Maria Felix Refused Roles In Hollywood Until She Established Her Career In Mexico
María Félix is one of the most recognizable actresses of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, probably because her career spanned 47 films made in Mexico, Spain, France, Italy, and Argentina, as well as Hollywood. She was a feminist icon and well-known for refusing roles that portray Mexicans as anything less than complex characters with full personhood.
Affectionately known as María Bonita y La Doña, Félix overcame truly Hollywood-level plot twists in her life, including kidnapping and being widowed not once but twice, to get to where she went.
Félix had eleven siblings.
That’s right. Her poor mother, Josefina Güereña Rosas, raised a dozen children. Her father, Bernardo Félix Flores was a military officer and descendent of the Yaqui indigenous people.
María de los Ángeles Félix Güereña was born in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico in 1914.
The Aries star was born on April 8, but because her birthday was reported to the Mexican government on May 4, her government IDs recognize her birthday almost a full month later. Google honored her actual day of birth with this doodle.
Félix refused to change her name to meet Hollywood anglo standards.
Producers tried to persuade her to use the name Diana del Mar or Marcia Maris, but she refused. She actually insisted on María de Los Ángeles Félix but conceded to shorten it, so long it was still her name.
As a child, her mother sent her brother Pablo to a military academy after fearing they might have an incestuous relationship.
Literally, I have no doubt that this is just a classic case of Mexicana mami catastrophizing melodrama that probably just made their fraternal relationship a tad awkward.
After her family moved to Guadalajara, she was crowned Beauty Queen.
That was when she met Enrique Álvarez Alatorre, a cosmetics salesman, and her eventual first husband. They were married for six years and had Félix’ only child, Enrique.
Félix was a receptionist at a plastic surgeon’s office in Mexico City.
After she returned home to Guadalajara, she couldn’t take the chismosa about her divorcée status. She took Enrique to Mexico City with her and the two lived in a guest house.
Félix had to plan an elaborate scheme to kidnap her son back from his father.
One day, Enrique’s father came to visit him and just refused to give him back. The story goes that her soon-to-be second husband Agustín Lara helped her plan the recovery, which included tricking the boy’s grandmother and kidnapping Enrique back.
When is someone going to make a movie out of that?
Félix was afraid that Lara was a cocaine addict.
Once, she found a piece of paper with white powder in it and decided to actually snort it. She was curious, okay. Nothing happened. It was sulfathiazole powder, which is used to clean cuts.
Lara was a famous composer that immortalized Félix, penning her first nickname “María Bonita” in song.
They divorced two years later because of Lara’s abusive jealousy. In Félix’ autobiography, she wrote that he even once tried to kill her in a fit of violent jealousy.
She was discovered while walking down the street in Mexico City.
Director and filmmaker Fernando Palacios spotted her and immediately asked if she wanted to make movies. He started bringing her to his film circles and even to Hollywood.
She turned down Hollywood’s offer to make it big, saying she wanted to begin her career in Mexico.
This is a woman who was so sought after, she had her pick of the litter to debut. She chose a female lead role directed by Miguel Zacarías, El Peñón de las Ánimas.
She got the Doña Bárbara gig because the novelist was obsessed with her.
Rómulo Gallegos met her at a luncheon in Club Chapultepec and became infatuated. He decided she would be the only one that could play “my Doña Bárbara.” She’s been known as La Doña ever since.
Over ten years after filming El Peñón de las Ánimas alongside her then enemy, Jorge Negrete, they united and fell in love.
Allegedly, Negrete asked her, “I’m curious, who did you sleep with to get the starring role?” and she responded with “You’ve been in the business longer, so you must know who you have to sleep with to be a star.”
Over a decade later, they reunited in Argentina, fell in love and got married. He was sick at the time and died just 11 months into the marriage.
Diego Rivera was obsessed with her.
In her autobiography, she writes that he “loved me hopelessly for nearly ten years.” He would send her cards with toad-frog drawings and wrote to her as the Holy Virgencita de Catipoato. He’d joke that he was the pope of his fake Marifeliana religion.
Félix’s home in Tlalpan had over 100 animals on the property.
Rivera himself sent 80 rattlesnakes from Oaxaca. She had 14 dogs, most of whom were strays that she took in from the street. She also had 600 fruit trees and 18 employees that worked the grounds alone.
Her son, Enrique, tragically died of a heart attack in 1996.
At the time, he was himself an actor in film and television. In her autobiography, she wrote of how much she adored him:
“Enrique is a very gifted man, with admirable common sense. He’s my best friend. I have so much fun with him. He’s not a ‘mama’s boy,’ as many believe. Self-employed, fight like being independent. He has his own career, his audience, his poster and assumes his responsibilities without relying on me.”
Her last husband died of lung cancer just months after her own mother died.
She fell into a deep depression for a long time. The only thing that helped her be happy again was horses.
She focused the rest of her life on her stable of horses.
The stable became famous in France, and her Spanish named horses (María Bonita, Mayab, Zapata, Chingo and Vera) competed in derbies. It was there that her late husband was buried and where she’d stay for many years.
She was famous for her jewelry collection.
This very snake necklace was commissioned from Cartier Paris and is entirely encrusted with 178.21 diamond carats. Cartier has even debuted a La Doña de Cartier collection full of reptilian inspired fine jewelry.
Félix had a lock of gray hair that she only showed in Doña Bárbara.
She hid it in every other movie and even in photos. It was passed down to her by her father.
María Félix died on her birthday in 2002.
She was 88 years old and died in her sleep in Mexico City. She was buried alongside her son and parents in the family tomb.