Eve Golden, "Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez" (UP of Kentucky, 2023)


Before Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria, and Penelope Cruz, there was Lupe Velez―one of the first Latin-American stars to sweep past the xenophobia of old Hollywood and pave the way for future icons from around the world. Her career began in the silent era, when her beauty was enough to make it onto the silver screen, but with the rise of talkies, Velez could no longer hope to hide her Mexican accent. Yet Velez proved to be a talented dramatic and comedic actress (and singer) and was much more versatile than Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, and other legends of the time. Velez starred in such films as Hot Pepper (1933), Strictly Dynamite (1934), and Hollywood Party (1934), and her popularity peaked in the 1940s after she appeared as Carmelita Fuentes in eight Mexican Spitfire films, a series created to capitalize on Velez's reputed fiery personality.

The media emphasized the "Mexican Spitfire" persona, and by many accounts, Velez's private life was as colorful as the characters she portrayed on-screen. Fan magazines mythologized her mysterious childhood in Mexico, while mainstream publications obsessed over the drama of her romances with Gary Cooper, Erich Maria Remarque, and John Gilbert, along with her stormy marriage to Johnny Weissmuller. In 1944, a pregnant and unmarried Velez died of an intentional drug overdose. Her tumultuous life and the circumstances surrounding her early death have been the subject of speculation and controversy.

In Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez (UP of Kentucky, 2023), author Eve Golden uses extensive research to separate fact from fiction and offer a thorough and riveting examination of the real woman beneath the gossip columns' caricature. Through astute analysis of the actress's filmography and interviews, Golden illuminates the path Velez blazed through Hollywood. Her success was unexpected and extraordinary at a time when a distinctive accent was an obstacle, and yet very few books have focused entirely on Velez's life and career. Written with evenhandedness, humor, and empathy, this biography finally gives the remarkable Mexican actress the unique and nuanced portrait she deserves.

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Jeannette Cockroft

Jeannette Cockroft is an associate professor of history and political science at Schreiner University.

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