Mexican bombshell Dolores del Rio’s shameless exploits and glamorous life were legendary in her own time. Called “the most beautiful face in Hollywood” in a town where “Perfect 10” doesn’t even get you a call-back, the starlet still hid immense scandal, heartbreak, and loss behind her exquisite looks. If Dolores del Rio isn’t famous today—well, she should be.
1. She Was a Class Act
At the immense heights of her fame, Dolores del Rio was known for her perfect elegance. She had the carriage of an aristocrat—which, well, she was one—and moved around the silver screen like liquid gold. As her fellow Mexican starlet Maria Felix put it, “She behaved like a princess.” As we’ll see, though, this princess had a dark side…
2. She Had a Disturbing Rivalry
For all del Rio’s good girl looks, she had some scrappy rivalries. The hot-headed “Mexican Spitfire” actress Lupe Velez feuded with all her fellow starlets, but she had special spite for del Rio, calling her a “bird of bad omen” and accusing her of invading her territory. But then Velez took it much further than name-calling.
3. She Suffered Brutal Ridicule
The flashy, seductive Velez would often derogatorily mimic del Rio’s simpering elegance in public, not caring who heard her or if del Rio found out. Things got so bad that del Rio was terrified to meet Velez out on the town, for fear that the starlet would treat her to a personal performance of the scathing imitations.
4. She Was Literally Perfect
Del Rio was considered the absolute epitome of feminine beauty in Hollywood, and everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Orson Welles were in raptures about her perfection. Playwright George Bernard Shaw may have said it best, though, when he quipped, “The two most beautiful things in the world are the Taj Mahal and Dolores del Río.”
5. She Was a Secret Noble
Born in Mexico on August 3, 1904, as María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López-Negrete, the future Hollywood starlet had far from humble beginnings. Both her parents were members of the Mexican aristocracy, and little Dolores knew she was destined for greatness. It’s just she was in for a rude and early awakening.
6. Her Life Got Turned Upside Down
Revolution hit Mexico shortly after del Rio’s birth, and her privileged family was right in the crosshairs. They responded with utterly drastic measures. Del Rio’s father left his wife and his still-young daughter to seek safety in America. Terrified, alone, and fighting for their lives, mother and daughter soon more than proved their mettle.
7. Her Childhood Was a Soap Opera
While del Rio’s father escaped to the United States to seek refuge, Dolores and her mother roughed it by train-hopping to Mexico City for asylum. As if that weren’t intense enough, the aristocratic beauties did it while disguised as peasants. Yes, it’s like something out of a telenovela, but her life only gets more dramatic from there.
8. She Had a Whirlwind Romance
In 1921, the teenaged del Rio’s life lurched through its biggest upheaval yet. While attending a glamorous society party, the 17-year-old girl met the handsome and wealthy Jaime Martinez del Rio and fell madly in love, entering into passionate courtship. Soon enough, the pair were living the phrase “young and dumb” to the max.
9. She Had the Wedding of the Century
After just two months together, Jaime and Dolores married on April 11, 1921. Dolores’ new arm candy was popular among the European monarchy, and they were the toast of the town on both sides of the Atlantic. Their honeymoon in Europe lasted a full two years and included a visit to the King and Queen of Spain. Too bad it all had a heartbreaking end…
10. She Went Through a Swift Downfall
In 1924, the traveling lovers finally settled back in Mexico, posting up in Jaime’s cotton ranch and hoping to rake in more aristocratic dough. Their plans fell apart in a brutal way. The cotton market crashed almost immediately after, all but ruining the newlyweds and tearing their perfect little life asunder. Then, somehow, it got worse.
11. She Endured a Horrific Tragedy
At the same time that her world was crashing around her, the young del Rio, still only 20 years old, found out she was pregnant. It would have been happy news, but the beautiful girl must have had one ugly curse on her. No sooner did she celebrate a coming child than she miscarried the baby—and that wasn’t the only heartache.
12. She Never Fully Recovered
After suffering through her miscarriage, doctors gave del Rio chilling news. She was a high-risk patient for pregnancies, and if she conceived again it would put her life in grave danger. The medics were so worried, they banned her from even trying to get pregnant again. It was a crushing blow, but do you think that stopped her? Heck no.
