Friday, May 29, 2015

SHE DANCED THE TANGO WITH RUDOLPH VALENTINO - Beatriz Dominguez

I have mentioned before in this blog that I have had a lifelong fascination with silent film superstar Rudolph Valentino.  As the years passed and I learned more about Valentino's life and work I began to branch out and started doing research on his family, friends and coworkers. From the first time I saw her dance with Valentino in 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (Metro-1921) I became a fan of Beatriz Dominguez.  What was her story?  How did she come to do the tango with one of the most famous dancers of all time?  And what caused her sudden death in 1921 at the age of 24?  Let's see  what we can "dig up".

Beatriz (some sources have Americanized it to "Beatrice") Dominguez was born in San Bernardino, California (not Mexico as many sources indicate) on September 6, 1896 to Tirso Dominguez (????-????) and Beatriz  nee Valencia (1860-1931).  Within the family Beatriz the mother was called "Petra" to differentiate her from Beatriz the daughter.  Beatriz the daughter had four sisters:  Cecelia (1883-1946), Maria Elena (1885-1948), Lola (1889-1959), and Inez (1893-1981). Beatriz' ancestors on her mother's side were from Sevilla in Spain.

As her sisters did, Beatriz received her education at the Sacred Heart Convent School in Los Angeles. Her family would have preferred that she pursue a professional career as a doctor or a lawyer, but from the very start Beatriz felt that her calling was to be a dancer. 

She was said to have danced professionally from the age of 14 as a dancer for the Mission Inn in Riverside, California.



The first mention in the press of Beatriz Dominguez dancing was in the The Riverside (CA) Daily Press that described a 1914 New Year’s Eve appearance by Dominguez as part of the formal opening of the Mission Inn’s Spanish Art Gallery.

This was followed by an article stating that Mission Inn officials sought to put her under contract for the entire performing arts season.  She danced La Jota with partner, Professor Raphael Valverde to the music of La Madre del Cordero. Later that season, she danced solo to the Espana Waltz and the classic Manzanillo.



Dominguez said she was taught authentic Spanish dance by her mother, Petra, who was taught the 1840-style by her grandmother.  She told Riverside reporters in 1914 that she provided the Mission Inn audience with genuine Spanish dances.  “Back in 1840, they were popular with the Spanish people and I hope that my interpretations tonight will meet with the approval of the guests of the hotel.”

Her younger sister Inez had a short-lived career dancing in films, and she suggested that Beatriz might be able to achieve the success that had eluded her.  In late 1913 and early 1914 Beatriz had credited roles in two Vitagraph shorts:  'The Masked Dancer', and 'The Sea Gull.'

Having gained popularity with the public through her dancing at the Mission Inn, she was a natural choice to dance at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Diego in 1915-1916.  Her dancing was such a draw, that an image of her was put on one of the posters advertising the fair:



She was billed as "La Bella Sevilla" and as before she danced the classic La Jota.  After seeing Beatriz dance, Theodore Roosevelt said she was “California’s sweetheart—fairest dancing daughter of the dons.”



 
While performing in San Diego, she was said to have had an uncredited role in the Douglas Fairbanks film, 'The Americano' (Fine Arts-1916). After the exposition, Beatriz returned to dancing in vaudeville.

“After I left San Diego,” Beatriz recalled, “and had danced at the Mission Inn in Riverside—I wished to act.  I called at some of the studios and did not say that I was the premiere dancer at Balboa Park (San Diego).  I simply registered as ‘La Bella Sevilla.’  Mr. O. H. Davis, who was a vice-president of the Exposition, was appointed general manager of Universal.  One day, when I called there, he suggested that I use my own name, because directors were rather afraid to employ a dancer because they reasoned that she could not act.  I was baptized ‘Beatriz,’ but at the studios they have turned that into the American ‘Beatrice.’”

She returned to films in 1919.  Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal saw her and considered her “an exceptional motion picture type”.  She appeared in 'The Light of Victory,' 'The Sundown Trail', and the short 'The Wild Westerner' all for Universal.

