The tragic life of The Mexican Spitfire: Lupe Velez

Although my header says I write about the beautiful side of glamorous Old Hollywood, every now and then you will come across a sad story of a tragic actress that has met the reverse side of the coin. I have written about the suicide of Carole Landis and Peg Entwistle  and also about the sad life and death of Veronica Lake, who died by the cause of alcohol. But the list of tragic actresses ( and actors!) of Old Hollywood is endless, and today I want to have a look at the sad life of a woman so temperamental, that her nickname became 'The Mexican Spitfire'. Those who know the actresses of that time, will know that I talk about no one other than Lupe Velez.

Lupe was born María Guadalupe Villalobos Vélez in the city of San Luis Potosí in Mexico. Lupe was temperamental from a very young age and, after being agressive and impulsive towards her classmates at the age of 13, her parents sent her to Texas to study there and that was where she learned to speak English. After her 15th birthday, Lupe's father went missing in the Mexican revolution. Velez tried to find work to support her family and ended up working in a warehouse as a clerk earning four dollars a week. In 1924 she took dancing lessons and made her performing debut at the Teatro Principal in Mexico City.

It was a family friend who recommended Lupe to actor Richard Bennett, a man very well known in the American theatre. Bennett needed a young actress with the characteristics of Lupe for a stage play named 'The Dove'. Lupe did not get the part however. When Lupe was in California, she met comedian Fanny Brice who promoted Lupe's career as a dancer. When Lupe was about to move to New York city, she got a call from Harry Rapf - who was a Metro Goldwyn Meyer official - and he offered her a screen test. Producer and director of Pathé pictures saw Lupe's tests and hired her for a short role in 'Sailors, beware!' with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Lupe did well and appeared in numerous films in the silent era. Her popularity rivaled that of Clara Bow, whose nickname was the 'IT girl'. Lupe was named 'The Mexican IT girl'. During her Hollywood career, Lupe was also known as 'The Hot Baby' of Hollywood and found  herself playing the roles of 'half-castes' and exotic characters. Lupe always said what came to mind and did not care how it looked socially. She stated:

"To what do I attribute my success? I think, simply, I'm different. I'm not beautiful, but i have lovely eyes and I know exactly what to do with them. Even though the public thinks I'm a pretty wild girl, I'm really not. I'm just me, Lupe Vélez, a simple and natural Lupe. If I'm happy, I dance and sing and act like a puppy without a care. And if something angers me, I scream, and sob, and I feel a little better. Someone named that "personality". Personality is nothing more than being to other people what you are to yourself. If I tried to look and act like Norma Talmadge, the great dramatic actress, or like gorgeous Corinne Griffith, movie's aristocrat, or like Mary Pickford, sweet and gentle Mary, I would be nothing more than an imitation. That's why I only want to be me, Lupe Vélez"

Lupe and Gary Cooper ...
Lupe did her first 'talkie' in 1929 which was called 'Tiger Rose'. In 1929 she also filmed 'The Wolf song' which also starred my favorite male actor of all time: Gary Cooper. They dated together, even though Cooper's mother rejected the relationship from the beginning. She thought of Lupe as vulgar and tasteless. Lupe was indeed a hot mess. She loved to act low-class characters and give parties with "stag films". Lupe was extremely jealous by nature and was especially angry over Gary Cooper's friendship with Anderson Lawler who was known as a swisher (meaning: flamboyant homosexual). Lupe supposedly unzipped Cooper's pants at social gatherings to sniff at his crotch, claiming that she smelled Lawler's cologne.

When Cooper was filming 'Morocco' with Marlene Dietrich, she insisted on being on the set at all times, but with a good cause considering Cooper's affair with Marlene. Lupe became even more agressive as filming went on. Cooper was not immune to his devastating relationship with Lupe; he lost 40 pounds over the cause of three years and eventually decided to leave her. Whilst getting aboard of a train, Lupe shot at Cooper, with a gun and cursing. She did not hit Cooper, but if she intended to will remain unknown.

Lupe and Gary

Although Lupe was a popular actress, RKO pictures decided not to renew her contract in 1934. The next few years, Lupe travelled from studio to studio and spent two years in England making films. She was in her thirties at the time and dissapointed that she never became a big star. She left Hollywood for Broadway to eventually return to Hollywood in 1937. She featured in a couple of films and snared the lead role in a B movie in 1939 for RKO Pictures, called 'The girl from Mexico'. It was a success and RKO made a sequel called 'Mexican Spitfire' which became a popular serie. The movie 'Mexican Spitfire' rejuvenated Lupe's career and Lupe starred in a few more films for RKO, Universal pictures and Columbia Pictures in addition to the Spitfire film.

Lupe married one of her lovers: Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller but it lasted only five years.

Her suicide ...
In mid-1940s, Lupe began a relationship with actor Harald Maresch, and became pregnant with his child. Lupe was unable to face the shame of giving birth to a child born out of wedlock. She took her own life on december the 13th 1944, taking an overdose of Seconal (taking 80 pills specifically (some say 580), at the age of 36.

Rumors go that Lupe was found dead with her head in the toilet; this is an urban legend! Lupe was found by her secretary on her bed in her favorite dress and surrounded by flowers.

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 killin' him.

Lupe was a very complex person and an undiagnosed Bipolar. Bipolar Disorder, when left untreated, ultimately leds to suicide. Lupe was always manic and extremely high-strung. As a result of her moods she had knockdown fights with the men in her life and even some of her female co-stars.

Lupe paved the way for many Latino actresses who followed her in her footsteps in Hollywood. Sadly, the path of Lupe ended way before her time.

The first time you buy a house you think how pretty it is and sign the check. The second time, you look to see if the basement has termites. It's the same with men. - Lupe Velez


  1. My goodness she was beautiful, wasn't she. Thank you for sharing this wonderful yet tragic story. I don't recall ever having seen a film with her in it, but I will look for one now that I know who she is.

  2. It's impossible to hear Lupe's heartbreaking tale and not feel a sharp pang of sorrow every single time, especially when one thinks about the fact that he not only took her own life, but murdered her unborn child in the process. It's such a shame someone couldn't help before she reached that tragic end.

    ♥ Jessica

  3. I LOVE HER and you did awesome!! I am happy I found this entry!!!

  4. What a fool she was!!?? Only Hispanic women or Mediterranean types act like this--full of fury and operating from emotion all the time! What hell they leave behind for the people who have to clean up their messes!

    1. It is not WHERE you are from, it is WHAT you SUFFER FROM. It is called mental illness, and far too many suffer from it. It is DEVASTATING and so DIFFICULT to endure...pray fMor ALL who do suffer, that they may be helped and find HOPE.

  5. Am watching the Mexican Spitfire movies on TCM and wanted to know more about the actress. Sort of sad I did. What a tragic ending for herself and her child.


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