Born Maria Africa Gracia Vidal in the Dominican Republic on June 6, 1912, exotic actress Maria Montez was raised in the Canary Islands, where she attended convent school. She came to America in the late 1930s with her first husband, a British Army officer whom she married at age 25. The marriage fizzled soon thereafter, and Montez went to New York to take a modeling job. Her photos came to the attention of several studio executives. She initially signed with RKO, but when the studio declined to pick up her option, Universal Studios put her under contract in 1940.
LEFT: Early 1940s Universal studio photo of Maria Montez. RIGHT: With frequent costar Jon Hall
Maria Montez's first film for Universal was the 1940 sci-fi comedy The Invisible Woman
; however, her role wasn't much more than a bit part. Montez grew frustrated with the studio system at Universal, which dictated coming up through the ranks by way of small roles and low-budget films. Montez wished to start at the top, but without studio execs on her side, she started her own publicity campaigns and fan club. Throughout the next two years, Montez appeared in several more films, including That Night in Rio
(1941; with Alice Faye and Don Ameche) and Raiders of the Desert
(1941; with Richard Arlen
and Turhan Bey
), but she served as little more than window dressing in these films. So Montez stepped up her efforts at self-promotion, making grand entrances at nightclubs and social functions, and even appearing at smaller gatherings with her own entourage. Her efforts began to pay off by 1942, when she was cast in the title role in the film The Mystery of Marie Roget
(1942; with Patric Knowles). Gaining a following, Montez insisted that her next film be shot in color, since she didn't photograph as well in black and white. Her impulse was correct, as Arabian Nights
(1942; with Jon Hall
and Sabu) was released during the 1942 Christmas season and became an instant smash hit.
the films of maria montez
Boss of Bullion City (1940)
With Johnny Mack Brown and Fuzzy Knight in the Universal western Boss of Bullion City
Arabian Nights (1942)
LEFT: With frequent co-stars Jon Hall and Sabu in the Universal actioner Arabian Nights. This was the first of six films in which Hall and Montez costarred. RIGHT: With Sabu
Bombay Clipper (1942)
With William Gargan and Turhan Bey in Universal's mystery Bombay Clipper
White Savage (1943)
LEFT: With Jon Hall in Universal's White Savage. RIGHT: With Sidney Toler
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944)
With Turhan Bey in the colorful Universal adventure Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Cobra Woman (1944)
From Universal's Technicolor adventure Cobra Woman. LEFT and CENTER A: Montez as Tollea. CENTER B: With Lon Chaney Jr. and Sabu. RIGHT: With Jon Hall
Again with Turhan Bey in Universal's romantic adventure Sudan
Siren of Atlantis (1949)
With Dennis O'Keefe in the campy adventure Siren of Atlantis
In July 1943, Montez married French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont
, but Aumont's service in World War II immediately interrupted the honeymoon. After returning from the war, Aumont returned to making films in America but was unhappy with the types of roles offered to him, so in 1948, Montez, Aumont, and their infant daughter moved to France, where Aumont resumed his career in French films.
Montez became discontented with the roles Universal offered her after the war. When she was cast in The Exile
(1947; with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), she found the role gave her only 20 minutes of screen time. She balked but later accepted the role rather than be suspended by the studio, but Montez had a stipulation in her contract giving her top billing. After getting out of her Universal contract, she began making films in Europe with quite a bit of success. Sadly, on September 7, 1951, Montez was found dead in the bathtub of her Paris home at age 39. Although no autopsy was performed, it was speculated that she had a heart attack. She was survived by second husband Jean-Pierre Aumont
(1911-2001) and their daughter, actress Tina Aumont (1946-2006).
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