Hollywood’s Mexican Cowgirl

If asked about the success of Mexican actresses in Hollywood I’d have assumed it was a straight line between the early Hollywood successes of Lupe Velez (a comedian) alongside Dolores Del Rio (a great beauty of the 1930’s) to the 1990’s Salma Hayek (who filmed Once Upon a Time in Mexico with Johnny Depp right here in San Miguel de Allende).

However, I was wrong.  In the Golden Age of both Hollywood and Mexican cinema lies a gal that did well in both – Katy Jurado.  Katy did so well she became the first Mexican actress nominated for an Academy Award and the first to win a Golden Globe.  Not shabby for a gal that spent most of her Hollywood career in mid-century Westerns or wasting her personal time with a troll-ish B actor.

Katy was born the same year as my mother, 1924, to equally strict Catholic parents who loomed boarding school in Monterrey over Katy to quell her dramatic ambitions.  Like many a rebellious teen, before and since, Katy, at 15, escaped her parents through a teen marriage and motherhood.

Following the birth of her two children, Katy got divorced at 19 and started her career as a leading lady of over a dozen Mexican films.  Katy then entered the international market when spotted by John Wayne at a bullfight.  The Duke had a keen eye for Mexican beauties and landed her a part in the aptly named Bullfighter and the Lady.

Much like her Mexican contemporary, Maria Felix, Katy resisted going to Hollywood and agreed to the movie since it was shot in Mexico and she could learn her lines phonetically.  Unlike Maria Felix, Katy then opted to learn English and pursue a Hollywood career quickly finding herself in 1952’s High Noon.

In High Noon Katy lost her lover, Cary Grant, to the more whitewashed Grace Kelly but won the first Golden Globe given to a Mexican actress.  Two years later, alongside Spencer Tracy, Katy garnered the first academy award nomination for a Mexican.  (The first Mexican-born actress to win was 2013’s Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave.)

Katy went on to star in more movies alongside Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando, Elvis and Charlton Heston visually proving a Latina could be more than a film’s sultry seductress.

Katy married for a second time after meeting a fellow actor on-set.  Ernest Borgnine, if remembered today at all, it is for playing the brutish cop to his more adaptable wife, Stella Stevens, in The Poseidon Adventure.  The marriage ended poorly and violently four years later.

The lad she should have, in all likelihood, married was Western novelist, Louis L’Amour, who wrote her love letters until his death.

Katy, herself, died at 78 following a TV career as many ladies of her league pursued leaving a 7 million dollar estate to her daughter.  She grew depressed following the sudden death of her son in a motorcycle accident and came to regret her film career feeling it kept her away from her children.

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