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«The Dissertation Committee for Mary Caudle Beltrán Certifies that this is the approved version of the following dissertation: Bronze Seduction: The ...»

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Mary Caudle Beltrán

The Dissertation Committee for Mary Caudle Beltrán Certifies that this is

the approved version of the following dissertation:

Bronze Seduction: The Shaping of Latina Stardom

in Hollywood Film and Star Publicity


Charles Ramírez Berg, Co-Supervisor

John D.H. Downing, Co-Supervisor

Federico Subervi

S. Craig Watkins

Meenakshi Gigi Durham

Bronze Seduction: The Shaping of Latina Stardom in Hollywood Film and Star Publicity by Mary Caudle Beltrán, B.S., M.S.W.

Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy The University of Texas at Austin August, 2002 Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to my former clients at TAPP, the Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Project, in San Francisco.

Acknowledgements I have been very lucky in this journey; many people have provided support, editorial and research assistance, and guiding lights along the way.

First, I want to thank my parents, Verónica Beltrán Caudle and Rodney Caudle, for providing constant support throughout my doctoral program and for encouraging me to keep pushing ahead. Esto es para Ustedes, Mom and Dad.

The rest of my family also has been wonderfully supportive throughout this process, especially my brother Don and sister Anita.

Next, I must thank my advisors, Charles Ramírez Berg and John D.H.

Downing, for their warm support, close readings of my work, research and editorial suggestions, and life lessons. I’m blessed to have such positive, Muchas gracias also to my other committee inspiring mentors in my life.

members, Federico Subervi, Gigi Durham, and Craig Watkins, for their helpful encouragement and assistance. I’d like to express my gratitude to Federico in particular for helping me get started along this path and mentoring me in my first year in the doctoral program. I’d also like to thank Janet Staiger for her early assistance and guidance, and Thomas Schatz for his incisive recommendations as I was revising the dissertation.

I also would like to thank the library staff of several archives who helped me locate and access publicity stills and other research materials for my threecase studies. This includes Steve Wilson of the Harry Ransom Center for the

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Krueger, and the entire staff of the Reading Room of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

I also have members of the “Latinowood” community to thank, first and foremost Bel Hernandez, editor and publisher of Latin Heat, my home base during my field research. Bel was instrumental in introducing me to Latino industry professionals, as well as providing an inspirational example of what one person can accomplish with respect to improving the lot of Latinos in popular culture. I also would like to thank the many individuals who shared their thoughts with me. I learned a great deal from my time in Los Angeles, and I hope that my work will continue to be informed by what is “really going on” in the industry.

Thanks also must go to the University of Texas at Austin. I have been supported in my years of research and writing by financial assistance from the University in the form of a University Continuing Fellowship, a Charles Bruton Fellowship, and Professional Development Awards, as well as research and teaching assistantships from the Department of Radio-Television-Film.

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to my friends for helping me keep my sanity throughout this process, fielding many a late-night phone call after a difficult day, and taking me to see cheesy action films when I needed a break. And thanks to Alice Chu, my intrepid dissertation-writing buddy, for her support and editorial assistance in the final phase of completing the dissertation.

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Supervisors: Charles Ramírez Berg and John D.H. Downing This dissertation explores the construction and ideological implications of Latina star images in Hollywood film and film publicity in the last nine decades, through in-depth case studies of the publicity that shaped the public images of actresses Dolores Del Rio in the mid-1920s-early 1940s, Rita Moreno in the 1950s and 1960s, and Jennifer Lopez in the last decade. In particular, the shaping of each star’s image is analyzed in light of contemporary tendencies in Latina star promotion, including an emphasis on excessive, seductive bodies. The author documents how Latina stars have been demarcated as distinct from white stars since the transition to sound film, with this distinction positioning them as embodying a “lesser whiteness,” even while they also have been considered “allpurpose ethnics” able to easily portray Asian and American Indian as well as Latina roles. In this process, white femininity and Eurocentric beauty ideals have

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paradigms are shown to reflect the status of Latinos in the U.S. and Hollywood at specific sociohistorical junctures. Within these dynamics, Latina stars have provided challenges to the status quo that have necessitated negotiation in their appearance, publicity, and film roles. As the dissertation documents, traditional Hollywood paradigms are both reified and under challenge in the present day, with current stars and shifting beauty standards reflecting contemporary shifts in the social landscape. Demographic changes, cultural shifts, and the rise of Latino-produced media have brought about an increased awareness and interest in the profits to be made from Latina stardom, while industrial structures and ageold perceptions continue to contribute to a decided ambivalence inherent in the marketing of Latinas as star figures.

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Chapter 1: Bronze Seduction: The Shaping of Latina Stardom in Hollywood....... 1 Chapter 2: Dolores Del Rio in the Twenties and Thirties: Latina Stardom and the Transition to Sound

Chapter 3: Rita Moreno in the Fifties and Sixties: The Selling and Limitations of the Latina Star Body

Chapter 4: Crossing Over (and Beyond) the Latina Body: Jennifer Lopez in Contemporary Hollywood

Chapter 5: Still Looking for Brown-Skinned Girls: Speculations on Latina Stardom Sin Fronteras/Without Borders

Appendix A Dolores Del Rio Filmography

Appendix B Rita Moreno Filmography

Appendix C Jennifer Lopez Filmography

Appendix D List of Interviewees



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When I began this project in the fall of 1998, Ricky Martin was shaking his bon-bon for television audiences and “J.Lo” was just rising star Jennifer Lopez, an actress drawing the spotlight with her professed pride in her curvaceous body. Hollywood films for the first time in decades could boast a growing roster of Latino/a stars well known among even non-Latino audiences, including Lopez, Salma Hayek, Jimmy Smits, Benicio Del Toro, Michelle Rodriguez, and Lupe Ontiveros.1 Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that numerous media outlets declared in 1998 and 1999 that Latinos were “crossing over” into American entertainment. In a “Latin USA” cover issue Newsweek announced the rise of “Generation Ñ,” while New York magazine, renamed Nueva York for its own cover issue, trumpeted the new “Latino explosion.” Meanwhile, Geraldo Rivera and other media shills devoted shows to what was often described as a “wave” of 1 I use the term “Latino/a” and on later references, the shorthand of “Latino” to refer to men and women of Latin and Spanish-speaking descent throughout this dissertation. “Latina” is used for female-specific references. I also use descriptors of nationality (i.e. Mexican, Puerto Rican) when this will provide useful additional information. Debates regarding whether Latinos are a “race” or an “ethnicity” continue to be fought and are beyond the scope of this project. What I do want to emphasize, however, is how Latinos have historically been constructed in the U.S. as a minority group, as Chon Noriega describes, “legally white but socially ‘black’” (Shot in America xxvi).

Moreover, I use the term “race” with the understanding that racial categories are not biological constructs, but rather categories that have been constructed socially, as described by Michael Omi and Howard Winant in Racial Formation in the United States. As Omi and Winant argue, the social process of racialization has established and maintained these categories in society such that they hold the weight of real categories. For lack of a more concise term, “non-white” will be used throughout this dissertation to refer to people racially not of 100 percent European extraction. The terms “Anglo American” and “white” will be used interchangeably to refer to Americans of full European descent.

Latinos entering the fields of U.S. entertainment, cultural life, sports, and politics.2 Regardless of whether this media emphasis reflected actual or lasting changes, an interest in all things Latin seemed to have taken hold, at least temporarily, in American popular culture.

While the success and grand-scale promotion of such performers as Lopez and Martin perhaps signaled progressive tendencies afoot within the U.S.

entertainment media in relation to Latino culture and entertainers, however, the actual behind-the-scene scenarios and media artifacts of Latino stardom didn’t always match the optimism nor the hype. Most notably, hints of contradiction could easily be discerned. Today’s Latino stars, as even the most cursory of surveys of Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin’s publicity reveals, tread a delicate balance between stereotype and authenticity in their star promotion, as well as in terms of appeals to different ethnic audiences.

