Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
María Félix in The Kneeling Goddess (1947)
|Born||María de los Ángeles Félix Güereña
8 April 1914
Álamos, Sonora, Mexico
|Died||8 April 2002
Mexico City, Mexico
|Other names||La Doña
|Enrique Álvarez (1931-1938; divorced)
Agustín Lara (1945-1947; divorced)
Jorge Negrete (1952-1953; his death)
Alex Berger (1956-1974; his death)
|Children||Enrique Álvarez Félix (1935-1996)|
María de los Ángeles Félix Güereña (Spanish: [ma'?ia 'feliks] (8 April 1914 - 8 April 2002) was a Mexican film actress and singer. She was considered one of the most important female figures of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. She was also considered one of the most beautiful film actresses of her time, and one of the greatest erotic myths of the Spanish-language cinema. Along with Pedro Armendáriz and Dolores del Río, she was one of the most successful figures of the Latin American cinema in the 1940s and 1950s.
She was known as La Doña, a name derived from her character in the film Doña Bárbara (1943), and María Bonita, thanks to the anthem composed exclusively for her, as a wedding gift by her second husband, the Mexican composer Agustín Lara. She completed a film career that included 47 films made in Mexico, Spain, France, Italy and Argentina.
María de los Angeles Félix Güereña was born in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico on 8 April 1913. She was the daughter of Bernardo Félix Flores, a military officer and secretary of Hacienda, of mixed Spanish and Yaqui heritage. Her mother was Josefina Güereña Rosas, a Mexican of Basque ancestry. She had eleven siblings: Josefina, María de la Paz, Pablo, Bernardo, Miguel, María de las Mercedes, Fernando, Victoria Eugenia, Ricardo, Benjamín and Ana María del Sacramento.
She spent her childhood in Álamos. The family lived with dignity, despite not being rich. During her childhood, she had a close relationship with her brother Pablo. Her mother separated the two siblings, thinking that they might be involved in an incestuous relationship. For that reason, Pablo was sent to the Colegio Militar, in Mexico City. When Félix was a young girl, she enjoyed games for boys and despised the dolls and other toys and activities "for girls". She was also an accomplished horse rider. She never had a good relationship with her other sisters, partly because of their physical differences (all her sisters were blond by maternal inheritance), and also because of Félix's strong personality.
Later, the Félix family moved to Guadalajara. When María was a teenager, her beauty soon began to attract attention. She was crowned Beauty Queen at the University of Guadalajara. It was at this time that she met Enrique Álvarez Alatorre, a salesman for the cosmetics firm Max Factor. After a brief romance, the couple married in 1931. In 1935, Félix gave birth to her only child, Enrique, nicknamed Quique. However, her marriage with Álvarez was unsuccessful and the couple divorced in 1937. After her divorce, Félix returned to Guadalajara with her family, where she was the subject of gossip and rumors due to her status as a divorcée. Because of this situation, Félix decided to move to Mexico City with her son.
In Mexico City, she worked as a receptionist in a plastic surgeon's office, and lived in a guest house. One day, the father of her son visited the child, and deliberately refused to give the boy back to his mother. Álvarez took the child to Guadalajara. Félix's son was later recovered with the help of Agustín Lara, her second husband. They planned an elaborate recovery that tricked the grandmother and took the child.
One afternoon after work when walking down the street in Mexico City a director and filmmaker Fernando Palacios approached her asking if she wanted to make movies. Her response was:
"When I want to, it will be through the big door."
Palacios finally persuaded her to break into the movies. Becoming her "Pygmalion", he began to train her and present her in film circles. She made her first appearance in the "White and Black Ballroom" of the Mexico CitY Country Club where some of the great Mexican movie stars of the era (Esther Fernández, Lupe Vélez, Andrea Palma) gathered. Eventually she was taken to Hollywood, to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. There, she met Cecil B. DeMille, who offered to launch her film career in Hollywood, but Félix was not interested. She preferred to begin her career in her own country. Finally, thanks to Palacios, she was offered the female lead role in a film by Grovas Productions: El Peñón de las Ánimas, directed by Miguel Zacarías.
