Pioneer, Feminist, Proud Mexican: Katy Jurado Changed Hollywood In The 1950s
Whether you know Katy Jurado from your Mexican mami calling every one of her friend’s daughter’s “the next Katy Jurado” or from her actual 1940’s Golden Age of Mexican cinema films, Katy Jurado is a Latino household name.
She was stunning and often played the archetype of a villainous “femme fatale” that every Feminism 101 class studies. Above all, she was a pioneer for Latinas everywhere.
Her full name is María Cristina Estela Marcela Jurado García.
Born in Guadalajara, to Luis Jurado Ochoa and Vicenta Estela García de la Garza. Luis was an lawyer and Vicenta was a singer. Vicenta’s brother, Katy’s uncle, was famous musician Belisario de Jesús García (think “Las Cuatro Milpas”).
Jurado was a Capricorn.
She was born on January 16, 1924, and like a true Capricorn, she had major career ambitions. While she went to a school run by Guadalupe nuns, by the time she was a teenager, producers were inviting her to work as an actress.
She signed her first contract without permission from her parents, making her first film when she was 16.
When her parents found out, they threatened to send her to a boarding school in Monterrey. However, that did not deter her for chasing her dreams.
Her family was so wealthy, they owned most of Texas until the Revolution.
Her parents’ holdings were confiscated during the Mexican Revolution, and the parental power mostly laid in Jurado’s abuelita.
Think of her as the Silver Screen Veronica Lodge. She was so set on pursuing her career, that she ended up working as a movie columnist and bullfight critic to support herself.
Jurado’s love for bullfighting won over John Wayne himself.
Her work as a movie columnist and bullfight critic landed her within sight of John Wayne at a bullfight. He immediately cast her in his film Bullfighter and the Lady (1951).
They also briefly dated, va va voom.
After that film, Hollywood wanted her to play alongside Grace Kelly in “High Noon.”
High Noon is as classic of a Western as you can get. These days, we think of them as an archaic past, but it was filmed in real time. A sheriff retires, but the plot thickens when some outlaws escape jail and come to get him.
She spoke no English and literally just memorized the sounds of the English lines.
She took English classes two hours a day for two months to begin to understand English for the role.
Caption: “I know the feeling Katy, I know the feeling. #BeingMexicanInTheUSAintEasy”
With that performance, she became the first Latina to win a Golden Globe.
In the film, she played a saloon owner, Helen Ramírez, an old love interest of star Gary Cooper. Katy Jurado is seen here consoling Cooper’s character’s wife (Grace Kelly), who is abandoning her husband. Ramirez convinces her to stay and fight.
Jurado is best known for breaking stereotypes.
The New York Times quotes Katy Jurado as being proud of her role on High Noon:
“I am very proud to make this picture because I look and act like a Mexican – not imitation. Some Mexicans go to Hollywood and lose a career in Mexico because they play imitation. I don’t want this to happen to me.”
Instead of being highly sexualized like other Mexican roles, Jurado took on villainous roles.
The LA Times quotes her as saying, “I didn’t take all the films that were offered, just those with dignity.” Once, she played a Jewish woman in “Barabbas” alongside Anthony Quinn. She told the Associated Press that she wouldn’t play shallow American stereotypes of Mexicans.
She got married when she was 15 years old.
She was with aspiring actor Victor Velázquez for four years before they divorced. They got married just three months after she signed that secret contract.
In 1959, she married actor Ernest Borgnine.
The two met on the set of Vera Cruz, which was filmed in Mexico. The two divorced four years later.
He famously described her as “beautiful, but a tiger.”
According to Laura Arnáiz’ biography of Katy Jurado’s life, Jurado said, “Borgnine and I met by accident when we collided in a dark room when leaving a restaurant. He chased me for two years. What did I do for that this man loves me this way? Our courtship was one of the best periods of my life. We were married soon after, but his jealousy and insecurities turned the marriage into hell.”
Jurado also had an affair with Marlon Brando, who was simultaneously dating Rita Moreno.
He was also married to Movita Castaneda. After Brando saw her in High Noon, he was smitten and asked her out on a date, which became a years-long affair.
According to Darwin Porter’s biography of Marlon Brando, Brando Unzipped, years later Jurado recalled in an interview, “Marlon called me one night for a date, and I accepted. I knew all about Movita. I knew he had a thing for Rita Moreno. Hell, it was just a date. I didn’t plan to marry him.”
Jurado claims that the love of her life was novelist Louis L’Amour.
According to El Periodico, Jurado said, “I have letters of love that he wrote to me until the last day of his life, but because of our jobs we could never coincide, he was the man of my life, and I, the woman of his life, should have married that man .. . ”
After her son, Victor Hugo, tragically died in a car accident, she pulled out of acting.
She went to the funeral one day and the next went back to set. She said she hated the camera during that time as a symbol of what took her away from spending time with her kids while she had them.
Director John Huston invited her to act in Under the Volcano years later, to help pull her out of her depression.
That same year, she played alongside Héctor Elizondo in an ABC family sitcom.
The most shocking element of this photo is realizing that Elizondo (famous for Princess Diaries) was ever young. The series only lasted six episodes.
In 1954, she became the first Mexican woman to be awarded los claves a NYC.
She spent most of her life in her home in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, and said that she felt she’d have been more successful in Hollywood if she wasn’t so ready to leave Los Angeles between filming.
Jurado won three Silver Ariel awards and was nominated for an Oscar.
The Ariels are the Mexican Oscars. She was nomiated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Broken Lance.
This year, Google recognized Katy Jurado with a doodle on her birthday, January 16.
While today, we might find her villainous seduction problematic, Jurado truly paved the way for more Latin American actresses to make a stake as something more than a sex object. She played women who had more than one side to them, who had motives, a brain, and a willingness to bend social norms to meet their needs.
Jurado died in 2002 at age 78.
You can find her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and marvel in her incredible performance on High Noon–remembering that she acted out a foreign language phonetically.