Posted in essay, film

Women of History: Katy Jurado

Authors Note: I apologize for any horrible Spanish used.  Most of my translations are either US Titles provided on IMDB or use of Google Translate as my Spanish is rusty.

Since it is May, and May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) is tomorrow we are going to have a theme of Mexican (or Mexican-American) Women of History for this month. Our first woman featured is Katy Jurado. Katy was a Mexican actress who eventually had a Hollywood career.

She was born Maria Cristina Estela Marcella Jurado Garcia on January 16, 1924 in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her father, Luis Jurado Ochoa, was a lawyer while her mother Vicenta Estela Garcia de la Garza was a singer who worked for the local radio station. Musical talent ran in the family, as Vicenta’s sister Belisario was a songwriter. She also was a distant cousin of President Emilio Portes Gil, who became president of Mexico when she was four years old. Her family was wealthy and owned land for most of her childhood.

She studied at a catholic high school in Mexico City, and later studied to be a bilingual secretary. However, the acting bug bit her in high school, and she soon found herself focusing on that. At 17 she got her first offer for a role in the 1941 film The Isle of Passion (La Isla de Passion) which was directed by Emilio Fernandez. However, her parents did not consent for their daughter to be film.

Her first credited film was 1943’s No Mataras (sometimes known in the US as Thou Shall Not Kill). She was still underage, but she signed the contract without her parents’ knowledge. They were not happy with their daughter and threatened to send her to a boarding School.

However, their disappointment did not stop their daughter’s career. She produced several films over the next few years. Her first commercial success was 1944’s La vida inutil de Pito Perez (The Adventures of Pito Perez). She appeared in 19 films between 1943 and 1951 in what was called the golden age of Mexican Cinema.

It was during this time that Katy met her first husband, Victor Velazquez. He was a fellow actor, and their marriage in 1943 allowed her to get around her parent’s permission to be in film. Their marriage lasted for three years, and they had 2 children, Victor Hugo and Sandra.

While acting was her calling, she worked as a radio reporter, bullfighting critic and movie columnist to make ends meet. It was her time as a bullfighting critic that brought her to the attention of Hollywood. In 1950, she went on assignment to a bullfight and caught the eye of movie producer Budd Boetticher and John Wayne who were there to scope out location shots for their 1951 film Bullfighter and the Lady. While they did not know at first that she was also an actress, she was cast in the film, making her US film debut.

That film caught the attention of producer Stanley Kramer, who soon cast her in 1952’s High Noon. While she had learned her lines phonetically for her previous English-speaking film, for High Noon she started taking English classes. She starred in the role of Helen Ramirez, the former love interest of Gary Cooper’s character. It caught critical attention and she was nominated for two Golden Globes. She won Best Supporting Actress for the role and made history as the first Latina to do so. This would be the first of many nominations and awards Katy would receive over the course of her career, both in the US and Mexico.

That film also started a lifetime friendship with John Wayne.

After High Noon she split her time between Mexico and Hollywood. She won a best supporting actress award in the Mexican Silver Ariel awards for El Bruto(1953). She also participated in Mexico’s English-speaking contributions to film including 1953’s El Corazon y La Espada which she stared with Cesar Romero, a Spanish-American.

In 1954, she played the role of a Comanche woman in two films. The first was Arrowhead with Charlton Heston. The second was Broken Lance, where she played the wife of Spencer Tracy. The role originally had been given to fellow Mexican actress Dolores del Rio but she had been accused of being a communist.

The 1950s was a dark time for Hollywood as the McCarthy led witch hunt for communist sent many actors, writers, and other Hollywood regulars out of work because they were ‘communist’. Sometimes it only took a simple association to someone who might have attended a meeting at some point. Dolores del Rio was another victim of the McCarthy-era.

Katy won the role despite the producers being a little unsure due to her age. She was a little young for the part, but she impressed them when they saw the final shots. It earned her an academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Again, history was made. Only two other Mexican actresses have been nominated for that award: Selma Hayak in 2002 and Adriana Barraza in 2006.

The rest of the fifties were a mix of films between Mexico and Hollywood with various success. She also debuted on Broadway in 1856 (Filomena Marturano). She featured in several westerns with Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn. She appeared in the western themed TV series, The Riflemenbridging onto television as well.

In 1954 she met her second husband, Ernest Borgnine. The two would marry in 1959, but their marriage would only last 4 years. Romantically she was paired with several leading men of Hollywood, including Tyrone Power and Marlon Brando. She had a possible love affair with author Louis L’Amour, although sources differ on this.

In the 1960s, Katy decided to branch out even further, joining various Italian productions. She worked with her husband Ernest, and previous co-star Anthony Queen in 1961 on the biblical epic Barabbas. She worked with Ernest on several films prior to their divorce. She worked on films in the US and Mexico as well, including the 1968 Elvis Presley film Stay Away, Joe.

Also, in 1968, she returned to living in Mexico, this time moving to the city of Cuernavaca, which is not far from Mexico City.  She continued to work in the US afterwards, but not at the pace she previously had. In 1973, Katy appeared in the film Fé, Esperanza y Caridad.  The film was directed by Jorge Fons and won Katy and Silver Ariel Award.  The role would be one of her favorite performances.

She continued to work in film and television throughout the seventies and eighties.  Jorge Fons and John Huston cast her in several of their films.  Tragedy stuck her family in 1981, when her son Victor Hugo Velazquez Jurado was killed in a car accident.   She became depressed and for a few years she retired from her acting career.  However, her friend and director John Huston convinced her to come film Under the Volcano(1984) with him and got her back into acting. She also got on a short-lived ABC comedy known as a.ka. Pablo which lasted six episodes.

Katy won several awards for her work in Mexico and the US during the 1990s, including telenovelas, films and her general contribution to the western genre.  She continued to work in film and television till her death.

Katy Jurado died on July 5, 2002 at the age of 78.  Her filmography continued after her death with the last film she filmed Un Secreto de Esperanza (A Beautiful Secret).  The film was screened first at the Los Angeles Latino Film Festival on July 26, 2002.  It would travel to various film festivals throughout 2003.  Its release in Mexico would happen in 2005, and it wouldn’t premiere for general audiences in the US till 2009.

Katy’s legacy is perhaps what she has done for others.  She broke through barriers that others might have realized where there.  She made significant contributions to cinema as an actress, but also as a Latina.  She was the first Latin-American actress nominated for a Golden Globe and the Academy Awards.  She was the first to win a Golden Globe.  It’s hard to imagine that there was close to sixty years before another Mexican actress was nominated.  She also made sure to choose roles that represented Latinos better.  She is quoted in her LA Times obituary as saying, “I didn’t take all the films that were offered, just those with dignity.”

She also left a body of work in both English and Spanish that is still enjoyed by many.

Further Reading: Katy Jurado

Wikipedia: Katy Jurado

Arabella & Co: Actors with Character: Katy Jurado

People Magazine (1/16/2018) What You Need to Know about Today’s Latina Google Doodle Katy Jurado

AlJazeera:  Katy Jurado: Why Google Honors her today (1/16/2018)

Encyclopaedia Britannica:  Katy Jurado

LA Times: Katy Jurado, 78; Mexican Film Star had US Roles in the 50s  (7/6/2002)


A thirty-something Graphic Designer and writer who likes to blog about books, movies and History.

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