From Gilbert Roland To Penélope Cruz: ‘Viva Hollywood’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

Following a similar format to Donald Bogle’s Hollywood Black (which traced the contributions of African American artists from silent films to the present day), Luis I. ReyesViva Hollywood does the same for Latinx creatives, both in front of and behind the camera.

Far from being his first book. Reyes has been doing the work of a film historian for years, recognizing and interviewing legends during their lifetime instead of waiting until it’s too late. That’s why Reyes is able to include quotes from actors like Cesar Romero (Batman 66’s Joker) and Ricardo Montalbán (Star Trek’s Khan), who have since passed away but whose insights, as preserved by Reyes through his interviews, are invaluable.

While Bogle organized his book by decade, Reyes takes a slightly different approach (though everything is still relatively in chronological order). Wasting no time, Reyes immediately dives in by discussing some of the stereotypes Latinx artists have been typecast as, including banditos and Latin Lovers. “Fun” fact: while Rudolph Valentino was known as The Latin Lover, he was Italian (not Hispanic) — and for anyone shaky about the difference between terms like Latinx, Hispanic, and Chicano, Reyes defines them in the introduction.

In Singing in the Rain, Lina Lamont had trouble transitioning from silent film to sound because of her Brooklyn accent. For Latinx artists who spoke accented English, it sometimes meant a change in the roles that were offered to them. Then there was the language barrier in general. Mexican film star Dolores Del Rio had to learn English, while Katy Jurado learned her lines phonetically for High Noon with the help of Hispanic actor Antonio Moreno.

Colorism is also a subject that comes up throughout Viva Hollywood. Interracial relationships weren’t allowed to be shown onscreen under the Production Code, but since Latinx performers “…were considered white in the official US census…” (quote from chapter one) it was generally worked around. Juano Hernandez was Afro-Latino but always got cast as African American characters because of his darker skin tone, while Martin Sheen started using a stage name after “casting directors were confused when fair-skinned, blue-eyed Ramon Estevez came in for an audition” (quote from chapter six).

Chapter four is dedicated to unseen talents, like Marcel Delgado and Mario Larrinaga, who worked on the special effects team for the original King Kong. Another example is Mexican American costumer Bill Travilla. If you’ve been following the controversy around Kim Kardashian wearing one of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses from The Seven Year Itch to the Met Gala, that dress was designed by Travilla.

Other topics covered in Viva Hollywood include:

  • Looking at how representation has changed over the years, from the effect that the Good Neighbor Policy had on opportunities (chapter three) to the stories that were being told in the post-war years (chapter five)
  • The differences in casting practices (Latinx actors being cast to play different ethnicities)
  • Film genres, like the western, which tended to hire Latinx actors more (though the roles weren’t always substantive and could be patronizing).
  • Performers (like Anthony Quinn) who were able to reinvent themselves versus others (like Carmen Miranda) who saw their careers hit a wall

Reyes’ focus is on film, not TV, but his coverage extends to 2021 and the release of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. The actor bios in the latter chapters get shorter, too, but that’s a reflection of how each decade keeps bringing more and more Latinx talent and directors to the fore. Plus, these stars’ careers aren’t over yet. Many of them are just getting started.

Viva Hollywood: The Legacy of Latin and Hispanic Artists in American Film is available starting now from Running Press.

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