Her reign was supreme, and she captured the imagination of people the world over. They knew her by La Doña. They knew her by Maria Bonita. Her real name was Maria Felix, and she was one of the most successful and beautiful actresses in Latin American. She shunned Hollywood’s seductions and remained true to her roots, but her script was a drama including tragic loss, kidnappings, bitter rivalries—and murder.
María Felix was born on April 8, 1914 in Mexico. Even by the day's standards, she had an enormous family, with an incredible 15 siblings. Of the brood, Felix was closest to her brother Pablo, probably because the boy looked eerily like his glamorous sister. Creepily enough, she later called him "a beautiful god"—but it got a whole lot creepier than that.
Pablo and Maria were excessively close growing up, and even their own mother didn't think their bond was healthy—or moral. To her horror, the Felix matriarch eventually began to suspect that her sweet children were in an incestuous relationship with each other. Faced with the scandal, the family took immediate and unforgiving action.
In 1929, Maria's parents broke her heart when they decided to send her brother and best friend Pablo away to military college as a thinly-veiled way to split the siblings up. The move was traumatic for the young Maria, and it haunted her forever. Not to worry, though: She soon got revenge on her meddling family in her own way.
Around this time, Maria Felix's beauty became undeniable. Although she was a tomboy who loved riding horses more than she liked wearing dresses, she nonetheless won a Beauty Queen title at the University of Guadalajara when she was still a teenager. Felix was riding high, and all eyes were on the young girl. Yet this also attracted the wrong kind of attention...
Furious with the parents who sent her beloved brother away, Felix began looking for a way out. So when she met Max Factor cosmetic salesman Enrique Álvarez at just 17 years old, she plunged right into the romance. Going into it whole hog, she married him in 1931. Before long, Felix would deeply regret the rash decision.
Married life was anything but blissful for Felix. Almost as soon as he married her, Alvarez turned into an entirely different man. Jealous to his core, he demanded that she confine herself to their home and go almost nowhere else. Otherwise, he feared random men would ogle her on the street. Sadly, though, that cruellest behavior was yet to come.
When the newlyweds did leave the house, one of Alvarez's only pre-approved activities was going to the movies together. Even then, he would hide his beautiful wife from other men. He'd enter the theater in the middle of the film, when everything was already dark, and leave the cinema before the movie had ended. Now that's commitment.
In 1935, Felix received a brief relief from her tragedies. At barely 20 years old, she gave birth to a child she named Enrique. The boy was a bright light in Felix’s otherwise dull life, and—at least according to some—the two had a close relationship and friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. The same wasn't true of Felix's marriage.
Unsurprisingly, Felix was absolutely miserable in her wreck of a marriage, and it all unraveled in an act of betrayal. At her wit's end, the forlorn and desperate Felix ended up having an affair with her neighbor. Her marital sin filled her with guilt...until, that is, she found out her husband had done her even dirtier.
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It's no wonder that Alvarez was a jealous man: He'd been two-timing poor Maria almost the entire length of their marriage. The way she found this out for sure, though, was nothing short of scandalous. The soon-to-be famous actress caught her no-good husband with a venereal disease that she had most certainly not given him. It was the start of the end.
Since Felix spent a lot of time indoors during her ill-fated union, she frittered away the hours while listening to the radio. One of her favorite shows was The Intimate Hour with songwriter Agustin Lara hosting. As she listened one day, unhappy in her nuptials, she told her sisters, “I am going to marry that man.” Little did anyone know, she would be proven right.
In 1937, Maria Felix finally broke free of her marital chains and divorced Alvarez, taking her son and moving back to her family. It was going to be her great escape, but it didn't turn out that way. After her Catholic town gossiped incessantly about her divorced status, she packed right up and ran to Mexico City, son in tow. It was there that she earned the beginnings of her fame.
In Mexico City, Felix got a scandalous job. On the surface, she was just working as a receptionist at a plastic surgeon's clinic. Yet in actuality, the surgeon was using the Mexican beauty as a model to attract clients to his practice, dubbing her "Miss Happy" for her sunny demeanor while she worked for him. Yet the next chapter of her life wasn't happy at all.
