A star was born when Mexican beauty Dolores del Rio moved to Hollywood in 1925 and made her breakthrough performance in Raoul Walsh's What Price Glory? (1926). She was molded as a starlet of varied roles and optimum glamour; as with Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, Hollywood capitalized on del Rio's exotic origins to construct a mysterious aura around her beauty. She made the transition from silent films to the talkies gracefully, although her slight accent--that of an aristocratic Mexican class--identified her as a foreign, if refined, siren. Photoplay magazine voted her "the most perfect feminine figure in Hollywood" in 1933, the year that she introduced the two-piece bathing suit in Flying Down to Rio.
Although fair-skinned and of European descent, del Rio never escaped her typecasting as a dark enchantress during the heyday of Westerns and foreign adventure/musicals set in generically south-of-the-border locales. After a scandalous affair with Orson Welles (who left her for Rita Hayworth), del Rio returned to Mexico in 1942 and embarked on a distinguished career in the film industry there, becoming the first lady of Mexican cinema and only occasionally accepting roles for Hollywood productions.
Del Rio's persona and career provide a fascinating example of the ways in which Hollywood fetishized and stereotyped feminine and racially marked stars. Her credits span decades and genres--she worked with such varied artists as King Vidor on Bird of Paradise (1932) and Elvis Presley on Flaming Star (1960)--but the faint glow that lingers from her stardom of yesteryear (her costars, including Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, and Al Jolson, eclipsed her glittering marquée name) is a testament to the tenuous state of celebrity and the international economics at work in the movie industry. .