Born into an aristocratic Mexican family, actress Dolores Del Rio was the daughter of a prominent banker. After a convent education, she was married at age 16 to writer Jaime Del Rio, whose name she retained long after the marriage had dissolved. The second cousin of silent film star Ramon Novarro, Del Rio was a regular guest at Hollywood parties; at one of these, director Edwin Carewe, struck by her dazzling beauty, felt she'd be perfect for a role in his upcoming film Joanna (1925). Stardom followed rapidly, with Del Rio achieving top billing in several major silent productions, including What Price Glory? (1927), as the French coquette Charmaine, and The Loves of Carmen (1927), in the title role. Since Del Rio spoke fluent English, the switch-over to sound posed no problem for her, though her marked Hispanic accent limited her range of roles. Most often, she was cast on the basis of beauty first, talent second; she is at her most alluring in 1932's Bird of Paradise, in which she appears all but nude in some sequences. Del Rio looked equally fetching when fully clothed, as in the title role of Madame Du Barry (1934). Upon the breakup of her second marriage to art director Cedric Gibbons, the graceful, intelligent Del Rio became the most eligible "bachelor girl" in Hollywood; one of her most ardent suitors was Orson Welles, ten years her junior, who cast her in his 1942 RKO production Journey Into Fear. In 1943, Del Rio returned to Mexico to star in films, negotiating a "percentage of profits" deal which increased her already vast fortune. Enormously popular in her native country, Del Rio returned only occasionally to Hollywood, usually at the request of such long-standing industry friends as director John Ford. Her seemingly ageless beauty and milk-smooth complexion was the source of envy and speculation; from all accounts, she used no cosmetic surgery, maintaining her looks principally through a diligent (and self-invented) diet and exercise program. Even as late as 1960, she looked far too young to play Elvis Presley's mother in Flaming Star. Del Rio retired from filmmaking in 1978, choosing to devote her time to managing her financial and real estate holdings, and to her lifelong hobbies of writing and painting.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Family fled to Mexico City when she was five to escape the Mexican Revolution.
- Studied the arts from the French nuns who taught at the private school she attended.
- Further studied the arts during a two year honeymoon in Europe following her marriage at the age of 16.
- Was discovered by director Edwin Carewe, who observed her dancing the tango at a dinner party.
- Was targeted by the Hollywood "red scare," and was denied a visa in 1954 based on accusations of Communist ties.
- Met her third husband, stage director Lewis Riley, upon embarking upon a career in the Mexican theater in the late 1950's.