Felix's insanely jealous ex-husband couldn’t stand the fact that Felix had taken sole custody of their son, and he hatched a diabolical plan. Alvarez kidnapped the young boy and took him back to Guadalajara to live with his grandmother. At the time, Felix was powerless and heartbroken, but she swore she would get her son back. Did she? Let's find out.
Felix took her threat to her ex very seriously, and she started climbing up the social ladder in Mexico City to get more power. First, she struck up a glamorous dalliance with famed director Ernesto Alonso, with Alonso gifting her a racy pair of silk stockings and taking her to a bullfighting ring for one of their dates. Felix was on her way...and fate was about to help her out.
In 1940, Felix was waiting to in line to use a public payphone when she met her destiny. As she was standing there, she ran into none other than Agustin Lara, the host of The Intimate Hour, and the same man she predicted she would marry. They had just a brief conversation before he walked off, but it would eventually change her life. And this wasn't her only fateful encounter.
In 1941, filmmaker and director Fernando Palacios spotted Felix simply strolling down the street, then walked over and told her she could be a movie star. Felix's response was legendary. She looked him in the eye and purred, "When I want to, it will be through the big door." If Palacios wasn't sold before, he was then.
Over the next months, Felix became Palacios' pet project, and he towed her around to the best parties in Mexico. By night, he introduced her to the industry movers and shakers, while by day she took lessons in diction, acting, and dance and participated in photoshoots and public appearances. Then came her first film—only it was an utter disaster.
Felix was excited for her first starring role in El Peñón de las Ánimas, yet it only produced a huge rivalry. Though she starred opposite the popular actor Jorge Negrete in the flick, her leading man was far from her best friend. Negrete had actually campaigned to get his own girlfriend as the romantic lead, and he was none too happy that Felix had "stolen" her role. And oh, he let her know it.
Every day on set of the film was a nightmare for Felix, with constant humiliations and spats with Negrete. In one particularly bad blowout, the pair had a "direct confrontation" that gave Maria Felix a reputation around the crew for being a hard-as-nails diva. But for all her problems on set, Felix had bigger issues behind the scenes.
The day after Christmas in 1937, life dealt Felix another devastating blow. On December 26, Her beloved brother Pablo passed in Mexico city, reportedly taking his own life in a tragic act. Felix, however, staunchly refused to believe that Pablo did it, and claimed for the rest of her life that he was actually the victim of a murder. And that wasn't all...
Felix's devoutly Catholic parents had a hard enough time with her divorce, and her newfound stardom was too much for them to take. They demanded that Felix give up acting, but the stubborn woman had enough of giving into other people's desires. Still, her happiness came at a heartbreakingly high cost. When she refused, her father disowned her entirely.
Felix's star was now on the rise, but she had a big stumbling block to go: Her next film. Maria Eugenia, which she dubbed one of her "beginner's sins," caused an utter scandal in the cinema world when it showed Felix in a risque swimsuit for the first and only time. She quickly wished everyone would forget about it...and when she starred in one of her next films, they certainly did.
In the early 1940s, Mexican writer Romulo Gallegos was adapting his bestselling revenge novel Dona Barbara into a film, and thought he had found a leading lady in the actress Isabela Corona. Until, that is, he met Maria Felix. When he saw the Mexican beauty queen, he apparently exclaimed, "Here is my Dona Barbara!" Just like that, Maria Felix had busted into her big break.
When Felix starred in Doña Barbara, an icon was born. The titular Dona was a vengeful daughter bent on retribution for the murder of her family, and the film traded on Felix's burgeoning bad girl image in a big way. The movie was an instant hit, and it quickly defined Felix both professionally and personally, with people calling her simply "La Dona" for the rest of her life.
At the height of her fame, the starlet got a very indecent proposal. Overcome with lust, the King of Egypt, King Farouk, reportedly offered Maria Felix Nefertiti's crown—one of his most treasured possessions—if she would spend just a single night with him. Sadly, there is no evidence that Felix accepted his royal offer, but we can dream, right?
In the aftermath of her blockbuster hit, men were falling all over themselves for Felix. Still, she had only one big fish in mind for herself: Her old crush Agustin Lara. They got together as a Mexican power couple, and the songwriter dazzled the actress with gifts of furs, jewels, and a nearly endless string of iconic songs during their famous courtship.
