|Andrea Palma, La mujer del puerto, 1934|
Born Guadalupe Bracho in 1903 from a good Durango family, Andrea Palma was the cousin of two other famous Mexican stars, Dolores del Rio and Ramon Novarro, and the sister of director Julio Bracho (if you read Spanish, check out the biographical chronicle that informs this post, Los Bracho: tres generaciones de cine mexicano, by Jesus Ibarra). Of course, we're familiar with the dolorously gorgeous del Rio, whose beauty Dietrich admired (that Maria did confirm in her book). Even though I'd rather swim with the fishes than fantasize about them, I'm aware that some of you may find it titillating to imagine del Rio attending those mythical sewing circle shindigs.
Certainly, it wouldn't be fair to let del Rio upstage this post when the spotlight should fall on Palma. Growing up in Mexico City, Palma studied millinery and helped support her family with her skills, making her first hat sale at the age of 17. According to Ibarra, Ramon Novarro invited the teenaged Palma to stay in Hollywood for a few months. Despite respecting her father's wishes by not visiting any movie studios, Palma was bit by the acting bug. Back in Mexico City, Palma designed hats for theater actors, parlaying her connections to practice her nascent acting prowess onstage.
Eventually, Palma returned to Hollywood, but she never quite abandoned her first career. In fact, her stage name harked back to it, "Andrea" from the hat shop she had opened--called Casa Andrea--and "Palma" from Calle Palma--the street on which the hat shop La Ciudad de Londres, her former employer, was located. Furthermore, Palma used her hat-making skills to develop a relationship with Dietrich.
|A quinquagenarian Dietrich in a Dior turban,|
which did suit her, especially in this famous photo
|Is that you in there, Andrea?|
flophouse floozy | maternal kept girl | stage sargeant
Soon after her behind-the-scenes role in Blonde Venus, Palma returned to Mexico, where an opportunity arose that echoed Dietrich's ascent to fame in The Blue Angel. The Russian director, Arcady Boytler, could not find an actress who fit the type he had in mind for his film, La mujer del puerto (The Woman of the Port). Until he saw Palma in a movie reel. Less convinced was Boytler's assistant director, Rafael J. Sevilla, and Palma had to prove herself by filming a screen test. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Aside from biographical similarities, Ibarra mentioned that Palma imitated Dietrich's appearance and voice in her first starring film role, and Palma's recollections indicate that she spent her time in Hollywood--and around Dietrich--like an apt pupil. In Vino todo el pueblo: Notes on Monsiváis, Mexican Movies and Movie-Going, Andrea Noble quoted Palma (via de la Vega's Arcady Boytler, 1893-1965) as saying that she absorbed every detail--from walking, to false eyelashes, to proper camera angles. Palma even adopted Dietrich's practice of checking herself in a mirror while filming scenes. If you're still dubious, take a look at this 1935 newspaper article, which also credited Dietrich as Palma's cinematic sensei.
Thanks to YouTube, you can watch the results of Palma's Hollywood "schooling" in the film that started it all, La mujer del puerto. My apologies for the lack of subtitles, but you can at least read a synopsis and appreciate the visuals:
To say that La mujer del puerto evoked the fallen woman's tale of Blonde Venus would diminish its shocking impact. Dietrich may have played prostitutes, but her characters never matched the depravity of Palma's Rosario, who committed incest. Compared to Guy de Maupassant's "Le port," the literature that inspired Dietrich's films was indeed "weak lemonade." Even the camp value of Boytler and Palma's collaboration challenged Sternberg and Dietrich's oeuvres. Forget raining on parades! The confetti and streamers that congested the Dishonored party scene were abruptly obfuscated by a funeral in La mujer del puerto (see this scene).
In spite of similarities between Dietrich and Palma's poise, Palma's acting style was far less reticent (compare Rosario's abandon to Shanghai Lily's), and she forwent her beauty for more natural lighting. Nevertheless, Palma's posing uncannily reflected Amy Jolly's ennui, and her languid gestures, stares, and blinks could lure men just as Dietrich's did. If Dietrich was the laziest gal in Hollywood, Palma must have been the laziest in Mexico City, and I would swear I hear her counting her pauses before she uttered her throaty lines.