A major star in his native Mexico since 1935, actor Pedro Armendariz came to the attention of North American audiences with his sensitive portrayal of a man ruined by greed in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Pearl (1947). Thereafter, Armendariz was active on both sides of the border: several of his best-known Hollywood films, such as The Fugitive (1947) and Three Godfathers (1948), were directed by John Ford. It is difficult to assess which of the actor's film was his best, less difficult to pinpoint his worst. That would have to be The Conqueror (1956), a moron's-eye-view of the life of Genghis Khan starring John Wayne. While modern-day viewings of The Conqueror evoke loud laughter at its idiotic dialogue and overblown performances, the film's risibility is clouded by tragedy. The film was shot on location in Utah not far from where the U.S. government was testing its atomic bombs. In the three decades following the Conqueror, many of the people involved in the making of the film developed cancer, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Richard Boone, director Dick Powell...and Armendariz. Viewers who enjoyed Armendariz's final performance as witty Turkish spy Karim Bey in the James Bond picture From Russia With Love (1963) could not help but notice that the usually corpulent actor was far thinner than he'd been in such earlier films as Captain Sinbad (1963); the fact was that Armendariz was suffering from lymph cancer. Unwilling to suffer the lingering death that would be the fate of many of the Conqueror participants, Armendariz shot himself in his room at the UCLA Medical Center.
photo credit: Warner Brothers
by Hal Erickson biography