13. She Was “Discovered”
In 1925, Dolores attended yet another fateful party. The del Rios were entertaining at their house in Mexico City, neither knowing they had a very special guest in attendance: filmmaker Edwin Carewe. Enraptured with Dolores, Carewe convinced her she could become a Hollywood star. And this is where her real troubles began.
14. Her Family Were Ashamed of Her
After Carewe’s promises of glamour and glory, the del Rios were determined to make it in Hollywood. Yet, like everything, there was a price. When they took off for the US, their family nearly disowned them. You see, society debutantes just didn’t become chorus girls. It was Dolores’ first rebellion, but it wouldn’t be her last.
15. She Had a Creepy Admirer
There was another, much creepier cost for del Rio’s fame: her agent Edwin Carewe. Within a matter of days, it was clear that her Hollywood “savior” was more like Satan in disguise. Slimy and self-serving, Carewe was also freakishly obsessed with del Rio’s beauty and made it his mission to conquer her. Spoiler: This gets grosser.
16. She Became the Latin Lover
Like any good starlet worth their publicity, del Rio’s reputation preceded her. When she burst onto the scene in Tinseltown, producers marketed her as the “female Latin Lover” in a kind of counter-programming to the famed Old Hollywood heartthrob Rudolph Valentino.
17. Her Husband Had a Jealousy Problem
Besides having to deal with her low-key stalker Carewe, del Rio also had to deal with heartache closer to home. Her marriage had been fraying since the miscarriage, but—surprise, surprise—the temptations of Hollywood Boulevard only made it worse. Jaime quickly grew jealous of his wife’s fame, and the couple careened toward tragedy.
18. Her Marriage Fell Apart in a Brutal Way
In 1928, with Jaime tired of being “Mrs. Dolores,” the del Rios filed for an official separation from each other. Who knows, a romantic reconciliation might have happened…but it wasn’t to be. Instead, Dolores received news that made her blood run cold. Six months after the separation, Jaime passed on in Germany.
19. Her Agent Planted Lies About Her
Her husband’s passing was hard enough, but Edwin Carewe went and made it terrifying. He took her widow status to mean “free agent” and pushed his aggressive seduction further, even divorcing his own wife and planting false rumors that he and del Rio were an item. And then he took it to the next level—one I didn’t even know existed.
20. Her Spurned Lover Got Revenge
In an attempt to protect her from Carewe, del Rio’s friends in Hollywood insisted that she break her film contract with him. Good idea in theory, but it backfired horribly. A vengeful Carewe started a smear campaign against her, took her to court and then, in a final kiss-off, hired her rival Lupe Velez for the lead in his next film. Ugh, boy bye.
21. Her Beauty Regime Was Demanding
Beauty comes at a great price—or at least it did for Dolores del Rio. She was obsessed with keeping her good looks, and went to great lengths to ensure she was always camera-ready, including forcing herself to complete long sessions of total relaxation each day, lying flat on the floor. She called the practice her “first beauty rule.”
22. Her Second Marriage Was the Talk of the Town
In 1930, del Rio embarked on her most glamorous affair yet. While swanning about yet another party, del Rio met art director Cedric Gibbons, and he quickly became husband number two. For a time, they were a Hollywood It Couple, hosting regular Sunday brunches at their “humble” mansion. But the good times didn’t last.
23. She Was Cursed in Love
It seemed like every time del Rio found happiness, she picked up another curse, and her marriage to Gibbons was no different. Almost immediately after tying the knot with her beau, the starlet fell ill with a ravaging kidney infection and had to stay confined to her bed. Granted, this was a walk in the park compared to what was in store for her.
24. She Committed the Ultimate Betrayal
In 1940, Del Rio met the now-iconic director Orson Welles at (where else?) a party, and it wasn’t long before the pair began a secret affair. This had disastrous consequences. The dark dalliance wasn’t as “secret” as del Rio hoped, and Gibbons soon divorced her. As it turned out, this was the beginning of her Hollywood downfall.
