In the early days of Hollywood, Myrtle Gonzalez made history as one of the first major Latin American movie stars. During her tragically brief career from 1913 to 1918, Gonzalez captivated audiences with her portrayals of strong, determined women who overcame adversity. Though little-remembered today, she paved the way for future Hispanic actors and actresses to make their mark in film.
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Early Life and Career Beginnings
Myrtle Gonzalez was born on September 28, 1891 in Los Angeles, California. From an early age, she was drawn to performance, playing piano and singing. As a teenager, she began working as a model, which brought her to the attention of filmmakers.
Gonzalez made her film debut in 1913 in the short western The Power of the Cross, produced by Thomas Ince. She immediately captured attention with her emotional, compelling performance. This launched a prolific film career for Gonzalez, as she ultimately appeared in over 80 shorts and features over just 5 years.
Gonzalez became known for playing scrappy, determined young women. In 1914’s A Blowout at Santa Banana, she depicted a woman who inherits a run-down ranch and transforms it into a thriving enterprise. In the comedy shorts Peggy of the Pest House and Maria of the Slums, she played infectious, mischievous characters who shook up their surroundings.
Rise to Stardom
As Gonzalez continued churning out multiple shorts each year, she gained increasing popularity. Her vivacious, likeable screen presence made her a fan favorite. In 1915, she received top billing for the first time in the comedy short Their One Love, confirming her status as a star.
Some of Gonzalez’s most memorable roles came in action films, where she performed risky stuntwork with aplomb. In the 1916 serial Liberty, she played a telegraph operator thwarting a plot against the United States. In The Caravan, she depicted a spirited young woman kidnapped by gypsies.
Gonzalez also took on dramatic, emotional material. In 1916’s The Evil Eye, she movingly portrayed a woman temporarily blinded, showcasing her versatility.
As one of the few non-Caucasian actors in Hollywood at the time, Gonzalez’s stardom was trailblazing. She became known as “The Mexican Mary Pickford,” a nod to her popularity and ubiquity akin to the biggest female star of the era. Gonzalez’s high profile brought increased visibility to Hispanic entertainers.
Gonzalez consciously worked to improve the depiction of Hispanic characters on screen. She rejected stereotypical “greaser” roles, and tried to bring nuance and depth to her portrayals. In the 1916 film Iola’s Promise, she starred as a Mexican-American woman who nurses a Confederate soldier back to health, portraying an early interracial romance.
Sudden Death and Legacy
Sadly, Gonzalez’s meteoric career was cut short when she died in 1918 at just 27 years old, likely from influenza while pregnant. She had been poised for major stardom, with a new contract from Universal Pictures.
Though her life was brief, Gonzalez made her mark on Hollywood history. She paved the way for the success of future Hispanic stars like Dolores del Rio, Gilbert Roland, and Ramon Novarro. Her spirited, charismatic performances live on through surviving prints of her films, leaving a legacy as a talented, barrier-breaking actress of Hollywood’s early years.
Key Facts About Myrtle Gonzalez
|Born: September 28, 1891 in Los Angeles, California|
|Died: October 22, 1918 in Los Angeles at age 27|
|Married twice, to James Park Jones and Allen Watt|
|Appeared in over 80 films from 1913 to 1918|
|Known as “The Mexican Mary Pickford”|
|Broke barriers as one of early Hollywood’s few Hispanic stars|
|Rejected stereotypical “greaser” roles|
|Died tragically young at the peak of her stardom|
- The Power of the Cross (1913) – film debut
- A Blowout at Santa Banana (1914) – portrayed woman who rebuilds run-down ranch
- Their One Love (1915) – received first top billing
- Liberty (1916) – played telegraph operator in action serial
- The Evil Eye (1916) – dramatic role as temporarily blinded woman
- Iola’s Promise (1916) – early interracial romance
Later Life and Unexpected Early Death
Myrtle Gonzalez’s meteoric rise to fame was tragically cut short when she died in 1918 at just 27 years old. She had recently signed a lucrative new contract with Universal Pictures, with even bigger stardom on the horizon.
In 1918, Gonzalez discovered she was pregnant. Sadly, she also contracted the flu while pregnant, likely the strain that caused the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-19.
Gonzalez went into premature labor and delivered a stillborn baby. She then died a few days later on October 22, likely from influenza complications. It was a shocking loss, as she was on the verge of major stardom and left behind a husband and young son.
Nonetheless, Gonzalez had already cemented her legacy as a talented Latina trailblazer. She helped open doors for Hispanic entertainers in Hollywood’s early years. Though her life was brief, her pioneering work resonates over a century later.
Frequently Asked Questions About Myrtle Gonzalez
Who was Myrtle Gonzalez?
Myrtle Gonzalez was an American silent film actress who starred in over 80 films between 1913 and 1918. She was one of early Hollywood’s first Hispanic/Latin stars.
What ethnic background was Myrtle Gonzalez?
Gonzalez was Mexican-American, with her family roots in Mexico. She was considered Hollywood’s first Mexican and Latin American movie star.
How did Myrtle Gonzalez die?
Gonzalez died in 1918 at age 27 under tragic circumstances. She went into premature labor while pregnant and delivered a stillborn baby. Gonzalez then passed away a few days later, likely due to complications from influenza.
What were some of Myrtle Gonzalez’s most famous silent films?
Some of Gonzalez’s best known films were The Power of the Cross (her debut), Liberty (1916 action serial), Their One Love (her star-making role), and Iola’s Promise (1916 interracial romance).
Why was Myrtle Gonzalez considered a pioneer?
As one of Hollywood’s only Hispanic stars early on, Gonzalez broke barriers for Latin entertainers. She rejected stereotypical roles and pushed for nuanced, authentic Latino portrayals on screen.
How was Myrtle Gonzalez’s career cut short?
Gonzalez was poised for major stardom when she tragically died in 1918 at only 27 years old, shortly after signing with Universal Pictures. Her early death cut short a career on the rise.
What was Myrtle Gonzalez’s impact on future Hispanic entertainers?
By breaking barriers in silent films, Gonzalez paved the way for future Latin stars like Dolores del Rio, Gilbert Roland, and Ramon Novarro to make their mark in Hollywood.
How was Myrtle Gonzalez related to Mary Pickford?
Gonzalez was nicknamed “The Mexican Mary Pickford” due to having a huge fan base and prolific output like silent star Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart”. They were not actually related.
Is Myrtle Gonzalez well known today?
No, Gonzalez is largely forgotten today and overshadowed by bigger silent stars. But historians recognize her pioneering importance for Latinos in early Hollywood.
Myrtle Gonzalez carved out an impressive career in a short time as one of silent era Hollywood’s rare Hispanic stars. With her emotional, spirited performances in over 80 films, she paved the way for greater inclusion and nuanced portrayals of Latinos. Though her life was tragically cut short, Gonzalez made history as an influential, barrier-breaking actress of early cinema. Her legacy resonates over a century later.