Sara Montiel, aka Sarita Montiel aka Saritisima, one of the Spanish-speaking world's biggest film and recording stars, died yesterday, April 8. Montiel, who was found dead by paramedics called to her house in Madrid's district of Salamanca, was 85. Earlier today, a funeral procession through the streets of Madrid was witnessed (and applauded) by thousands of fans.
Sara Montiel was born – if online sources are to be believed – María Antonia Alejandra Vicenta Elpidia Isadora Abad Fernández to a small farmer and a beauty products saleswoman on March 10, 1928. She left behind her poverty-stricken childhood, during which she spent her days dreaming of film star Imperio Argentina, after moving to post-Civil War Madrid in her mid-teens.
Following diction and singing lessons, her film career took off after she landed roles in two 1944 releases: a supporting turn – billed as Maria Alejandra – in Ladislao Vajda's Te quiero para mí (“I Want You for Me”) and, as Sara Montiel, the young female lead in Raffaello Matarazzo's comedy about in-laws vs. marriage bliss, Empezó en boda (“It Started at the Wedding”).
Sara Montiel movies: Early Spanish career and her Mexican films
By the early '50s, Sara Montiel had become a well-known name in Spanish-language cinema. In Spain, her roles included those of Don Quixote's daughter Antonia in Rafael Gil's Don Quijote de la Mancha (1947), with Rafael Rivelles in the title role and future Luis Buñuel collaborator Fernando Rey as Sansón Carrasco; and the scheming Muslim princess Aldara in Juan de Orduña's nationalistic historical melodrama Locura de amor / The Mad Queen (1948), supporting Aurora Bautista as the Spanish queen “Juana la Loca” and Fernando Rey as her husband Felipe.
Following a move across the Atlantic, Sara Montiel would star in about a dozen features for the booming Mexican film industry, most notably Miguel M. Delgado's (possibly Caged-inspired) women-behind-bars melodrama Cárcel de mujeres (“Women's Prison,” 1951), opposite two other Mexican cinema icons, Miroslava and Katy Jurado – Miroslava and Montiel are enemy inmates in the film, with the former as a widow accused of having murdered her husband, whose lover was the vengeful Montiel; Miguel Morayta's Ella, Lucifer y yo (“She, Lucifer and Me,” 1953), in which Abel Salazar makes a pact with the devil (Carlos López Moctezuma) so luscious singer Montiel will fall in love with him; and Miguel Zacarías' Necesito dinero (“I Need Money”), co-starring superstar Pedro Infante as another man doing whatever it takes to gain Montiel's affection.
Sarita Montiel in Hollywood
For Hollywood studios, Sara Montiel, billed as Sarita Montiel, was featured in what amounted to a supporting role in Robert Aldrich's successful Mexican-set Western Vera Cruz (1954), starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster (and with Denise Darcel as the female lead); Anthony Mann's poorly received romantic melodrama Serenade (1956), in which singer Mario Lanza is torn between American society dame Joan Fontaine and Mexican wife Montiel; and Samuel Fuller's post-Civil War Western Run of the Arrow (1957), as a Sioux Indian named Yellow Moccasin (and reportedly voiced by Angie Dickinson) who ends up as U.S. soldier Rod Steiger's wife.
According to online sources, at that time Columbia's Harry Cohn offered Montiel a seven-year contract, which the actress turned down because she didn't want to be typecast as Mexican spitfires and Yellow Moccasins in Hollywood movies. Be that as it may, Montiel did accept another kind of Hollywood offer: She and her Serenade director Anthony Mann were married in 1957.
Also in the '50s, Sara Montiel acquired Mexican citizenship. “Mexico is my home away from home,” she would remark in a 2007 interview in Miami. “When I arrived in Mexico in 1950 all doors were soon thrown open to me, I have great memories from those years.”
On its home page, the Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences features an official announcement mourning Sara Montiel's passing.
Sara Montiel: Superstardom
“Hollywood was not very kind to me, may be out of envy … I was an intruder in that world,” Sara Montiel would later say.
Following her brief Hollywood stint, Montiel could have resumed her career in Mexico, but at that time she received a good offer from her native country.
Sara Montiel became an international superstar following the unexpected success of Juan de Orduña's El último cuplé / The Last Torch Song (1957), co-written by Jesús María de Arozamena (who would write many of Montiel's biggest movie hits) and Antonio Mas Guindal.
Sharing elements in common with Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa (1954), the low-budget The Last Torch Song stars Montiel as cabaret singer María Luján, who finds professional success as a singing star but whose private life is burdened by tragedy.
“Almost no one had any confidence in that project,” Montiel would recall about The Last Torch Song, which, much like the Mexican melodramas of the period, was a throwback to Hollywood fare of the '20s and '30s, with Montiel bringing back to life characters played decades earlier by Kay Francis, Corinne Griffith, Ann Harding, Ruth Chatterton, Irene Dunne, Gloria Swanson, and Barbara Stanwyck.
“When El último cuplé premiered,” Montiel would later recall, “I got to know what success really meant. It was what I wanted, to move the audiences, the masses.” The Last Torch Song reportedly became one of Spain's biggest blockbusters in history.
[“Sara Montiel 'Biography': Legendary Spanish Movie and Recording Star Dead at Age 85” continues on the next page. See link below.]