Cooking With the Stars: Dolores del Río’s Enchiladas
As summer continues, the temperatures are still rising over at Cooking with the Stars HQ! While I’ve been staying inside and preparing for the epic programming of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars, I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to which recipe and star would be the perfect one to honor during the month of August. While there are many amazing actors and actresses appearing on TCM this month that I would be thrilled to write about, I decided to mix things up a little bit and take a trip south of the border to whip up some authentic enchiladas and pay tribute to my favorite actress of color for the wonderful occasion of her 114th birthday: Dolores del Río!
Dolores was born on August 3, 1905, under the name of María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López-Negrete in Durango City, Mexico. It was reported that her family was one of the wealthiest in the country, as her father was the director of the Bank of Durango and her mother descended from Mexican aristocracy and Spanish nobility. On her mother’s side, Dolores was also a cousin of two other Hispanic pioneers in cinema, famed Latin silent star Ramón Novarro, and actress Andrea Palma.
Despite her family’s wealth and success, the Mexican Revolution stripped them of their assets and threatened their lives. While Dolores’ father decided to flee to the United States, Dolores and her mother boarded a train for Mexico City in disguise, barely escaping the power and influence of Pancho Villa. The patriarch of the Asúnsolo family would soon reunite with his wife and daughter, and in 1912 they were able to settle in the nation’s capital due to the protection offered by Dolores’ mother’s cousin, President Francisco Madero.
As Dolores grew up, she became inspired by the theater and yearned to become a dancer. She began studying under famed teacher Felipita Lopez, and by the age of seventeen, she was invited to perform at a local hospital benefit, where she met Jaime Martínez del Río y Viñent, who would become Dolores’ first husband just two months later on April 11, 1921. Their honeymoon lasted two years, during which the couple sailed all over Europe and Dolores danced for the King and Queen of Spain. The two eventually settled at Jaime’s cotton ranch in Mexico City but soon faced destitution when the price of cotton took a nosedive. Around the same time during early 1925, Dolores met influential American filmmaker Edwin Carewe, who was immediately taken with the young dancer and became determined to make her a star. She and Jaime saw the chance meeting as an opportunity to save themselves financially and boarded a train to Los Angeles.
As soon as she arrived in Hollywood, Dolores del Río took Carewe on as her manager, agent, and primary collaborative partner, and the two went to work in order to mold her into the female equivalent of Rudolph Valentino. They used her aristocratic background to get her foot in the door to Hollywood glamour, and within the same year of meeting Carewe, she appeared in her first film, Joanna (1925), in a minor part. As the mystique surrounding the Latina actress grew, so did her roles, and she quickly worked her way up in features such as High Steppers (1926) with Mary Astor and The Whole Town’s Talking (1926) produced by the legendary Carl Laemmle.
Her first starring role was in the comedic picture Pals First (1926), which is now considered lost, but del Río soon followed up the movie’s success with what’s now known as one of the most acclaimed silent films of all time, What Price Glory? (1926) co-starring Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe. The picture became the second-highest-grossing film of the year. At the same time, Dolores became one of 1926’s WAMPAS Baby Stars, an honor which was also received by Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, and Fay Wray that year. From there, Dolores’ career could go nowhere but up, and she continued to star in successful silent features right up until the end of the decade while also proving her singing and talking abilities on the radio.
After breaking off her professional relationship with Carewe due to his inappropriate advances, del Río starred in The Bad One (1930), her first talkie. That same year, the actress also met the finest art director in Hollywood and winner of 11 Academy Awards, Cedric Gibbons, who would go on to become her second husband just as she secured a deal with RKO.
Dolores enjoyed continued success in groundbreaking features at the studio, including Bird of Paradise (1932) with Joel McCrea, and Flying Down to Rio (1933), where she played the leading lady in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers‘ first picture together. Before long, however, RKO’s rising costs led to the studio not renewing del Río’s contract. In a move that would be career-ending for many stars, it was still just the beginning of her incredible career in film, as she was quickly picked up by several studios and placed in starring roles such as Wonder Bar (1934) and the lavish pre-code Madame du Barry (1934) for Warner Bros, my favorite feature of hers, The Devil’s Playground (1937) for Universal, and even a two-picture deal opposite George Sanders for 20th Century Fox.
From there, Cedric Gibbons attempted to use his clout in order to star his wife in MGM pictures, but aside from her film The Man from Dakota (1940), the studio simply wasn’t interested in furthering the career of a Latina actress. To make matters worse, del Río was also placed on a list of actors who were considered “box office poison” alongside stars like Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, and last month’s Cooking with the Stars celebrity Katharine Hepburn.
