaustion.
During her marriage to original Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller, the press regularly reported about their physical fights – with scratches, bruises and love-bites all over. Their on- and off marriage lasted about 6 years.
She was also linked to Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, John Gilbert, Errol Flynn, Guinn Williams, novelist Erich Maria Remarque, boxers Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey as well as one of her co-stars, Arturo de Cordova.
Another tumultuous area of Velez life were her feuds with other actresses and vedettes – although they were less feuds but Velez imagined them as rivals. It started early on during there vaudeville days and carried over to Hollywood. One of her most hated „Rivals“ was Dolores del Rio who gained fame at approximately the same time. Dolores del Rio was eternally elegant and polished and a true lady, while Lupe Velez had the image of a wild-tempered sexual woman who was no lady at all. Del Rio was afraid of Velez and tried to avoid meeting her. When meeting Velez would lash out at her and mimic her. Actually, Velez did vicious impersonations of al those she disliked when being at parties, among those were Jetta Goudal, Lilyan Tashman, Libby Holman, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Katherine Hepburn and Shirley Temple.
One of the best-known incidents about Lupe Velez is actually her death. Because she took her own life at age 36 with an overdose of barbiturates.
She was apparently pregnant at that time with Harald Ramond’s baby, a fellow actor that she was engaged with. Just four days before her death Velez ended the engagement and kicked him out of her home.
So, what happened?
In the evening Lupe Velez dined with two friends, retreated to her bedroom and took 75 Seconal pills and a glass of brandy. The next morning she was found dead in bed by her secretary.
Her suicide note read:
To Harald, May God forgive you and forgive me too, but I prefer to take my life away and our baby’s before I bring him with shame or killing him. – Lupe.
On the back of the note, Vélez wrote:
How could you, Harald, fake such a great love for me and our baby when all the time, you didn’t want us? I see no other way out for me, so goodbye, and good luck to you, Love Lupe.
There are different versions of why she ended her life – although Ramond insists that he wanted to marry her. Although at one point he wanted Velez to sign an agreement that he only would marry her to give the baby a name.
There is also the suspicion that it might have been Gary Coopers child – which Cooper himself acknowledged as a possibility, although he was married to another woman at that time.
It is actually not believed that Velez would have killed herself over bearing a child out of wedlock since she thrived on going against norms and conventions. It is rather believed that she was manic-depressive as she showed more and more signs of the disease during the year of her death.
Her death is so legendary because there is the myth going around that she did not die from overdosing but that she got very sick after taking the pills and stumbled to the bathroom to throw up, ,slipped on the floor, and fell head first into the toilet and drowned. Which is not true. But it is a funny story, an urban myth that has been cited and used in Frasier or The Simpsons.
With all my love!