Maria Montez (Maria Africa Antonia Gracia Vidal de Santo Silas)
Photos with Maria Montez
BiographyBarahona, Dominican Republic
In a world weary of war and dispirited by the ravages of the Great Depression, Hollywood at the turn of the 1940's concocted a wildly popular, effective lot of escapist fare (though often cheaply made) to regale the sick at heart worldwide. Universal Pictures, more often than not, led in producing such films. We know about the monster movies: wolf men, invisible men -- and invisible women too, for that matter. We know about Sherlock Holmes chasing not killer hounds in 1890 but chasing killer Nazis a half- century later. Such were among typical Universal "B" productions. Read more... -- Maria Montez. This daughter of a Spanish diplomat traveled extensively after being educated in the Canary Islands and attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to establish herself as a stage actress in Europe. In 1940 she found herself in New York City, a model. Her screen career began in 1941, with Universal casting her in bit parts. On account of her strikingly exotic looks and her exotic accent, the studio soon paired her with other "exotics" (Sabu and Turhan Bey), and usually with a more "home-style" hero (Jon Hall), in a series of low-budget adventures, filmed in Technicolor and situated in fantasy lands, with Montez herself often situated in revealing dress. With Montez threatened by all manner of nastiness -- from evil caliphs to man-eating sharks to her own cobra-worshipping twin sister (!) -- her pictures soon became immensely popular, even though she could not really act, could not dance and could not sing. Audiences flocked to see her films, just to witness the trials and endurance of an alluring beauty in distress (as well, perhaps, as to glimpse some scantily clad, beauteous flesh). The Depression having long since passed, the end of World War II meant also the end of flying carpets and sand dunes and deadly reptiles as potential subjects for attracting moviegoers. That bit of history, plus a bit of girth added to Montez's frame, led her and her husband, the actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, to abandon Hollywood for Europe, where she would appear in a handful of French and Italian adventure films. On 7 September 1951 Maria Montez was discovered drowned in her bath, possibly having first suffered a heart attack.