To the horror of her upright family, Felix relished in her femme fatale image like the diva she was, once happily describing herself as “the number one enemy of the Mexican family morals" and basking in how "My legend began to take shape without moving a finger." And now that she was finally a powerful legend, there was the score she had to settle with her ex...
Throughout all her years clawing her way up to fame, Felix never once forgot about her son Enrique, and she knew exactly when and how to strike. With the help of her influential and persuasive beau Lara, Felix went back to Guadalajara, tricked the boy's grandmother, and kidnapped him right back after years apart. When they got back, Felix wasted no time thanking Lara.
On Christmas Eve, 1945, Felix repaid Lara's kindness by marrying him in a private ceremony in her home. For a time it seemed like a dream come true, with Lara even penning his most famous song, "Maria Bonita," on their honeymoon. The melody became synonymous with Felix's beauty and catapulted her into immortality. Her marriage, however, was short-lived.
Although Felix had idolized Lara ever since she was a teenager, the fantasy quickly turned into a nightmare. Like her first husband, Lara had a raging jealousy problem, made all the worse by the fact that the beautiful Felix was one of the hottest box office draws in Mexico at the time. They divorced in 1947 after just two years of marriage...and Lara did not react well.
For a year, Lara nursed his wounds, but apparently not well enough. In 1948, bitter about Felix's celebrity and success away from him, Felix claims that Lara tried to shoot her in a fit of rage. He missed her and avoided a run-in with the law, but it was the irrevocable end of their relationship. Unfortunately, Felix never got much better at picking men.
Maria Felix was a true diva, and she let the lovers in her life know it. When she took up with businessman and baseball executive Jorge Pasquel after her divorce, he was desperate to keep her happy. The love-struck fool even shipped in his private planes, full of ice, to the outdoor set she was working on just to keep his sweetums cool.
It seemed like the moment Maria Felix got her life back together, fate always threw her another curveball. 1951 was no different. That year, while filming a movie in Italy, Felix made a tragic discovery. She learned that her estranged father had just suffered a fatal heart attack. The news, and the realization that they could now never reconcile, shattered the actress.
Felix apparently had a thing for love-hate dynamics, because her next man snack was an old enemy. In 1953, she reconnected with Jorge Negrete, her first leading man and sworn rival. After Negrete, as Felix put it, "surrendered to my feet," the actress found it in her heart to forgive him...and take him into her bed. I smell another ill-fated romance.
Like everything Felix did, her love with Negrete was hot, heavy, and probably not healthy. The couple married just a few months after they began their whirlwind fling, which is nobody's idea of a smart move. Still, it was a bold one: Felix's fame had reached such an apex, she broadcast her wedding live throughout Latin America in what tabloids called "The Wedding of the Century."
In the end, a bitter divorce didn't ruin Felix and Negrete—death did. By the time the pair married, Negrete had already been ill for quite some time, and had been battling cirrhosis of the liver for decades. Just 11 months after their nuptials, while on a trip to Los Angeles, Negrete succumbed to the illness at just 42 years old. Yet somehow, Felix managed to make a scandal out of this, too.
When Felix attended Negrete's funeral, there was no way the diva was going to let her dearly departed husband go gently. She showed up to the service dressed in a sharp pair of trousers, causing an international scandal—and lots of free publicity—in the process. The uproar was so loud, it actually forced Felix to flee to Europe for some peace and quiet.
Throughout Felix's storied career, there was one dark whispered that dogged her. A persistent rumor claimed she had a secret marriage to Raul Prado, a member of the hit Mexican music group Trio Calaveras, in between her first marriage to Alvarez and her second to Lara. Felix denied it all her life...but then again, she had reason to.
If the clandestine nuptials did take place, they were brief and embarrassing. According to multiple people from Felix's inner circle, Prado and the starlet wed in 1943, and then quickly split up just two months later. The reason? Felix's next husband Agustin Lara sent her a piano as a gift and, as one source put it, "Raul threw her out—with the piano." Ouch.
Felix could never be single for long, but for her fourth husband she seemed to finally get something right. In 1956, she ignited a flame with her longtime friend, the banker Alexander Berger. Astonishingly, the pair stayed together for 18 years. It was longer than Felix had been with anyone, man or woman, by a country mile. Yet just because it was stable doesn't mean it wasn't tragic.
Since she had finally found love with a half-decent man, Felix tried to become pregnant again to add to her brood of one and give Enrique a sibling. It ended in horror. One day while she was filming a movie, she had an accident on set and miscarried the baby. Both Felix and Berger were heartbroken, and the actress never had any more children.
Maria Felix's life was dotted with periods of great triumph, and then pocked with valleys of immense tragedy, and the 1970s brought an absolute pit of despair to the star. In 1974, her husband Berger passed from lung cancer just months after her own mother died. The two losses back-to-back flung Felix into a deep depression.
Felix was one of the biggest stars of her day, and her influence was almost mind-boggling. Her star power was so enormous in the Latin world in particular that on one of her visits to Cuba, she asked the President to pardon a man who was set to face execution. Surprising everyone but La Dona herself, he actually granted her wish.
Felix knew her worth, and she also knew herself. Although the media frequently tried to pit her against her fellow Mexican superstar Dolores Del Rio, Felix handily waved away all accusations of a rivalry. As she said, "We were completely different. She was refined, interesting, gentle on the deal, and I'm energetic, arrogant and bossy."
Maria Felix's desperate plot to get famous and get her son back has become part of her origin myth. However, the truth may be much darker. According to one version of events, right after her divorce, she walked into a room and discovered her son Enrique wearing a dress and jewelry. Felix was so angry she beat the boy unconscious, and his father only reclaimed custody to save him.
Whatever the truth about Felix and her son Enrique, their relationship still came to a sad end. In 1996, Enrique suffered a fatal heart attack just like his grandfather, and passed at the still-young age of 62. The sudden and surprising loss shook Felix to the core, and she never truly recovered from his death. Then again, she didn't have long, either.
At the beginning of her career, Many thought Felix had what it took to become a star in the United States, and her agents took her to Hollywood to meet its most famous luminaries, including filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille and actress Greta Garbo. Did Felix care? Nah. She refused, preferring to stay in Mexico to launch her career.
In the end, La Dona went out like a true star of the silver screen. In 2002, when she was 88 years old, she passed in her sleep. Even better, she did it on April 8th, her birthday. Her body is now in her family’s tomb in Mexico City with her son Enrique and her parents. However, even in the afterlife, Maria Felix made scandalous headlines.
Felix had amassed a fortune over her career, so her enormous surviving family were furious when they discovered that the heir to the Felix estate...wasn't them. Instead, she left everything to her driver and personal assistant, Luis Martínez de Anda. The family didn't take the slight lying down—in fact, they started screaming bloody murder.
Furious and in disbelief, Felix’s brother Benjamin went off the deep end and accused de Anda of slaying his sister to get at her money. Eventually, a court had to exhume Felix's remains to prove once and for all that she passed from natural causes. Ignominious or not, Maria Felix probably would have loved getting in the papers one last time.
For all her fame and infamy, there's one thing about Maria Felix that many of her fans don't know: She went both ways. And boy, did she ever. During the 1950s, Felix met notorious Parisian cabaret owner Frede, who had already enjoyed high-profile relationships with the likes of Marlene Dietrich. The women fell into a passionate affair—and its end was even more fiery than its beginning.
Frede and Felix were on-again and off-again for almost half a decade, but after a brief reconciliation in 1954, they had a violent and permanent falling out. Felix was so vengeful over the split, she even took Frede all the way to court for a petty spat, claiming that her ex had taken her jewelry and demanding it back. Though when it came to this breakup, La Dona was just warming up.
While Felix and Frede were together, the artist Leonor Fini painted a portrait of the couple as a pair of flowers, with each bloom taking on their respective features. During their breakup, this memento became a vicious weapon. Felix retained "custody" of the piece and, hilariously enough, re-commissioned Fini to paint over Frede's face with her own, so it was just two Marias in the end. Drama and narcissism in one go, what more can you ask for?
All the greatest artists of the day wanted to paint La Dona, and famed Mexican painter Diego Rivera put his hat in the ring with a portrait in 1949. When Felix saw it, her blood ran cold. See, she claimed Rivera was in love with her, and so instead of depicting her clothed like she asked, he creepily portrayed her in a naked scene. She hated the portrait, calling it "very bad," and later commissioned someone to paint over the jiggly bits.
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