This precarious balance is nowhere more notable than in the presentation of Latino, and particularly, Latina star bodies. With respect to the performers who were spotlighted in this recent “Latin wave,” Latina faces and bodies were showcased as beautiful, sexy, and above all, exotic. Although it’s true “sex sells” for actors of all ethnic backgrounds,3 Latina actors appear to have the most difficulty escaping publicity that labels them as exceptionally and innately sexy/fiery/irresistible, with these qualities inscribed in particular on their bodies as star texts. Ricky Martin’s bon-bon aside, one illustration serves as a vivid case in point: On October 9, 1998, Jennifer Lopez graced the cover of Entertainment Weekly, the photo consisting of Lopez wearing only a pair of black tights, a satisfied smile, and posed with her back to the camera, a pure fetishization of her 2 Mireya Navarro, John Leland and Veronica Chambers, “Generation ñ.” Newsweek (July 12, 1999), and New York’s “Latino Explosion” issue (September 9, 1999). Geraldo Rivera dedicated one of his news discussion shows on MSNBC Network to Latino “crossover” during the week of December 26, 1999.

3 A point Sandy Varga, then-advertising manager of Latin Heat magazine, made during a personal conversation during my field research in Los Angeles in 2000.

posterior. A two-page centerfold photo inside the magazine was in the same vein with Lopez’s rear end filling a good deal of the right-hand page. The headline, “From here to DIVANITY,” the I’s in DIVANITY curved like a voluptuous woman, reiterated that Lopez had arrived as a celebrated, or at least heavily hyped, Hollywood body, a moment to be explored further in Chapter 4. In a development not lacking in irony, this publicity surfaced at a time when Lopez’s position in Hollywood was becoming less dependent on playing sexualized or stereotypical Latina roles. Echoes of such body-obsessed promotion can be discerned in the media coverage of other contemporary Latina stars, while retrospective examination of their predecessors’ publicity demonstrates that this is not a new phenomenon. There is much to learn from an exploration of such contradictory dynamics.

In addition, Latino performers in Hollywood in the 1990s often were referred to as “crossover” stars, even if they grew up in the U.S. and didn’t speak fluent Spanish, as I discuss later in this chapter. The use of this term with respect to Latino film actors is relatively recent, having entered the popular lexicon in the 1980s. Regardless, it has quickly become a standard element of Latino star promotion, inscribing Latino and Latina performers in a manner that other nonwhite performers generally do not experience, as somehow un-American. What sort of figurative borders are reflected or maintained in this industrial and popular culture construction?

The subtle complexities of the current crossover paradigm are particularly striking in light of the history of Latino and Latina stardom, for Latino acting hopefuls have not always been marketed with this sort of star promotion.

Changing social and historical contexts, as well as industrial developments in U.S.

film, have established radically different openings and opportunities for Latino actors in different eras. Most notably, many questions can be raised regarding the changes that have taken place since the heyday of silent film, when a handful of Latino actors managed to achieve success and were promoted in a manner on par with white actors. Silent film stars of the middle and late 1920s such as Dolores Del Rio, Antonio Moreno, Ramón Novarro, and Lupe Velez were considered box office draws equal to many of their Anglo contemporaries and as simply “stars” rather than crossover stars. While long-standing notions of Latinidad (literally, Latin-ness) did play into their publicity, career opportunities, and resulting star images, each actor headlined a number of successful feature films, making for a Latino roster of major Hollywood (and global) stars that is only recently beginning to be matched.

The current body-focused promotion of Jennifer Lopez as a star figure also highlights the aesthetic and related ideological nuances that at times have distinguished the gender-specific marketing of Latinas in U.S. film and popular culture. A specific focus on Latina actors, which I have chosen to emphasize in this dissertation, also highlights the differing opportunities that have been afforded to Latinos and Latinas in Hollywood in various eras, as I discuss in further detail later in this chapter.

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