Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lupita Tovar: Mexican film legend turns ninety-eight.

By Alejandra Espasande Bouza

"Y digo yo, bueno, lo que nunca me esperaba yo. En primer lugar yo nunca pense en ser actriz y con un padre que teniamos tan estricto y nunca ibamos al cine. Usted se imagina, de repente alguien me ve en la escuela y me hacen la prueba y de la prueba vino todo esto"

"I never considered becoming an actress with such a strict father. We never went to the movies. Then, out of a sudden, somebody spots me at school, I do a screen test and from there it all began". 

~Interview w/ Lupita Tovar (2007)~

Lupita Tovar daughter of Maria Sullivan and Egidio Tovar was born in Oaxaca (Mexico) on July 27, 1910, a year that witnessed the downfall of President Porfirio Díaz and the birth of the revolution.

Her film career began to shape in 1928 when Tovar auditioned for a contest, organized by El Universal Ilustrado newspaper. The judge was none other than filmmaker Robert Flaherty who chose her the winner of a contract with Fox film studios. In November of that same year, Tovar arrived in Hollywood accompanied by her grandmother Lucy Slocum Sullivan.

Following bit parts in three films directed in 1929, The veiled woman, King of the Khyber Rifles and The Cock Eyed World, Tovar joined Universal studios. The transition from silent films to "talkies" had started and Hollywood - in an effort to retain foreign audiences- began producing different language film versions of a same film.

It was during this period that Tovar was assigned the starring role of La Voluntad del Muerto (1930), Spanish film version of Universal's The Cat Creeps (1930). In December of 1930, Tovar returned to Mexico for the premiere of the film. Images of her arrival illustrate the excitement of the fans and the satisfaction of the young starlet who had met the expectations of her nation. During her stay Tovar had an important meeting with Carlos Noriega Hope and producer Juan de la Cruz Alarcón. Noriega Hope, editor of El Universal Ilustrado, represented an important group of film critics that scrutinized what they considered the often deplorable results of Hollywood Spanish films, productions that congregated under one film actors from different regions of Latin America and Spain, whose accents proved unnerving for the Mexican audiences. Juan de la Cruz Alarcón was a successful businessman who had fought in the revolution and who had turned his attention to the distribution and exhibition of films.

Noriega Hope and Alarcón had come with an offer, the starring role in a film that was to be the first sound film made in Mexico. The film was to be based in Santa, a novel previously adapted to the screen in 1918 by Luis G. Peredo. A meeting was arranged to introduce Tovar to the author, Federico Gamboa, who in turn introduced the actress to Emerenciana, the old lady whose life story had served as the basis for the novel. The event was documented by Noriega Hope in an article: "I remember her temper [Emerenciana's] when accusing Gamboa of portraying her as a bad woman. And Federico, a gentleman at heart, smiled and took some photographs with Emerenciana and Lupita."

Tovar returned to Hollywood and the plans of filming Santa were left in the hands of Juan de la Cruz Alarcón. At first he tried pitching the film to US producers, but none were interested in the project, in consequence Alarcón amassed the backing of local colleagues and founded the Compañia Nacional Productora de Películas in collaboration with Gustavo Saenz de Sicilia, Felipe Mier, Jack Epstein and Eduardo de la Parra, among others. The film adaptation of Santa was commissioned to Carlos Noriega Hope.

Alarcón hired talent from Hollywood that included Mexican actors Lupita Tovar and Ernesto Guillen (aka Donald Reed), another actor, Antonio Moreno, a native of Spain with a consolidated career in Hollywood, was assigned the direction of the film and Alex Phillips, a native of Canada, was in charge of the cinematography.

The most crucial element for the making of Santa – the sound film recording – was assigned to two very unlikely characters. During a trip to rent a sound recording system, Alarcón found his budget unable to meet the pricy demands of the Hollywood companies and was preparing to depart when he was met at Burbank airport by two young Mexican brothers. Joselito and Roberto Rodríguez explained to Alarcón the capabilities of their invention, the Rodriguez Bros. Sound Recording system. Skeptical, Alarcón promised a future meeting to test the equipment. The brothers explained that their system was lightweight and that their conversation had been recorded all throughout. The sound test was shipped to Mexico and the brothers got the job.

The film depicts the story of Santa (Lupita Tovar) a naive girl who is seducedand then abandoned by a soldier (Ernesto Guillen). The misstep lands her out of her house and into a brothel where Santa is met by the character of Hipolito (Carlos Orellana), a blind pianist who expresses his love through the performance of the film's theme song composed by Agustin Lara.

Excerpt of Agustin Lara performing "Santa".

"In the eternal night of my despair. You've been the star that brightens up my sky. And I've imagined your rare beauty which has illuminated my darkness."

"En la eterna noche de mi desconsuelo tu has sido la estrella que alumbra mi cielo. Y yo he adivinado tu rara hermosura que ha iluminado toda mi negrura."

Santa premiered in Los Angeles at the California Theater, on May 20th of 1932. The event gathered the likes of Jose Mojica, Luana Alcañiz, Mona Maris, Ernesto Vilches, Jose Crespo, Mimi Aguglia, Ramon Pereda, Adriana Lamar, Barry Norton, Conchita Ballesteros, actors who had come the world over to join the Hollywood "Hispanic" film productions, and who had witnessed in Santa the promise of an emerging Spanish language film industry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

19 years in Los Angeles!

On July 10th 1989 I first set foot on US soil: to be precise, nineteen years ago.
I arrived in the States from Madrid. A quick, extremely humid, night in Miami was followed by a morning trip to the airport where I was to embark with my family to our final destination, Los Angeles.

After so many years I have maintained the fresh perspective of a tourist living in a city that never fails to surprise me. And thus the idea, what a better subject to blog about than the experience of living in Los Angeles, its places and people.