Monday, November 24, 2008

Lupe Velez (Suicide)

Vélez was born María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez in the city of San Luis Potosí in Mexico, the daughter of an army officer and his wife, an opera singer. Her father refused to let her use his last name in theater, so she used her mother's maiden name. Lupe was educated at a convent school in Texas before finding work as a sales assistant. She took dancing lessons and in 1924, made her performing debut at the Teatro Principal. She moved to California that year and was first cast in movies by Hal Roach.
Vélez's first feature-length film was
Douglas Fairbanks's (1927); the next year, she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, the young starlets deemed to be most promising for movie stardom. Most of her early films cast her in exotic or ethnic roles (Hispanic, Native American, French, Russian, even Asian).
Within a few years Vélez found her niche in comedies, playing beautiful but volatile foils to comedy stars. Her slapstick battle with
Laurel and Hardy in Hollywood Party and her dynamic presence opposite Jimmy Durante in Palooka (both 1934) are typically enthusiastic Vélez performances. She was featured in the final Wheeler & Woolsey comedy, High Flyers (1937), doing impersonations of Simone Simon, Dolores del Rio, and Shirley Temple.
Vélez was now nearing 30 and hadn't yet become a major star. Disappointed, she left
Hollywood for Broadway. In New York, she landed a role in You Never Know, a short-lived Cole Porter musical. After the run of You Never Know, Vélez looked for film work in other countries. Returning to Hollywood in 1939, she snared the lead in a B comedy for RKO Radio Pictures, The Girl from Mexico. She established such a rapport with co-star Leon Errol that RKO made a quick sequel, Mexican Spitfire, which became a very popular series. Vélez perfected her comic character, indulging in broken-English malaprops, troublemaking ideas, and sudden fits of temper bursting into torrents of Spanish invective. She occasionally sang in these films, and often displayed a talent for hectic, visual comedy. Vélez enjoyed making these films and can be seen openly breaking up at Leon Errol's comic ad libs.
The Spitfire films rejuvenated Lupe Vélez's career, and for the next few years she starred in musical and comedy features for RKO,
Universal Pictures, and Columbia Pictures in addition to the Spitfire films. In one of her last films, Columbia's Redhead from Manhattan, she played a dual role: one in her exaggerated comic dialect, and the other in her actual speaking voice, which was surprisingly fluid and had only traces of a Mexican accent.
Lupe Vélez was very popular with Spanish-speaking audiences, and lent her services toward improving the film industry in
Emotionally generous, passionate, and high-spirited, Vélez had a number of highly publicized affairs, including a particularly emotionally draining one with
Gary Cooper, before marrying Olympic athlete Johnny Weissmuller (of 'Tarzan' fame) in 1933. The fraught marriage lasted five years; they repeatedly split and finally divorced in 1938. In 1943, she returned to Mexico and starred in an adaptation of Emile Zola's Nana (1944), which was well received. Subsequently, she returned to Hollywood. Death: In the mid-1940s, she had a relationship with the young actor Harald Maresch, and became pregnant with his child. Vélez, following her Catholic upbringing, refused to have an abortion. Unable to face the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child, she decided to take her own life. Her suicide note read, "To Harald, may God forgive you and forgive me too but I prefer to take my life away and our baby's before I bring him with shame or killing him, Lupe." She retired to bed after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. According to newspaper accounts, her body was found by her secretary and companion for ten years, Beulah Kinder.
Andy Warhol's film, Lupe (1965), is loosely based on this fateful night. Suggesting that she was found with her head in the toilet due to nausea caused by the overdose. Another report says she tripped and fell head-first into the toilet knocking herself unconscious and drowning. However, Kinder reports finding Velez peacefully asleep in her bed.
There is skepticism surrounding whether it was simply the shame of bearing an illegitimate child that led Velez to end her life. Throughout her life she showed signs of extreme emotion; mania and depression. Consequently it has been suggested that Velez suffered from
bipolar disorder, which left untreated ultimately led to her suicide. After all, Velez was known for her defiance of contemporary moral convention, and it seems unlikely that she could not have reconciled an "illegitimate child."[1]
The mortal remains of Lupe Vélez, are deposited in the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres in México City.
Vélez's death was mentioned in the first episode of the sitcom
Frasier. Roz tells the story to Frasier -- the "head in the toilet" version.
In an episode of
The Simpsons titled "Homer's Phobia," a new family friend, John, tells the Simpsons that Lupe Vélez bought "the toilet that she drowned in" from a store in Springfield.

No comments: