Katy Jurado


Katy Jurado who has died at the age of 78, was one of the Latina actors who hit Hollywood long before the contemporary generation, for whom, along with the likes of Dolores del Rio, she helped pave the way. Unlike Del Rio or Maria Felix, she was not a classic beauty, but her enormous eyes and body language quietly signalled powerful sexuality and a strength of character, the latter particularly significant in her US films.

Her family was extremely wealthy: indeed, generations before, they had owned the whole of what is now Texas. Come the Mexican revolution, they lost it, and, as Jurado remarked ironically: “My family is no longer very, very rich, but they still live that way.” Her father was a cattle rancher and owner of orange groves; her mother, a former opera singer who had retired from the stage to marry.

In 1943, to the dismay of her family Jurado was signed up to appear in Internado Para Señoritas, directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares, for which she won an Ariel (Mexico’s Oscars). There was then a spate of 13 films before she made her American debut, as the wife of Gilbert Roland in Bud Boetticher’s The Bullfighter And The Lady (1951), shot in Mexico.

Jurado appeared in three more Mexican movies, including a great performance in Luis Buñuel’s El Bruto (1952) – for which she won the top Mexican award – before going to Hollywood the same year to play in Fred Zinneman’s High Noon.

Reportedly not knowing any English, during the shoot of both her early US films she learnt her lines phonetically, had them explained in Spanish and “hoped for the best”. This seems difficult to believe, especially when you see her performance in High Noon, for which she was Oscar-nominated as best supporting actress, so it may have been a publicity stunt.

Whatever the truth, Jurado continued to make US films until the early 1960s, appearing in such productions as Arrowhead (1953), with Charlton Heston, and Broken Lance (1954), as Spencer Tracy’s Indian wife. She took over this role from Dolores del Rio, who was refused a work permit for having contributed to a cause considered communist in the US.AJurado won an Oscar for best supporting actress in Broken Lance, though, in some ways, it is difficult to see why. For most of the film, she does little except play sounding board for Tracy – although she does it well. She only comes into her own at the end, when her performance is short but emotionally powerful. She was heavily made-up to add to her years.

Other films included Trapeze (1956), with Burt Lancaster, and One-Eyed Jacks (1959), with Marlon Brando, before she returned to make films in Mexico. Her later US work included Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973), John Huston’s Under The Volcano (1984) and Stephen Frears’s Hi-Lo Country (1998), in which her appearance lasted hardly longer than her name on the credits, although her presence was as immediate and powerful as ever

She made guest appearances in US television series such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Virginian, continued to work in Mexico, and appeared consistently on Mexican television from the 1970s. She won many awards at home, and is the only Mexican woman to have received the keys to New York City, in 1954.

But film was not Jurado’s only profession: she wrote features, film reviews and, as an authority on bullfighting, for Mexican newspapers. She was also a radio commentator.

She was married at a young age to Victor Velasquez, the Mexican film actor and writer, by whom she had a son and a daughter; in 1959 she married the actor Ernest Borgnine, from whom she was divorced after five years.

· Maria Cristina Estella Marcela Jurado García, actor and writer, born January 16 1924; died July 5 2002

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *