The Face of Deco: Dolores Del Rio by annette bochenek
“Take care of your inner beauty, your spiritual beauty, and that will reflect in your face. We have the face we created over the years. Every bad deed, every bad fault will show on your face. God can give us beauty and genes can give us our features, but whether that beauty remains or changes is determined by our thoughts and deeds.” ~ Dolores del Rio
“The two most beautiful things in the world are the Taj-Mahal and Dolores del Río.” –George Bernard Shaw
I think it’s high time that I introduced you to someone I’m sure you’d love to meet. Sure, she can be a little eccentric and a bit unusual, but at heart, she’s a dreamer like the rest of us. Dress to impress–because you’re going on a date with Deco!
Deco has swooping eyebrows. It has hypnotizing eyes, and sleek, shiny hair. It has luscious lips, a great taste in fashion, and an overall look of sophisticated mischief. Yes, if Deco had a face, it would look a lot like Dolores del Río.
Born in Durango, Mexico, María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López Negrete was the child of a wealthy bank director and his wife. They enjoyed a lavish life of luxury, until their riches were lost due to the Mexican Revolution in 1916. However, an artistically inclined Dolores aimed to regain the original lifestyle of her family through the performing arts.
A young Dolores maintained her studies in Mexico City. She performed as a dancer, married a man 18 years her senior, and was discovered by First National Films Director Edwin Carewe while dancing a tango. Packing up with a dream of starring in motion pictures and a husband who wanted to write Hollywood scripts, she picked up her stage surname—del Río—and headed for California and stardom at the age of 21.
While del Río went on to achieve swift fame as the first Mexican movie star, her marriage ended shortly after the release of her first film Joanna (1925). Nonetheless, her film’s sudden success propelled her to prominence and initiated her image as “the female Valentino.” Thanks to her exotic beauty, she replaced the then-popular fair-haired heroines with critical successes such as Ramona (1928) and Evangeline (1929).
Most notably, Dolores set the standard for women’s style in the 1930s, and debatably influenced Joan Crawford’s sculpted look. Rather than perpetuating a thick layer of make-up with tiny Cupid’s bow lips, del Río chose to emphasize her angular face. She instead accentuated her large lips with heavy rouge and arched her dark eyebrows in a way that complimented her defined facial structure. Additionally, she wore her shadowy tresses in a flowing, relaxed fashion.
Dolores’ new look did not go unnoticed in Hollywood. She possessed a face and features made for film. Mesmerizing shadows danced across her fashionable face in black and white cinema screens. She wore sleek gowns with grace, and entranced the camera with the dark glamour of her eyes. Dolores del Río exuded radiance, and many wished to parallel her seductive, yet elegant, image.
But where to begin? Dolores made the mystique of her beauty seem so natural. Rumors regarding her beauty regimen proposed she slept 16 hours each day, and enjoyed a diet of orchid petals. Whether or not this is true, whatever del Río actually did do absolutely worked. Stars such as Greta Garbo even expressed an admiration for her beauty. Marlene Dietrich herself thought of del Río as, unquestionably, “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.”
“Exercise, diet, beauty treatments– these things are all a complete waste of time because everyone must get older. If women were more sensible they would cease going to beauty parlors for facials and would instead lie down quietly in the peace of their bedrooms for the same length of time and arise more beautiful in face and more peaceful in spirit. The fact that I’m aging makes me a part of life, a part of the bigger scheme of existence… It is my mind, not my body, that I am trying to preserve, because it is through the mind that I can stay young.” ~ Dolores del Rio, 1964
In 1930, Dolores married acclaimed Hollywood Art Director Cedric Gibbons after meeting him at a party organized by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and actress Marion Davies. Ever the glitzy couple, Dolores and Cedric embraced the Deco era by building an Art Deco estate in Santa Monica. Their glamorous home attracted visits from other high-profile Hollywood personalities, such as Dietrich, Flynn, Wray, Bennett, Loy, Gable, and many more. In fact, their vintage home stands available on the market today at an estimated $12.5 million.
With sound films gaining popularity, del Río also scored successes in films such as Bird of Paradise (1932), Flying Down to Rio (1933), Madame Du Barry (1934), Wonder Bar (1934), and Journey Into Fear (1942).
While her career as a silent siren began to be questioned with the rise of talkies, so did her relationship with Gibbons. A whirlwind romance with Orson Welles contributed to the divorce, but Mexican film director Emilio Fernandez (whom del Río introduced to Gibbons as his model for the “Oscar” statuette) cast her in the Spanish film, Flor Silvestre (1942). As a result, Dolores del Río became the most famous movie star in Mexico.
Returning to Mexico, Dolores continued to portray roles as a Mexican beauty. She also added credits in theater and television to her already impressive repertoire and involved herself in many actors’ union activities. Dolores was also a proponent of Montessori education, helping to teach children about music, dance, and the arts.
The Dolores del Río “look” is almost everywhere in the Deco films, coinciding with the high points of her career. She set a trend for beauty, while continually embracing and returning to her Mexican heritage. She brought her culture and dramatic image to the screen, standing out in an industry of flaxen-haired heroines. Moreover, her radiance and charisma continue to enchant film fanatics today, and truly make her a legendary Hollywood star in her own right.
Dolores del Río is, quite simply, the face of Deco.