When you think of celebrities from the Golden Age of cinema, it’s not likely you come up with many Old Hollywood Latino icons. Obviously, there’s a reason for that–show business has always been a racist industry, which has made it hard for Latino hopefuls to make their mark. Although this trend has gotten slightly better over time, the struggle Latino actors must endure in order to prove themselves is very real. This is why celebrities like Gina Rodriguez and Eva Longoria are making it their goal for Latino representation in Hollywood to be taken seriously.
Although Latino stars haven’t been as common as their white counterparts, that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. With this in mind, here is a list of Old Hollywood Latinx Icons that took showbiz by storm back in their day. Some of them, like Rita Morena, are ageless icons that everyone knows about. Others stars’ have faded with time. Take a look!
1. Rita Hayworth
Born Margarita Carmen Cansino, Rita’s dark looks were white-washed when she signed onto Columbia Pictures. Additionally, Rita changed her last name from Cansino to Hayworth, dyed her hair red, and underwent electrolysis to raise her hairline. As a result of her transformation, Hayworth was finally able to play the leading-lady roles Columbia had groomed her for. Rita’s most successful role was a man-eating seductress in Guilda, but additionally, she was also a very successful pin-up model. Her infamous picture in Life magazine lounging in bed in a negligee was the most-requested photo for GIs in WWII.
2. Desi Arnaz
Desi Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III in Cuba in 1917. After fleeing the Cuban Revolution to New York, Desi met Lucille Ball on Broadway, where they both worked. Together, they formed a successful husband/wife comedy act. Off the heels of that success, they created the wildly popular TV show, I Love Lucy. The show was ground-breaking at the time for portraying an inter-cultural couple. Unfortunately, Desi and Lucy’s marriage crumbled under the strain of their massive success, and they ended up divorcing in 1960. Desi died in 1986 at the age of 69.
3. Carmen Miranda
Carmen Miranda was born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha and nicknamed the “Brazilian Bombshell” by the American press. She was famous for her signature hat that was filled with fruit and flowers. Although she was the biggest Brazilian star of the 1940s, her relationship with her homeland became strained. Brazilians felt that she was perpetuating a hollow stereotype of the culture in the US. In response, Carmen Miranda stayed away from Brazil for 14 years. Due to her faltering career, Carmen struggled with alcohol and prescription drugs. Sadly, she died in 1955 when she was only 46.
4. Rita Moreno
The Prima Donna of Old-Hollywood Latinx icons, Rita Morena (born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano) is one of the few stars in show business history obtain an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award). Born in Puerto Rico in 1931, Ms. Morena catapulted to fame after her Oscar-winning turn as Anita in West Side Story. Furthermore, Moreno has gone to work in over 150 movies and TV shows and isn’t stopping anytime soon. In fact, you may have seen her as Liliana De La Vega in Jane the Virgin or Lydia Riera in One Day at a Time.
5. Raquel Welch
Another victim of the Hollywood white-washing machine, Raquel Welch was christened as Jo Raquel Tejada in 1940 to a white mother and a Bolivian father. Unfortunately, Raquel struggled with her Latina identity her whole life, and downplayed her roots in pursuit of an acting career. Arguably the most massive sex symbol of the 60s and 70s, Welch later came to accept her heritage, recently saying: “The essence of who I am is a Latina”. She still occasionally acts in movies and TV.
6. Sammy Davis Jr.
Widely known as the only black member of the infamous “Rat Pack”, Sammy Davis Jr. was born to an Afro-Cuban mother in Harlem. After establishing success as a singer, dancer, and impressionist, Sammy became good friends with Frank Sinatra. Due to Frank’s stamp of approval, Davis Jr. a star fully accepted by white America. At the peak of his fame, Sammy insisted that his mother was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to protect his album sales from the Anti-Cuban backlash of the time. Due to his friendships and relationships to white people, Sammy struggled to connect to his black and Latinx roots. He died in 1990 at the age of 64.
7. Lynda Carter
The original Wonder Woman was born in Arizona to Colby Carter and Juanita Cordova. Although Colby was of English and Irish descent, Juanita’s family hailed from Chihuahua, Mexico. After winning the title of Miss World USA, Linda traveled to New York to pursue a career in show business. She soon landed the role of Wonder Woman on ABC, and the rest is history. Now 67, Carter primarily focuses on her music career. Calling herself the “granddaughter of illegal immigrants”, she is an outspoken supporter of immigration reform.
8. Dolores Del Rio
María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López-Negrete was the most successful “crossover” star from Latin America to the US of her time. Born into a wealthy family in Durango, Mexico in 1904, she decided to pursue a career in film after meeting a famous filmmaker at a party. Widely thought of as one of the most beautiful faces in the industry, she was renowned for playing “Latina Lovers”. In addition to being a celebrated actress, Del Rio was also an activist and longtime friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Consequently, Dolores dedicated the latter part of her life to humanitarian efforts in Mexico.
9. Lupe Velez
Born in Mexico as María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez, Lupe began her show business career as a burlesque dancer. Soon enough, important Hollywood players became aware of her and began to offer her roles in a number of mainstream movies. She hit the peak of her career starring in the “Mexican Spitfire” film franchise (named after her nickname). She was renowned for her wild personality and hard-partying ways. As a result, she died in 1944 at the age of 36 from a suicidal drug overdose.
