Lupe Vélez
By: William Nericcio | Categories: HiLo Heroes

lupe_velez_1923

With a talent for singing, dancing, acting, and, best of all, comedic timing, in the Twenties and Thirties the Mexico-born LUPE VÉLEZ (María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez, 1908–44) earned the moniker “Mexican Spitfire.” In 1934 alone, she appeared in gems like Palooka (with Jimmy Durante), Laughing Boy (with boy-toy legend Ramon Novarro), and The Hollywood Party (with Stan Laurel); around the same time, she was trodding the boards on Broadway — at the Ziegfeld with Bert Lahr, at the Majestic with Durante (again). Loud, demanding, smart, and with a voracious appetite for men and more, Vélez was a sexy, larger-than-life, ebullient force of the universe — more like a volcano than a spitfire. In Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger described Vélez’s death by drowning — head in a toilet — after intentionally O.D.-ing; in my own book on Mexican stereotypes, Tex[t]-Mex, I read Anger’s version of this event as an allegory of sacrifice: Vélez’s final vomiting an expiation of the legacy of Mexican bombshells. The fact remains that — in an age when Hollywood was busy casting the mold of Mexican criminality and bestiality for the masses — Vélez broke the mold.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Thomas Kuhn, Hunter S. Thompson, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).

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Chicano public intellectual William "Memo" Nericcio runs the Cultural Studies MA program (MALAS) at San Diego State University. His book Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America (2007), is in its second printing and is prowling the corridors of academe in the guise of a traveling show, Mextasy. He also publishes the Textmex Galleryblog.