Maria Felix (l.) arriving at the "Adam and Eve" party of Luis and Betty Estéve(c. & r.) in Acapulco, 1960.
Last night was the first night of the great Maria Felix estate sale at Christie’s. Because she never appeared in American films (she’d been offered roles but never the starring one), she wasn’t famous in this country. However, in Mexico, South America and Europe Maria Felix was a legendary beauty and movie star. I too knew nothing about her except the name, so I asked my friend Luis Estévez, the Cuban-born international designer who long had a house in Acapulco, if he knew her.
Luis Estévez: I knew her very well. We had a marvelous relationship. She was beautifully over-the-top dramatic and daringly dangerous and desirable.
And by dramatically dangerous, I mean she was very upfront. We met in 1959 in Acapulco just before Acapulco had its golden era. At that time I was in my late 20s and the hot new star in the fashion world, and I’d built a house (“Le Cumbre”) there that everybody was talking about. It was at a dinner party at Natasha and Jacques Gelman’s. He was the manager of Catinflas, the great Mexican star. The Gelmans also had one of the greatest collections of modern art in the world.
Now Maria Felix played to men and to women. She was a sexual goddess and both men and women fell madly in love with her. On this night that we met, I knew who she was of course, but she came right up to me and said: “We’re going to be friends.” She won me immediately.
This was after she divorced Agustin Lara, the great composer who had been madly in love with her and had written one of his most famous songs for her. It was sung over and over – Maria Bonita, the Acapulco Maria Bonita. After that marriage was over – because he was older – she met this very handsome very popular Mexican star, Jorge Negrete. Jorge was so passionately in love with her, the story goes, that shortly afer their wedding he died – he was very young – while making love to her. (laughter from LE). Good story, true or not, and very dramatic just like Maria.
Whatever, one of the most famous stories about Maria Felix had to do with that marriage. Jorge Negrete did indeed die shortly after he and Maria married. But before that he had given her the most extravagant expensive suite of cut emeralds mounted with diamonds from Cartier -- a necklace, a bracelet, earrings and a very big ring before big rings were the thing. After he died, Maria discovered that the jewels hadn’t yet been paid for. The jewelers of course came to Maria Felix for the money but she refused to pay. So naturally they wanted her to return the suite of emeralds and diamonds.
Maria Felix, in her true, strong style of dealing with anything, looked at them and said:
Lo dado es dado. (What is given is given.)
And so it was.
And of course, after that she went off to Paris, changed her whole life at that moment, and met Freddie, a famous lesbian who owned a very popular nightclub called Freddie’s. Now Maria was a total bisexual. She loved men and she loved women. She loved to be passionate and dramatic. And that’s what made her such a star. So she and Freddie had this affair and Maria became so enamored of Freddie that she gave her the big diamond and emerald ring from Cartier.
And then as things go, they ended the relationship with an out-and-out over the top fight. And of course, Maria went to Freddie and said “I want that emerald and diamond ring back.”
But Freddie turned to Maria and said:
Lo dado es dado.
And so it was.
It was after that, when Maria came back to Acapulco, that she and I became tremendous friends. She was famous for always being late. That was so she could make an entrance, of course: You plan it, you look better than anybody and you’re more famous anybody. There’s the drama. I recall one time at a huge luncheon for a hundred or more in a sunken patio garden in Las Brisas when Maria arrived and everybody was already seated at all their tables -- with the mariachis playing and the crowd chatting.
All of a sudden the mariachi stopped. They had seen her arriving at the top of the broad, wide steps. They started to play Lara’s famous love song to her: Maria Bonita; Maria del alma Maria de Acapulco.
Suddenly everybody looked up…and there she was, dazzling, shimmering; ready for her closeup.
The hostess got up and ran over to greet her. Everyone was quiet. The hostess began to escort her to her place. Maria Felix stopped her, holding up her hand. “No,” she said to her hostess. “I want to sit there,” she declared, pointing in my direction, “next to Luis Estévez.”
And so, of course she did. When she got to my side we kissed and then she said:
“Como te gusto esta encrada?” (How do you like that entrance?)
(laughter from Luis)
Now there was one other person in Mexico who was as beautiful and as famous as Maria, and that was Dolores del Rio. Dolores, who was also a friend, was beautiful inside and out. She was a classy, caring lady. I loved both women but they were tremendous rivals. Those in the know went out of their way never to have them at the same time as guests because it could become a problem. They were really not friendly. They did not, they would not, speak to each other. It could get very tense and uncomfortable for everyone else. They were so completely different, both so beautiful, but they were very jealous of each other.
Maria Felix didn’t help matters. She’d played the drama right to the end. That’s why she was a star. I loved her. She was unstoppable.