She continued working for Universal in 1920 and appeared in the short 'Hair Trigger Stuff,' as well as Rex Ingram's 'Under Crimson Skies.'  She also was cast in an Art Acord serial 'The Moon Riders.'

Beatriz became one of the first Hispanic actresses to receive screen billing and to be mentioned in the trade press.

In late 1920 she appeared in another Art Acord serial 'The Fire Cat' but it was during this time that Beatriz Dominguez had the role for which she is most remembered today:  dancing the tango with Rudolph Valentino in 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (Metro-1921).  The trade papers announced: "Beatrice Dominguez, a Spanish dancer, has been engaged to play in the Metro production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Rex Ingram is directing."  The ironic thing is, although this is the role for with Beatriz is best remembered, her name does not appear in the credits.



I have often been asked what is my favorite Rudolph Valentino film. My first choice would be 'The Sheik' because that was the first Valentino film I ever saw, but overall I would have to say that my favorite is 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse'.  This film has everything: war, romance, betrayal, love, death, a screenplay by June Mathis and Valentino dancing with Beatriz Dominguez.  If you have never seen it, you should. It is readily available today on DVD and it is well worth your time.  It is truly a spectacular film.  It cost an estimated $800,000 to film (in 1921 dollars) and grossed over nine million dollars!

Watching a clip from a film is like taking a comment out of context, but here is a clip of Beatriz Dominguez dancing the tango with Rudolph Valentino in 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:'

https://youtu.be/RKQ06jtaYvk

The 1920 US Census (January, 1920) shows Beatriz Dominguez living at 415 N. Fremont Avenue in Los Angeles.  The family told the census taker that Beatriz was 19 years old and had been born in Mexico.  Her occupation was listed as "Actress in Motion Pictures."  She was living with her mother Beatrice who was 58 years old and a widow, sister Inez, who was 25 and a film developer and 8 year old Louis Garcia.  The Da Vinci apartments are currently being built on that spot today.

Later in 1920, Beatriz and her family bought a home at 2522 Elsinore Street in Los Angeles:


2522 Elsinore Street, Los Angeles

In December of 1920 Beatrice appeared in the prologue to 'The Mark of Zorro' starring Douglas Fairbanks during its seven week run at the Mission Theater.




In February of 1921, Beatriz started work on another Art Acord serial, 'The White Horseman' (Universal-1921).  During filming, Beatriz collapsed with a ruptured appendix and was rushed to the Clara Barton Hospital at 447 South Olive Street.



It was thought that Beatriz was out of danger but several days later peritonitis set in and it was necessary to perform a second operation. Beatriz Dominguez died from the complications of the operation on February 27, 1921. She was 24. One week later, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse opened in New York City to rave reviews and made Rudolph Valentino a star, in part because of his tango with Beatriz.

The wake for Beatriz Dominguez was held at her home at 2522 Elsinore Street.  The funeral Mass was held at the Plaza Church in old Los Angeles:


Plaza Church, Los Angeles

Here is her obituary from the Los Angeles Times of February 28, 1921:



Ironically, Rudolph Valentino would die from the same thing (peritonitis from a ruptured appendix) five years later.

Beatriz Dominguez is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles - Section A, Tier 5:



..



Here's my favorite photo of Beatriz from October 7, 1916 in Los Angeles:



Beatriz Dominguez - Oh, how she danced...may she rest in peace.

5 comments:

  1. Great post as usual Jim. Just wanted to comment that the pose in the final photo looks so much like the pose of the angel at her grave.

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  2. Good observation Amanda - all the times I have looked at both of those photos I never noticed. You are absolutely right!

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  3. Great article! Beatrice Dominguez is my Great Great Aunt. I'm always pleased when I find something like this. Because she died so young I don't feel she got the recognition she deserves in silent cinema. Even my film teacher last night didn't know who she was.

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  4. What a beautiful and talented young lady she was. May she rest in peace.

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  5. I love watching the tango scene with Beatriz and Valentino. She was so beautiful and talented, and it is great shame that she died so young. Thank you for your interesting article.

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