25. Hollywood Punished Her
When del Rio met Welles, he was in the middle of promoting his classic but controversial film Citizen Kane, and the connection was supposed to help her career. It did the exact opposite. Welles’ film caused so much controversy, del Rio’s character in the upcoming Journey into Fear got significantly cut because of her association. And then Welles had to go make it worse…
26. Her Boyfriend Made a Fool of Her
While del Rio was in the middle of her thankless job on Journey into Fear, Welles took a “work trip” to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil…during Carnival. Yeah, this went about as badly as you’d expect. While there, Welles apparently went on a bedroom bender so legendary, the news made it all the way back to his girlfriend in California.
27. She Had a Vicious Breakup
When del Rio discovered Welles’ infidelity, she was so incensed that she didn’t want to wait for him to come home to tell him what for. Instead, she sent him a few choice words by telegram, informing him that they were done for good. That’s when Welles hurt her in the cruelest way yet. Get this: The jerk didn’t even respond.
28. She Had a Scandalous Claim to Fame
Two of del Rio’s biggest claims to fame are also her naughtiest. In her signature film Birds of Paradise, she plays a beautiful native of Hawaii who spends one steamy scene swimming naked. A year later in Flying Down to Rio, she became the first major actress to wear a bikini on screen. Maybe this is why people couldn’t stop talking about her “perfect form.”
29. She Lost Her Father at the Worst Moment
Del Rio had to suffer one last tragedy from this period of her life. Just weeks after ending her relationship with Welles, she discovered that her beloved father had passed in Mexico, all while she had been wasting her time with man-children in the States. The news pushed del Rio to the edge, and she knew what she had to do.
30. She Was Forced to Flee From Hollywood
Bruised, battered, and worn out from Hollywood—and the men who lived in it—del Rio made the decision to return to her native Mexico and act in films there. Wouldn’t you know it? Her journey home coincided with the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, and she experienced a return to glory in her career…just not her love life.
31. Her Boss Was Obsessed With Her
Mexican filmmakers were clamoring to collaborate with the Hollywood star, but director Emilio Fernandez snagged her first for 1943’s Flor silvestre. Except he might have had dark motives. Besides wanting her star power, Fernandez was desperately in love with del Rio, who did not feel the same. Oh yeah, unrequited love always ends well.
32. She Had Friends in High Places
Del Rio was the very epicenter of both Hollywood and Mexican cinema, and wielded immense influence among her peers. Some of her closest friends included the biggest luminaries of the day, from Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to English royals like the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson. In short, the girl could code-switch.
33. She Signed Away Her Life
In the early 1950s, del Rio took a break from her tumultuous love life and jumped into a much darker kind of scandal. Around this time, her cousin came to her with a document to sign that proposed a “Conference for World Peace.” Del Rio signed it without thinking, because who doesn’t love world peace? It came back to haunt her in the worst way.
34. She Became Public Enemy Number One
In 1954, years after signing the document, del Rio was set to make a rare return to Hollywood, acting opposite Spencer Tracy in the film Broken Lance. Then just as she was about to cross the border, she received shocking news. The US government denied her work visa, accusing her—seemingly out of the blue—of communist sympathies. That’s when it all unraveled.
35. Her Past Came Back to Haunt Her
In the eyes of the government, Dolores del Rio was guilty as sin. Apparently, that document del Rio signed had been a communist proposal, and then there were the matters of her association with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo as well as her relationship with Orson Welles, as they were all associated with the movement.
Though del Rio vehemently denied the charges, it took her two years to work in America again.
36. She Lured Bette Davis’s Man Away
In 1951, Del Rio’s seduction skills hit new heights. She started an affair with millionaire playboy Lewis A. Riley that year—and to do it, she tore him away from his current affair with screen legend Bette Davis. Maybe it was all worth it, though: They got married in 1959 and stayed together for the rest of their lives.
37. She Took Inspiration From Another Famous Woman
Despite gaining fame for her acting, del Rio was a dancer at heart. Like most girls, she became obsessed with the idea of becoming a ballerina as a teenager. Unlike most girls, inspiration struck just after she snagged tickets to a transcendental performance by the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova. Darn, I want an aristocratic upbringing.
