A Cinco de Mayo Tribute to Mexico's Film Icon, Maria Felix
Maria Felix, often referred to as the Marilyn Monroe of Mexico, earned fame as leading lady in nearly fifty movies. Renowned for her fashion sense and jet-setting image, her love life was as newsworthy as her career.
Widely agreed to be "the most beautiful face in the history of Mexican cinema,” she became a film icon during the golden age of the 1940s - a period of resurgent national pride - and the incarnation of the strong, sexual woman, who would, nevertheless, be tamed by machismo before the end of the movie.
Married four times, this Latin American femme fatale consorted with the rich and famous all her life. King Farouk of Egypt allegedly offered her Nefertiti's crown for one night of love.
Painted by many famous artists, including Jean Cocteau and Diego Rivera, (one of her numerous ex-lovers), who, to her fury, portrayed her in a transparent dress, she also inspired writers, including Paz and Carlos Fuentes. In 1990, an exhibition of paintings in Tijuana by her much younger Parisian lover, Antoine Tzapoff, included a portrait of her astride a rhinoceros.
In an interview Felix once said: "I cannot complain about men. I have had tons of them and they have treated me fabulously well. But sometimes I had to hurt them to keep them from subjugating me."
Born in 1914 in Alamos, northern Sonora state, she was one of 16 children of a wealthy family. She studied in Guadalajara, and later, moved to Mexico City. Her striking appearance - long, dark wavy hair and pale complexion – helped launch her film career, portraying strong women, endowed with intelligence and a voluptuous glamour.
In 1943, her lead character in Dona Barbara won her the life-long nickname “La Dona” with her public. Other well-known films include Rio Escondido and Enamorada, both released in 1947, and Luis Buñuel's Fever Mounts at El Pao (1959). In 1970, she starred in a television series, La Constitución (1970). Felix won three Ariel awards for best actress, and, in 1985, a lifetime achievement award and the Mexico City Prize.
Felix spent her later years living between Mexico City and Paris, where she owned a racehorse stable. Always dressed by top designers, in 1984, was nominated in France and Italy as one of the world's best-dressed women. In 1996, she became the first Latin American woman to be awarded France’s highest distinction, the National Order of Arts and Letters.
She published an autobiography, Todas Mis Guerras, in 1993. Asked once how old she was, Felix quipped: "I have been very busy living my life and haven't had time to count."
She died on her 88th birthday, April 8, 2002. Her body was paraded through Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes, before burial.
Like Marilyn, her death had an air of mystery. Initially deemed a heart attack, her brother suggested that she had been poisoned. Her body was exhumed three weeks later. Finally, the family proclaimed she had died of natural causes and the matter was settled.
Mexican president Vicente Fox expressed the legacy of history and prestige Felix left behind her, "This was a great loss of a great Mexican that brought a great shine to our country…As an artist, she gave a huge world image to Mexico. There have been few of her stature and quality."
Drink a toast to the glamour of Mexican cinema!