In the film El Peñón de las Ánimas, Félix starred opposite the popular Mexican actor and singer Jorge Negrete. María Félix and Jorge Negrete got off to a bad relationship during the filming because he had asked that his girlfriend, the actress Gloria Marín, be given the lead role. For this reason the filming of the movie was difficult and led to a direct confrontation between Félix and Negrete. That confrontation helped to cement the reputation of Félix as a tough and arrogant woman.
In her second film, María Eugenia, Félix would be projected in a role out of her temperamental film personality. However, the film is remembered as the only movie where Félix appeared in swimwear. The same happened with the film La china poblana (1943), where Félix claimed to have paid a debt of gratitude to her discoverer Fernando Palacios, who directed the film. Nobody has heard from this movie (the second color film of the Mexican cinema), so it is considered lost. She called both films "her beginner sins".
Félix was known as La Doña for her role in the movie Doña Bárbara (1943), based on the like-named novel by the Venezuelan writer Rómulo Gallegos. For the film, another actress (Isabela Corona) was already hired, but when Gallegos first saw Félix, he was charmed by her and said: "Here is my Doña Bárbara!" This movie was filmed in Venezuela with Mexican and Venezuelan actors. Doña Bárbara was to be the start of her major collaborations with the Mexican film director Fernando de Fuentes. Félix and de Fuentes filmed together another two films: La Mujer sin Alma (1944) and La Devoradora (1946). As María Félix herself said, "With these films, I became the number one enemy of the Mexican family morals."
Somehow, I seduced the public, even those who criticize the conduct of my characters in the films. My legend began to take shape without moving a finger. The public imagination did everything for me.
Without her stereotyped role of a "femme fatale", María Félix filmed two sophisticated films: El monje blanco (1945), directed by Julio Bracho, and Vertigo (1946), directed by Antonio Momplet. Both characters required a great dramatic intensity.
Under the direction of the famous Mexican film director Emilio Fernández, María Félix made three successful films: Enamorada (1946 ), Río Escondido (1947), and Maclovia (1948). The relationship between Félix and Fernández was cordial and smooth, despite the strong and famous temperament of the film director. In Enamorada, María Félix found her perfect film partner, the actor Pedro Armendáriz. The films of María Félix with Fernández and his team (writer Mauricio Magdaleno, photographer Gabriel Figueroa, and Armendáriz) had strong presence in several international film festivals. In turn, they gave María Félix her first Ariel Award for Enamorada and Río Escondido.
Between the films with Fernández, María Félix also worked with Roberto Gavaldón, another director who showcased some of her best performances. Their first collaboration was in La diosa arrodillada (1947) with Arturo de Córdova. Thanks to these films, María Félix's fame crossed the Atlantic.
In 1948 she was contracted by the Spanish film producer Cesáreo González. In this manner María Félix began her film adventure in Europe. She made only one more film in Mexico (Doña Diabla, 1949) until her return in 1952.
Félix debuted in the European cinema in Spain, with the film Mare Nostrum (1948), directed by Rafael Gil. With Gil as director, she realized another two films in 1950: Una mujer cualquiera and La noche del sábado. In 1951, she filmed the French-Spanish production La Couronne Noire directed by Luis Saslavsky based on a story by Jean Cocteau. She debuted in Italy with the film Incantesimo Tragico (1951). In the same year, she filmed Messalina (1951), directed by Carmine Gallone (at the time, the most expensive film of the Italian cinema). During the filming of this movie Félix suffered an emotional shock: her father died of a heart attack in Navojoa.
In 1952, Félix traveled to Argentina, where she filmed La pasión desnuda of the Argentine filmmaker Luis César Amadori. In the same year Félix returned to Mexico. She concluded her working relationship with Cesáreo González with the film Camelia, filmed in her native country. Her stay in Mexico was mainly based on her marriage to the actor and singer Jorge Negrete (her former film rival), and with whom she filmed El rapto, directed by Emilio Fernández, Negrete's last film.
After the death of Jorge Negrete, on 5 December 1953, Félix returned to Europe. In France she made the films La Belle Otero (1954), and Les Héros sont Fatigués (1955), alongside Yves Montand. However, the most important film of Félix in this period was French Cancan (1954) directed by Jean Renoir with the legendary French actor Jean Gabin. Her last film shot entirely in Europe was the Spanish film Faustina.
