I have this childhood memory of my mother once telling me who she thought was the most beautiful actress ever to grace the silver screen. She told me that this actress died young while in a hot tub which led me to an image of a lovely woman wearing a toweled turban on her head, steam billowing up and around her in a darkened, shadowy room.
That was my introduction to Maria Montez.
A year or so ago, I was approached by the University Press of Kentucky, and asked if I would be interested in evaluating a manuscript with regard to a biography about Maria Montez. I asked what was involved and it sounded like something I could do even though I knew very little about this actress.
I had seen Cobra Woman (1944) a couple of times at Toronto Film Society screenings, but not much else except for The Invisible Woman (1940) where I didn’t recall her role at all. It wasn’t until Universal starred her in their first three-strip Technicolor film Arabian Nights (1942) as Scheherazade that Montez became an overnight sensation. Since it was sitting on my shelf, I decided to watch this just to get a better feel of what Montez was like. For instance, I could tell it wasn’t her in the dance sequences, and eventually came to learn that indeed she had a stand-in. Maria couldn’t dance or sing (and some questioned if she could actually act) but none of these small setbacks were ever going to get in the way of this fireball of a woman from becoming a famous actress.
The Queen of Technicolor: Maria Montez in Hollywood by Tom Zimmerman has been published. It’s a well-written book, chock full of fascinating information, beginning with Maria’s roots in the Dominican Republic to her later life making films in Europe. And of course, there are the Hollywood years. Tom Zimmerman included many photos of Montez, most probably never seen before by many of her film fans.
While reading the manuscript, I looked through her list of films and noticed she had a small role in That Night in Rio (1941) so took a look at this entertaining musical just to see her. I’m hoping to pick up a copy of Bowery to Broadway (1944) this weekend. I’d love to find decent copies of her European films, in particular the ones she made with her husband Jean-Pierre Aumont.
If you’ve ever had even a slight interest in Maria Montez, you will find that this biography offers much more than just plain facts about the woman—it gives us the history of where she came from, her unrelenting determination to rise to the top, by what means she used to achieve her heart’s desire, and many “secrets” of who she loved and who loved her. All in all, an excellent read!