However, fate stepped in once again for the actress, who met visionary filmmaker Orson Welles in 1940. The two began a clandestine affair which also led to her getting work in live shows with his Mercury Theatre company as well as in his film Journey Into Fear (1942), but when Welles decided to leave the production on a goodwill tour in Brazil and step out on Dolores, she ended the relationship and realized that she should return to Mexico and continue her career, stating: “I wish to choose my own stories, my own director, and cameraman. I can accomplish this better in Mexico. I wanted to return to Mexico, a country that was mine and I did not know. I felt the need to return to my country.” She won three Ariel Awards (the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Award) over the following two decades, cementing herself as one of the finest Mexican actresses of all time.
Dolores del Río continued her successful career in both English and Spanish films right up until her retirement in 1978 and passed away of kidney failure on April 11, 1983, at the age of seventy-eight. In the years following her death, horror icon Vincent Price signed his autographs under her name, and when he was asked why, the actor responded: “I promised Dolores on her deathbed that I would not let people forget about her.” The world certainly hasn’t forgotten about this cinematic pioneer, as countless memorials still stand in her memory in both Mexico and in Hollywood. She most notably stands as one of the four pillars of the Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo which marks the beginning of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dolores del Río’s Enchiladas
- 2 small cans of Ortega green chiles
- 1 pint of sour cream
- 1 pound fresh tomatoes
- 1 medium onion (I used white)
- 1 dozen tortillas (I used flour)
- 4 asaderos, a Mexican cheese
- Scald tomatoes and peel.
- Cut onions fine and fry in lard.
- Add tomatoes to mixture and mix.
- Cut chiles fine and add to mixture, seasoning with salt.
- Add asaderos and mix until it begins to melt. Remove from fire.
- Fry tortillas, one by one, in lard, leaving them soft.
- Place tortillas on a plate and put the tomato mixture in the center of each.
- Roll each filled tortilla and cover with sour cream. Serve immediately.
I can tell just by looking at this recipe that it’s very old, possibly one of the oldest recipes I’ve ever made even though I’m not sure of the year that the recipe is from.
The use of lard and the word “fire” instead of stove really makes me wonder, and the use of asaderos is quite interesting. It took a good deal of research to figure out exactly what cheese I should use in place of asaderos, which I couldn’t find at my local grocery store. On one hand, any of the typical Mexican shredded cheese blends claim to contain asaderos, and in hindsight, I should have probably used that. Instead, I used the queso fresco cheese that I believed would be more authentic.
I wouldn’t recommend doing this at all as the cheese should really only be used as a topping; adding it to my enchilada filling mixture turned out to make it a flavorless, watery, and crumbly mess. Despite that, I enjoyed frying the tortillas and I really loved all of the other elements of the mixture, including the chiles, the onion, and the fresh tomato. I absolutely adore sour cream, but the idea of covering my whole pan of enchiladas with it and not baking the entire dish as I would in most enchilada recipes really turned me off.
Still, for the sake of authenticity, I went ahead and followed the recipe, which led to a strange result. Even after all these changes from my go-to enchilada recipes, Dolores del Río’s enchiladas were very good. I ate all of the leftovers (of which there were a lot), but I think this recipe needs a huge update for modern times. It could be an awesome staple in my weeknight dinner menus, but if I were to make this dish again, I would probably use canned diced tomatoes cooked with the onion, chiles, and shredded Mexican cheese. I would still fry the tortillas, but I would cover the dish with a modern green or red enchilada sauce and top the whole thing with more cheese, baking until everything is golden and bubbly, and only then would I use sour cream in moderation.
As it stands, this recipe receives three Vincents from me, but with some modernization, it could be taken into the stratosphere! No matter how you decide to interpret Dolores’ entrée, you’ll still have a hearty Mexican meal that will serve your entire family, and this dish is the perfect way to salute this icon in Latin cinema.
–Samantha Ellis for Classic Movie Hub
Samantha resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania and is the author of Musings of a Classic Film Addict, a blog that sheds light on Hollywood films and filmmakers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Her favorite column that she pens for her blog is Cooking with the Stars, for which she tests and reviews the personal recipes of stars from Hollywood’s golden age. When she isn’t in the kitchen, Samantha also lends her voice and classic film knowledge as cohost of the Ticklish Business podcast alongside Kristen Lopez and Drea Clark, and proudly serves as President of TCM Backlot’s Philadelphia Chapter. You can catch up with her work by following her @classicfilmgeek on Twitter.