Félix returned to Mexico in 1955. This period of her career was characterized by performing films inspired by the Mexican Revolution. This cycle begins with La Escondida (1955). In this film, as well as in stories like Canasta de cuentos mexicanos (1955) and Café Colón (1958), she worked again with Pedro Armendáriz. In 1956 she starred in Tizoc with the popular Mexican actor and singer Pedro Infante. However, the film was not liked by the actress, despite her international success. Eventually she filmed Beyond All Limits (1957) with Jack Palance, and the melodramas Miércoles de ceniza and The Empty Star (both 1958). In 1959 she filmed La Cucaracha. In 1959 she performed in the Spanish-Mexican co-production Sonatas directed by Juan Antonio Bardem and the French-Mexican co-production La Fièvre Monte à El Pao, directed by Luis Buñuel.
In the 1960s Félix's presence in the cinema was limited to only a few films. The most prominent were Juana Gallo (1960), La bandida (1962), Amor y sexo (Sapho '63, 1963) (the only film where she appeared partially nude), and La Valentina (1966). In 1970 she filmed La Generala, which would be her last film. The Mexican historical telenovela La Constitución (1971) would be her last professional acting job.
Félix attempted to return to the cinema twice. First, in 1982, with the film Toña Machetes, and again in 1986 with the film Insólito resplandor. Neither project crystallized, and Félix never reappeared in film.
Almost from the beginning of her career, Félix received job offers in Hollywood, but Félix herself said: They only give me huehuenche (Indian) roles. While she was in France, Hollywood offered her the female role of Duel in the Sun, but she passed and the part went to Jennifer Jones.
Félix was married four times. Her first marriage (1931-1938) was with the cosmetics sales agent Enrique Álvarez Alatorre. Félix herself came to say what her first marriage meant to her freedom, leaving her house where she felt captive. Soon, the jealousy of her husband began to make her ill, and she began divorce proceedings. He fathered her only son, the actor Enrique Álvarez Félix. While visiting his son in Mexico City, where he lived with his mother, Álvarez refused to return him to Félix, taking him to Guadalajara. She was later able to get her son back years later with the help of her second husband, Agustín Lara.
Félix's relationship with her son was distant in his early years, because she sent him for many years to schools abroad "to discipline" him. Years later, Enrique returned to Mexico and decided to start a career as an actor in film and television. With regard to her son, Félix said: "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." The unexpected death of Enrique as a result of a heart attack in 1996, plunged Félix into deep sadness, although in public she always showed great fortitude.
Her second marriage (1945-1947) was with the famous Mexican composer Agustín Lara. Félix was a fan of Lara since her adolescence. They met accidentally and unfriendly in a phone booth on the street. Some time later, they were formally introduced by a mutual friend, the actor Tito Novaro. From that time the couple began a highly publicized relationship, which culminated in marriage in 1945. Lara immortalized Félix in a huge number of songs, such as "Humo en los ojos" ("Smoke in the eyes"), "Cuando vuelvas" ("When you come back"), "Dos puñales" ("Two daggers"), "Madrid" and especially the famous theme "María Bonita", composed in Acapulco during their honeymoon. "María Bonita" would become one of the most popular Lara songs worldwide. However, Lara's excessive jealousy ended their relationship in 1947. Félix herself said that Lara even tried to kill her in a fit of violent jealousy.
After her second divorce, Félix had romances with some well-known men, such as Mexican aviation entrepreneur Jorge Pasquel, Spanish bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín, and Argentine actor Carlos Thompson. Félix and Thompson were on the verge of reaching the altar, but at the last moment Félix repented.
In 1953, when Félix returned to Mexico after her stay in Europe and Argentina, she was reunited with an "old enemy": the actor and singer Jorge Negrete. Unlike their difficult first meeting ten years ago on the set of El peñón de las ánimas, Félix found Negrete, in her own words: "surrendered to my feet". After a brief romance, the couple married in 1953, in a tumultuous ceremony, transmitted by radio to all Latin America, held at the House of Catipoato in Tlalpan owned by Félix. Unfortunately. Negrete was already ill when the marriage took place. Negrete died eleven months later at a hospital in Los Angeles, California, while Félix was in Europe shooting La Belle Otero. Félix's appearance at his funeral, dressed in trousers, caused a huge scandal, which led Félix to take refuge in Europe.
