Ricardo Cortez

Active - 1921 - 1972  |   Born - Apr 19, 1899   |   Died - Apr 28, 1977   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Mystery, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Though his professional name was suggestive of a Latin Lover type, actor Ricardo Cortez was actually an Austrian Jew, born Jacob Krantz. He arrived in Hollywood in 1922, at a time when the Rudolph Valentino craze was at its height. Producers liked the darkly handsome Jacob Krantz but felt that neither his name nor his heritage would do for publicity purposes: thus he became Ricardo Cortez, and his birthplace shifted to Spain. Despite the fact that his roles called upon his looks more than his talent, Cortez wanted to learn to act, and to that end signed on for the 1926 film The Sorrows of Satan, directed by the legendary D. W. Griffith. But Griffith was going through a career downer, and the disappointed Cortez left the film knowing little more about acting than he had when shooting started. Nonetheless, Cortez was a popular star, so much so that he was billed above up-and-coming Greta Garbo in The Torrent, her first American picture. When sound pictures came in, Cortez' studio dragged its feet with indecision as to whether or not the actor's voice would record adequately. Cortez took matters in his own hands by starring in a cheap independent melodrama titled Phantom in the House (1929). The picture was terrible, but at least Cortez proved he could talk. On top again in the early '30s, Cortez shed his "second string Valentino" image to play wisecracking urban types, including Sam Spade in the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon. Relegated to second leads and villains by the late '30s, Cortez decided to give directing a try, acquitting himself nicely with 1939's Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence. Eventually Cortez lost interest in Hollywood (and vice versa), choosing instead to dabble in the stock market. Though he still took the occasional film part, by the '50s Cortez was better known for his activities as a member of one of Wall Street's top brokerage firms. Not the only showbiz professional in the Krantz family, Ricardo Cortez was the older brother of cinematographer Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons [1942]).

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