Mexican actress Lupita Tovar, best remembered for the Spanish-language version of Dracula and for starring in the first Mexican talkie, Santa, turned 103 years old on Sunday, July 27, 2013. Tovar was born in 1910 in the city of Oaxaca, the capital of the Mexican state of the same name.
In an interview with author Michael G. Ankerich (Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips) published on Ankerich’s site Close-ups and Long Shots, Tovar recalled her brief foray as a silent film actress at Fox (several years before it became 20th Century Fox): "Silent films were wonderful because you didn’t have to worry about your dialogue. You could say whatever you felt. We had music on the set all the time. It was absolutely wonderful."
Unfortunately for Tovar, whose English was quite poor, that was right at the time movies were learning to talk. According to the IMDb, she was seen — apparently in bit parts — in only a couple of silents, both 1929 releases: Raymond Cannon’s Joy Street, featuring Lois Moran and Nick Stuart, and Emmett J. Flynn’s The Veiled Woman, featuring Brazilian import Lia Torá and Paul Vincent.
Lupita Tovar: ’Drácula,’ ’Santa’
Lupita Tovar’s English-language Hollywood career didn’t go very far after Fox dropped her. She then moved on to Universal, which had a thriving unit specializing in the production of Spanish-language versions of the studio’s output. Her most notable effort at Universal was Drácula (1931), directed by silent era filmmaker George Melford, and featuring Carlos Villarías in the title role (played by Bela Lugosi in the English-language original), Tovar in the Helen Chandler role, and the Argentinean Barry Norton (born Alfredo Carlos Birabén) in the David Manners role.
At that time, Lupita Tovar also began making movies south of the border. Eventually nicknamed "The Mexican Sweetheart," Tovar enjoyed a personal success with the first Mexican talking feature, Santa (1932), directed by the Spanish-born former Hollywood star Antonio Moreno. The film sounds like a precursor of the Mexican melodramas of the ’40s and ’50s, with Santa (Tovar) as a naive young woman who, after having an affair with a soldier (Donald Reed), is kicked out of her small town. She later becomes a cynical woman, torn between two men: an arrogant bullfighter (Juan José Martínez Casado) and a blind pianist (Carlos Orellana).
Lupita Tovar movies
All in all, Lupita Tovar was featured, whether in big or small roles, in only about 30 movies from 1929 to 1945. Among those were Tempestad sobre los Andes / Alas sobre el Chaco (1935), the Spanish-language version of Storm over the Andes — both movies were directed by veteran Christy Cabanne and featured Antonio Moreno (Mona Barrie had Tovar’s role in the English-language version); and actor-director José Bohr’s Marihuana (1936), also featuring Barry Norton.
Additionally, Tovar had bit parts in several English-language Hollywood movies, including William Dieterle’s Spanish Civil War drama Blockade (1938), with Henry Fonda and Madeleine Carroll; James Whale’s South American-set Green Hell (1940), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Bennett; and William Wyler’s The Westerner (1940), with Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. Tovar’s last film appearance was a small role in the B Warner Baxter vehicle The Crime Doctor’s Courage (1945).
In 2001, Lupita Tovar was given a Special Golden Ariel by the Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (See also: “Luise Rainer, Olivia de Havilland: 1930s Stars Still Alive.”)
Lupita Tovar: Grandmother of Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz
In 1932, Lupita Tovar married Czech-born producer Paul Kohner (Next Time We Love, East of Java), who later became an agent among whose clients were Charles Bronson and Lana Turner. The couple remained married until Kohner’s death in 1988. Producer Pancho Kohner, whose credits include several Charles Bronson thrillers (St. Ives, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown) and actress Susan Kohner, a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee for Imitation of Life (1959 version, starring Lana Turner), are their children.
Susan Kohner’s two sons are Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz, responsible for the American Pie movies and the Hugh Grant comedy About a Boy. Paul Weitz’s solo efforts include In Good Company, with Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Scarlett Johansson, and the comedy Little Fockers, starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Barbra Streisand, and Dustin Hoffman. Chris Weitz’s solo movies include the fantasy The Golden Compass, with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig; the anti-Dracula vampire movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon, with Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner; and the well-received socially conscious drama A Better Life, which earned Demián Bichir a Best Actor Oscar nod.
Lupita Tovar Santa image via Close-ups and Long Shots.