Delores Del Rio Altar (Luray Caverns-3)

This massive old floor model vacuum tube radio and the picture above it sit in the hallway between the men’s and women’s bathrooms in the little Mexican restaurant I’ve been talking about in the last few posts. I thought it looked a bit like an altar. The picture above the radio is of Hollywood actress Delores Del-Rio (1905 to 1983) and so far as I know she has not been canonized.

I guess it’s there for ambience. Since the decorative scheme of the place is pretty eclectic I suppose it works about as well as anything else they have sitting around. It wasn’t terribly practical—the hall was pretty small and the radio was kind of in the way—probably not a good idea when it comes to keeping a clear path to the bathroom. On the plus side the floor covering was vinyl—easy to clean.

Delores Del Rio is (if you didn’t know or haven’t guessed already) of Mexican heritage. That would certainly be in keeping with the ethnic character of the business. There were a lot of other old photographs of Mexican people hanging around the place but I didn’t recognize any of them. To be fair I’m sure they wouldn’t have recognized a photo of me.

I did know the name Delores Del-Rio—at least it sounded very familiar. When you get to be my age a lot of stuff sounds familiar—old TV shows, movie stars, sports figures, place names, your own name—stuff like that.

For me the name Delores Del Rio was one of those vague recollections from childhood—not tied to any particular place, person, thing or (in this case) movie except indirectly. I’ll talk more about that in a minute (assuming you’re still reading a minute from now—if you’re not, I understand.)

In her time Del Rio was considered what we today would call a super-star. In the Hollywood of the 30s, 40s and 50s she ranked with other big names like Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Susan Hayward and Jane Wyman. Marlene Dietrich considered Del Rio “The most beautiful woman in Hollywood.” It was said she had better legs than Dietrich, better cheekbones than Garbo, slept 16 hours a day and her diet consisted of orchid petals. (I swear—I didn’t make that up!)

I forget how many times she was married—reading up on her for this post I stopped counting after 4. One of the men she was married to was Orsen Wells who once remarked that he was incredibly impressed by her lingerie which had been hand made by nuns in France.” I mean—wouldn’t that impress you?—beats the hell out of Fruit of the Loom!

Called “The princess of Mexico” she was the first Latin American movie star to have international appeal. Beginning her career in silent films, she was one of the few big stars to successfully transition to the “talkies.” She continued making movies until 1979—even making one film with Elvis Presley. She died in 1983 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1630 Vine St.

Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about Del Rio:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolores_del_Río

I wonder if there’ll ever be a blogger Walk of Fame?—maybe I could get a job polishing the stars.

In the interest of ethical transparency I should acknowledge the connection between the Del Rio photograph and me is pretty subjective and arbitrary—but you be the judge.

The picture of Del Rio was dated in the 1930s—the same period a series of films I watched as a kid—and which stick deeply in my memory—were made.

Columbus Elementary School in Rome, NY is a depressing, red-brick, hulking block of a building—probably built in the 40s. On a cloudy, rainy day it looks a lot like a huge square toad squatting in the middle of two acres of asphalt. The ponderous, institutional design was typical of the grim, self-congratulatory provincialism of that period. The architecture is as about as graceful as an anvil. It was the school I attended and where I ate lunch 5 days a week from 1950 to 1956.

We kids all ate in the noisy, high-ceilinged combination gymnasium, auditorium and lunch room. There was always the problem of how to keep us in our seats and not running all over the place wrecking havoc. Put a couple of hundred kids between the ages of 6 and 11 in one room at one time and the possibility of reaching critical mass becomes a disturbing possibility.

Somebody came up with the idea of movies. The school system couldn’t afford anything current of course and the films had to be stuff appropriate to kids of that era so what could be more appropriate than the old Saturday-morning cliff-hanger serials of the 30s?

The 16 millimeter prints were grainy, streaked with long scratch lines, speckled and spotted, the soundtrack scratchy, popping and almost unintelligible at times. The film was always breaking and whoever picked the films apparently could care less about the sequence—we’d see episode 7 one day, episode 4 the next, episode 17 the day after that.

They probably had a variety of stuff but the only films I remember was a long serial called “The New Adventures of Tarzan. It was quite lengthy—I’m pretty sure it went on the whole 5 years I was there and quite likely is still going on today. The star and the scripts were sanctioned and produced by the original author of the Tarzan books—Edgar Rice Burroughs. The star was Herman Brix—an Olympic shot-putter who later changed his name to Bruce Bennet and went on to do many much more respectable films such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Dark Passage and Mildred Pierce.

Brix/Bennet retired from films in 1961 and died in 2007—a few months sort of 101. Del Rio only made it to 77—I guess all those orchid petals didn’t make much difference. Here’s a link if you want to know more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Bennett

The two actors (I’m told the politically correct term now is “actors”—women are longer actresses) are gone. But their movies live on—I saw all sorts of DVDs available on line of the movies they did.

I tried to find out if Brix/Bennet and Del Rio ever acted in the same film but so far as I could tell, they did not. The closest I could come was alphabetical proximity. In a movie guide listing I found Del Rio was in the 1964 John Ford film, Cheyenne Autumn and Brix/Bennet was in the 1947 Raoul Walsh film Cheyenne. Sorry—that’s the best I could do.

Does anyone out there know if they did a film together?

If it turns out they did do a movie together, let me know and I’ll do an update—I know many of you will be lying awake tonight wondering. If you do learn of a movie they did together and will come here to where I live I’ll take you out to dinner.

I know a great Mexican Restaurant.

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