Her fourth marriage (1956-1974), was with the Romanian-born French banker Alexander Berger. Félix met Berger in the 1940s, but then both were married. Years later they met again. Félix was married for 18 years to Berger. She tried becoming a mother again, but an accident during a filming in 1957 caused Félix to lose the child. Berger died in 1974 as a result of lung cancer just months after the death of María's mother, which plunged her into a deep depression. But she decided to emerge triumphant and take a new passion: horses. Some of her horses won major international equestrian awards. Félix kept her horses for 11 years.
Her last romantic relationship was the Russian-French painter Antoine Tzapoff. About him, Félix said: I don't know if he's the man who has most loved me, but he's who has loved me better.
The press speculated about a strong rivalry between Félix and Dolores del Río, the other leading female figure of Mexican cinema and a successful Hollywood star. About this "rivalry", Félix said: "With Dolores I had no rivalry. On the contrary, we were friends and always treat each other with great respect, each with their own personality. We were completely different. She was refined, interesting, gentle on the deal, and I'm energetic, arrogant and bossy."
During her life, Félix was a model for many renowned painters. In her adolescence she was painted in Guadalajara by José Clemente Orozco, but Félix said: He paint me like a make-up skull. Félix met the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera during the filming of Río Escondido (1947). Félix locked solid friendship with him and his wife, Frida Kahlo. Rivera was madly in love with her, but without hope. In 1949, Rivera painted a portrait of her, which Félix classified as "muy malo" ("very bad"). The portrait was originally intended to première in a retrospective on Rivera's work, but Félix did not allow the painting to be displayed, as she disliked it; she reportedly eventually sold it.
Other renowned artists who recorded Félix in his canvases were Leonor Fini, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Bridget Tichenor among others. In the 1980s, the Russian-French artist Antoine Tzapoff (Félix's last partner), captured her in a numerous portraits.
Félix also had dealings with numerous Mexican and foreign writers and playwrights some of whom have dedicated several novels. Among them they are Renato Leduc, Xavier Villaurrutia, Salvador Novo, Pita Amor, Jean Cocteau and Octavio Paz. Luis Spota was inspired by her life for his novel The Empty Star, and Félix even starred in the film version in 1958. Carlos Fuentes did the same in the novel Zona sagrada. Her relationship with Fuentes was terminated when the author made the play Orchids in the Moonlight, in which he parodies the figures of Félix and Dolores del Río. Félix, angry, called him "mujerujo" ("womanish").
In fashion, Félix was dressed by designers like Christian Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Balenciaga. The House of Hermès (Couture Department) designed extravagant creations just for her. She was a noted collector of fine antiques, favoring pieces like her famous collection of Second French Empire furniture. She was also a jewellery connoisseur and had an extensive jewellery collection, including the 41.37 carat (8.274 g), D-flawless Ashoka diamond. In 1968, she commissioned a serpent diamond necklace from Cartier Paris. The result was a completely articulated serpent made out of platinum and white gold and encrusted with 178.21 carats (35.642 g) of diamonds. In 1975, she again asked Cartier to create a necklace for her, this time in the shape of two crocodiles. The two crocodile bodies were made of 524.9 grams of gold, one covered with 1,023 yellow diamonds, while the other was adorned with 1,060 circular cut emeralds.
Since Félix's death, these jewellery pieces have been displayed as part of The Art of Cartier Collection in several museums around the world. To pay tribute to the actress, in 2006 Cartier debuted its La Doña de Cartier collection. The La Doña de Cartier watch with reptilian links was created to impress by its wild look. The case of the La Doña de Cartier features a trapezoid shape with asymmetrical profile reminiscent of a crocodile's head. The wristband of the watch resembles the contours of a crocodile in large, bold and gold scales. The La Doña de Cartier Collection also includes jewellery, accessories and handbags.
Félix's last years passed between social events, tributes, controversial opinions and a sense of nostalgia. Until the end of her life she maintained that she wanted to return to acting, but nothing ever materialized.
María Félix died in her sleep on 8 April 2002 (the day she turned 88 years), at approximately 1:00 am EDT Mexico City.
Her body was transported from her home in Polanco, Mexico City to the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The funeral procession was flanked by an escort of motorcyclists and townspeople who accompanied her. Her remains were deposited beside her son Enrique and her parents in the French Cemetery of Mexico City.