She was born to Jesus Leonardo Asunsolo Jacques, who worked as a bank director, and Antonia Lopez-Negrete. They were members of the high class until the Mexican Revolution when they lost all their assets. It was around this time that Dolores began dreaming of becoming an actress. She wanted to go back to living the high life and figured that was the best route to take.
Besides acting, she also enjoyed dancing, especially ballet. While studying dancing, she would earn money by dancing for the rich families of the Mexican aristocracy.
In 1925, she made her debut in the film Joanna, starring Dorothy Mackaill. Because of her exotic looks, she was cast in a vamp role. Unfortunately, her part in the film was only about 5 minutes long and she was billed as "Dorothy Del Rio" in the credits. Carewe told her not to worry, and that he planned on making her a star.
How did Carewe plan on making her a star? He began promoting her as the female Valentino, which was not something Dolores was thrilled about. But, like it or not, most female stars who had an exotic look or were from another country were cast in vamp/overtly sexual roles. It was either take the film roles, work for poverty row studios, or don't work at all.
In 1926, she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star along with Joan Crawford, Mary Astor, and Janet Gaynor. It was after this nomination that people really began to see her as the beauty she really was.
What is interesting to note is that while she began earning top billing in her pictures, she could barely speak English. She would move her lips phonetically to try and match what the title cards were saying in order to make her acting appear more real to the audience.
After such a high profile film, her career took a bit of a dip when the studios just wanted to capitalize on her name and throw her into any picture. Thankfully, the following year, she had another career boost.
United Artists signed Dolores up and she appeared in the film Ramona, and also recorded the theme song for the movie. The film did have a synchronized score, but it is/was not considered a talkie.
United Artists was getting a little fed up with the partnership between Dolores and Edwin Carewe. They felt that he was used her as a stepping stone and they wanted to be in charge of her career. UA finally convinced Dolores to cut ties with the famed director which took a great weight off her shoulders. Needless to say, Carewe was PISSED. He demanded that she pay him a huge amount of money to compensate for his losses. He then decided to go even further below the belt and cast one of Dolores's main rivals, Lupe Velez in his newest picture.
Dolores took all this madness in stride and simply continued focusing on her own career. In 1930, she appeared in the film The Bad One, with Edmund Lowe and Boris Karloff.
Dolores took a year long break from working, but it was not her choice to do so. It was said that she suffered a kidney infection, but there were whispers around town that she had suffered a nervous breakdown from all the stress caused by the Carewe ordeal. Either way, the break caused her United Artists contract to run out.
She appeared in another remake in 1934. This time it was Madame DuBarry, and it had the misfortune or being torn apart by the Hays office. The film was edited so much that it came out almost nothing like the original story. The audiences didn't like, and neither did the people involved in the making of the film.
As the '30s progressed, her box office appeal began to wain. The heads of the studios preferred leading ladies like Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer, not Latina actresses. There was "good" exotic, like Greta Garbo, and "bad" exotic, which became Dolores del Rio.
Her returning role was in a film opposite Elvis Presley. Elvis greeted her with flowers and said he knew exactly who she was and said it was an honor to work with her. Dolores soon began to look at him as a son and was very affectionate with him.
Eventually, her screen appeal did began to wain again. She decided to switch mediums and go into theatre and then into television. Her last appearance on tv was in an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D. Her last film role was in 1978.
She was buried at the Panteon de Dolores Cemetery in Mexico City, Mexico. In 2005, her ashes were moved to the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres. She has a HUGE headstone.
Dolores was married three times. Her first husband was Jaime Martinez del Rio, the son of a wealthy Mexican family. She was only 16 years old when they met and was 18 years younger than him! But, they fell in love, and married and spent their early years together in Europe. Unlike her own family, Jaime was thrilled about Dolores going to Hollywood, but for his own reasons. He thought that he could escape his boring life and get work as a script writer. He did not deal well with her success in Hollywood. A close source to the couple said, "In Mexico City she had been Jaime del Rio's wife. In Hollywood, Jaime became Dolores del Rio's husband. The situation was intolerable for both of them. Two events that happened in succession helped to end the marriage once and for all. Dolores suffered a miscarriage and was told that she could not have children. Then, rumors began circulating that Dolores was having an affair with her mentor, Edwin Carewe. The rumors were never proven as true. The couple separated and a few months later, Dolores received word that Jaime had died of blood poisoning in Germany. Apparently people thought that he must have really died by his own hand, but it has never been fully proven. According to a 1928 newspaper article, by his bedside was a letter that was sent by Dolores that simply said, "I love you."
Her second marriage was to Cedric Gibbons from 1930 until 1940. The couple met at a party at Hearst Castle and had a lot of mutual friends in the Hollywood community. Their divorce was caused by her affair with Orson Welles. The affair with Welles lasted two years and was very intense. He later called her the great love of his life. Apparently that feeling dissipated a bit because while on vacation in Brazil, he slept around with a bunch of woman. Dolores heard about it somehow and sent him a letter breaking off the affair. He never answered.
Her third and final marriage was to Lewis Riley, an American businessman. They married in 1959 and remained married until her death in 1983.
Her family may not have approved of her career aspirations at first, but it seems as though the acting bug was very present in her lineage. She is the second cousin of Ramon Novarro, and was cousin to another actress named Andrea Palma.
In 1934, Dolores became part of the very beginnings of the "Red Scare" that began to sweep the nation. Apparently she attended a movie screening that was rumored to have been worked on by Josef Stalin and of course, tongues started wagging. It came back to haunt her in the 1950s when she was denied permission to work again in the US because of her "communist sympathies."
Dolores supposedly had fierce rivalries with two other Latin actresses of the day, Lupe Velez (who didn't have a rivalry with her?) and Maria Felix. Maria was a guest on a number of occasions to parties held at Dolores's home after she married Lewis Riley, and later said that they were in fact friends but were just different in their personalities. Lupe on the other hand, well, can we expect anything less of our "Mexican Spitfire"? Apparently, Dolores was scared to death of meeting with Lupe because she was known to be quite an aggressive person. Lupe tried to call her out and egg her on by mocking her in public. Tsk, tsk ladies...
During her later years in the sixties and seventies, Dolores worked as a crusader for actor's rights in Mexico. In 1974, she founded the Asociacion Nacional de Actores and served as president for a number of years.
She had some crazy rumors during her day about what she did to maintain her beauty. It was said that she ate mostly orchid petals and slept 16 hours a day.
Her image is part of a statue on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which, for some reason I had never heard of or seen) along with Mae West, Anna May Wong, and Dorothy Dandridge called "Four Ladies of Hollywood."