Just another attractive contract ingenue at Universal studios in the early '40s, Maria Montez seemed destined for obscurity until she reinvented herself. Carefully recultivating the Spanish accent she'd lost after moving to America (she was the daughter of a Dominican Republic diplomat) and decking herself out in jewels, exotic costumes and a loyal retinue, Montez became the exotic, tempestuous Latino leading lady of many a Technicolor escapist epic. Though her acting was not precisely Oscar calibre, Maria convincing portrayed haughty Arabian princesses, jungle goddesses and highborn gypsies in such delightful nonsense as Arabian Nights (1942), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1942), Cobra Woman (1944) and Gypsy Wildcat (1945). Her most frequent costar was Jon Hall, who some critics claimed was prettier and better built than she was. A 24-hour-a-day star, Ms. Montez was famous for her spectacular entrances at nightclubs and social functions; once, when her arrival at the Universal commissary failed to attract notice, she turned her heel and left the room, returning moments later with a huge entourage and accompanying loud noises. Her career faded out when the sort of lavishly silly movies in which she specialized were reduced to B-pictures in the late '40s, though she continued to work in European films. The victim of an erratic heart, Maria Montez suffered a coronary and drowned in the bathtub of her Paris mansion in 1951.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Father was the Spanish consul in the Dominican Republic.
- Went to school on the Canary Islands.
- Nicknamed The Queen of Technicolor for her work in Universal Studio's lush Technicolor films.
- Received the Order of Duarte and Order of Trujillo from the Dominican Republic in 1943.
- The airport in Barahona, where she was born, is named for her.