38. Her Mother Indulged Her Vanity
Del Rio’s spoiled childhood didn’t even end with prima ballerinas. Around age 15, she began to feel like an “ugly duckling”—but her mother’s response was truly bizarre. Mommy Warbucks commissioned a very expensive and very flattering portrait of her daughter to help del Rio get over her insecurities. Supposedly, it worked.
39. Even Her Film Roles Were Scandalous
In a nod to her legendary beauty, del Rio snagged the role of King Louis XV’s scandalous mistress Madame du Barry in the 1934 film of the same name. But this, too, was shot through with scandal. The notorious Hays Production Code censored most of del Rio’s portrayal of the sensual seductress for offending the morals of the time.
40. She Transformed Herself
Del Rio’s move to Mexico also coincided with a drastic change in her image. Although Hollywood had touted her as the prototype of (white) female glamor and elegance, del Rio was done with that and started doing her makeup to emphasize her Mexican features. As she said, “I took off my furs and diamonds, satin shoes and pearl necklaces; all swapped by the shawl and bare feet.”
41. Her Self-Obsession Knew No Bounds
Del Rio might have been elegant, but she wasn’t above a little tacky narcissism. In 1929, she bankrolled a statue…of herself. The sculpture, which depicts the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow character Evangeline, was made in del Rio’s likeness after she played her on-screen. It still stands in St. Martinville, Louisiana.
42. She Had an Adorable Nickname
To cinephiles, the legendary starlet may have been called “Dolores del Rio”—but her closest friends just gave her the nickname “Lolita.”
43. She Was Involved in a Legendary Mix-up
Even celebrities get cases of mistaken identity, and del Rio was no exception. In 1945, she starred La selva de fuego, only she won the part by total accident. The film was originally intended for fellow Mexican diva Maria Felix, but someone swapped scripts and gave del Rio the wrong screenplay, all while giving Felix the script for a del Rio joint instead. Tickled by the error, the women went ahead with the swap anyway.
44. Critics Humiliated Her
By the late 1930s, del Rio’s career had suffered a string of flops—but the final insult was yet to come. In 1938, newspapers put her on a “box office poison” list along with other apparently unbankable stars like Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich. Del Rio must have been feeling low because it was around this time she jumped into Orson Welles’ bed.
45. Her End Was Incredibly Fitting
Even legends have to go sometime—but trust Dolores del Rio to do it better than everyone else. On April 11, 1983, del Rio passed in California at the age of 78, and she did it in complete style. According to legend, the very same day that she passed, she received an invitation to the upcoming Academy Awards. Talk about a glamorous exit.
46. She Received a Chilling Birthday “Gift”
Like pretty much every man who set eyes on del Rio’s perfect face, the depths of director Emilio Fernandez’s passion got truly unhinged. One day, he was upset that he couldn’t afford to buy del Rio a birthday present, so he anxiously wrote the entire plot of their second film together, Maria Candelaria, on 13 napkins as a replacement. She can sense your desperation, my man. But that wasn’t all…
47. She Became the First Lady of Mexican Cinema
Del Rio and Fernandez made many acclaimed films together, with their third film Las Abandonadas even earning del Rio a Silver Ariel, the Mexican equivalent of an Oscar. But with every film, Fernandez got worse, and by the time they shot 1944’s Bugambilia, his obsession with del Rio had become utterly untenable.
48. She Went Through an On-Set Nightmare
The set of Bugambilia was rife with tension, mostly because Fernandez’s unrequited ardor had curdled into violent bitterness. He threw temper tantrums while shooting and fell into rages that scared the entire cast and crew. It was so harrowing that after wrapping the shoot, del Rio swore never to work with him again.
49. She Had a Stalker
Mexican director Emilio Fernandez’s obsession with del Rio was neither pure nor healthy—and he went to chilling lengths to be near her. Back in del Rio’s Hollywood days, Fernandez confessed that he would find out what films she was currently working on and then sign up as an extra just to get the chance to glimpse her from afar. Yikes, bud.
50. She Was the One Who Got Away
In 1954, del Rio made an unexpected discovery about her ex-lover Orson Welles, now long dead. That year, Welles’ daughter Rebecca requested to meet with del Rio. Why the interest? As Rebecca confessed just after the meeting, “My father considered Dolores the great love of his life. She is a living legend in the history of my family.”