10. John Gavin
Born Juan Vincent Apablasa Jr., John’s family hailed from Mexico, Chile, and Spain. In his youth, he was never interested in acting, choosing instead to attend Stanford and major in Latin American History. However, Universal Studios convinced John to sign a contract with them, promising to make him into the next Rock Hudson. He starred in a slew of successful movies like Spartacus and Psycho, but his real passion was government. Due to both his skills and his background, President Ronald Reagan appointed him the US Ambassador to Mexico, where he stayed until 1986. He died in February of 2018.
11. Maria Montez
María África Gracia Vidal was in the Dominican Republic in 1912. Dubbed the “Queen of Technicolor” by the Hollywood press, Maria was renowned for her performances in action-adventure films. She was discovered by a talent scout at 28 years old while visiting New York City. Universal Studios was impressed enough with her beauty that they decided to mold her after Rita Hayworth as their very own “Latin Seductress”. Finally, tired of playing the same one-dimensional “exotic” characters, Maria Montez left Universal in 1947 to start her own (unsuccessful) production company. She died under mysterious circumstances, drowning in her bathtub from an apparent heart attack at the young age of 39.
12. Anthony Quinn
Born in Mexico as Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca, Quinn grew up in Texas where he had dreams of becoming a professional boxer. After moving to LA, he caught the acting bug and spent the first half of his career playing exotic villains, but never the leading role. Eventually, he became a bonafide star when he won an Oscar for his performance in Viva Zapata! Most importantly, Quinn was the first Mexican-American Actor to win an Academy Award. He continued to work steadily into old age, and died in 2001 at 86.
13. Elsa Cardenas
Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Elsa Cardenas is a prolific actress that has starred in over 100 movies during the course of her career. She made her film debut in Giant, playing a young Mexican bride who faces discrimination from her husband’s white family. She later caught the eye of Elvis Presley whom she co-starred with in Fun In Acapulco. Elvis and Elsa briefly dated before he went on to marry Priscilla Presley. Cardenas still acts occasionally, most recently on the telenovela Lo imperdonable.
14. Olga San Juan
In 1927, Olga San Juan was born in Brooklyn to parents of Puerto Puerto Rican descent who returned to the island with Olga when was 3 years old. Nicknamed the “Puerto-Rican Pepperpot”, Olga spent her youth training as a dancer, at the encouragement of her mother. Although she appeared in blockbusters such as Blue Skies, Olga never achieved the same fame as her peers due to her strong Spanish accent that she couldn’t shake. For that reason, she retired early from acting, choosing instead to focus raising her family. She died at the ripe old age of 81 in Los Angeles.
15. Gilbert Roland
Born Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso in Chihuahua, Mexico, Gilbert Roland initially had dreams of becoming a bullfighter like his father. But Hollywood had different plans for him. After doing some background work, Luis changed his last name from “de Alonso” to “Roland”, which gave him the opportunity to play both white and Latino rolls on screen. A successful actor, Roland was nominated for multiple Golden Globes and received his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. He died in 1994 at the age of 88.
16. Andrea Palma
Andrea Palma was born Guadalupe Bracho Pérez-Gavilán in Mexico in 1903. Although she started off her career as a fashion designer and shop owner, she soon became interested in acting and toured the US in a travelling theater troupe. When she appeared as Rosario in La Mujer del Puerto, she catapulted to fame and became the most in-demand actress of Mexican cinema. Her career as a Mexican actress was groundbreaking and she continued to work on both stage and screen well into old age. She died in 1987 at the age of 84.
17. Linda Christian
Linda Christian was born Blanca Rosa Welter in Tampico, Mexico. At a young age, she became the lover of the screen legend, Errol Flynn, who encouraged her to change her name to something less exotic and pursue an acting career. She quickly found success in musicals and adventure films, but her real claim-to-fame was her personal life. Linda had various marriages and love affairs that kept the tabloids talking around the clock. She died in 2011 at the age of 87.
18. Ramon Novarro
Ramon was born José Ramón Gil Samaniego to influential Mexican parents. After moving to Los Angeles to flee the Mexican Revolution, Novarro pursued a career in acting where he appeared in silent films in a few minor rolls. After changing his last name to “Novarro”, his career began to take off and he quickly gained the status of a sex symbol. At the peak of his career, he was making $100,000 per movie–a gigantic sum for the time. A closeted gay man, Ramon struggled with his sexuality and relied primarily on sex workers to fulfill his desires. In 1968, he was murdered in his home when a rendezvous with two escorts turned violent.
19. Anita Page
Anita Page, born Anita Evelyn Pomares in New York to Salvadoran parents, was a silent film superstar in the 20s and 30s. At the height of her fame, she was receiving more fan mail than any other female star of the time. Anita changed her last name to “Page” in order to play roles outside of the “Latina Lover” stereotype. Surprisingly, Anita announced her announced her early retirement from the screen at the tender age of 23. She later revealed that she left show business due to constant sexual harassment from an MGM executive. She died in 2008 at the age of 98.
20. Katy Jurado
Katy Jurado, aka María Cristina Estela Marcela Jurado García, began her acting career in Mexican cinema as a teenager, where she became successful in her own right. However, her career really took off when she transitioned to American cinema. Notably, Jurado specialized in Hollywood Westerns, and even became the first Latina ever nominated for an Oscar for her work in Broken Lance. Later on, she continued to work in both Mexican and American cinema until her death in 2002.
Recommend this story by clicking the share button below!
Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at email@example.com