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For nearly 80 years, Lupe Velez has been the victim of a cruel rumor.
It was 1944 when the actress, once a sought-after Hollywood star, took her life with an overdose of Sodico, a brand of Seconal, a powerful barbiturate that was only available by prescription.
The 36-year-old, pregnant and unmarried, left behind two notes, including one for her lover. By the time Velez was discovered, she had been dead for at least several hours. Pills were still scattered on her bedspread.
Her death would be rewritten in 1959.
“Two words — Kenneth Anger,” Eve Golden told Fox News Digital. “I was frustrated that he died after my book went to press. I couldn’t let loose and say what I thought about him because he would have sued my pants off if he’d been alive. … She was found dead in her bed from an overdose. And then, all of a sudden, when ‘Hollywood Babylon’ came out, he completely invented the rumor that she threw up the sleeping pills and drowned in her toilet.”
“It’s physically impossible,” Golden stressed. “Anyone who has ever had food poisoning or a stomach virus knows you can’t drown in a toilet unless somebody is dragging you by the ankles and dunking you.”
Golden has written a new book, “Strictly Dynamic: The Sensational Life of Lupe Velez.” It explores how Velez was one of the first Latin actresses to cross over in Hollywood, paving the way for stars like Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Salma Hayek. It examines her “Mexican spitfire” persona, her scandalous affairs and her shocking death, which became a punchline in the ‘90s when referenced in sitcoms like “Frasier” and “The Simpsons.”
“I wanted to evaluate her as an actress,” Golden explained. “I wanted to tell her story. … She was an amazing singer and a great dramatic actress, which is generally not known because she was given so few dramatic roles. And, of course, I wanted to tell the truth about her death.”
Anger, an avant-garde filmmaker, died in May at age 96. He made numerous widely disputed allegations about several classic stars in “Hollywood Babylon,” which was banned for years in the U.S. The book alleges Velez was found drowned with her head in the toilet. Golden said many still believe the salacious urban legend.
“People knew that bringing a lawsuit against Anger would bring more attention to him,” she explained. “They figure if they just shut up, he would go away. Most of the people he libeled in the book were dead, and you can’t legally libel the dead, as many people found out. But he made up ridiculous stories. … His book is full of lies.
“She didn’t drown in her toilet.”
But one thing was certain. Velez had “so many wrong things going on in her life.”
“Her Hollywood contract was dropped,” Golden explained. “There were no more offers from Hollywood studios. She was just on the verge of becoming a huge star in the golden age of Mexican cinema. … And even though she had the beauty and talent that made her famous, her contract was canceled. Both her American and Mexican film careers were over. She was offered a crap Broadway show, which never made it to Broadway. And she was pushing 40.
“When she found out she was pregnant, her family and friends turned their backs on her,” Golden continued. “She was backed into the shrubbery like Homer Simpson. Everything came down on her at once. … What did her future look like? She had money, but she had nobody in her life. She had no work. And I think, at the time, she felt it was the right decision. She thought it out.”
The father of Velez’s unborn child was Harald Ramond, an actor whose career in Hollywood was “ruined” by the scandal.
“It was a fling,” Golden explained. “After she died, it came out that he had a thing for wealthy older women. Lupe, at 36, would not want to have thought of herself as an older woman. I think he was using her for publicity, but they did have a good time together. It was an enjoyable friends-with-benefits situation. … But he was run out of town. … Articles were saying this man should be tarred and feathered.
“Lupe knew the baby was his,” Golden shared. “And he said that he would marry her as a business arrangement, but nobody wants to hear that.”
In life, Velez was also a tabloid sensation. She had a parade of lovers.
“I’m surprised she could walk,” Golden remarked.
The press chronicled her affairs. But even those stories were shrouded with false claims.
“She did not stab or shoot Gary Cooper during a fight – it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Golden. “There were no reports of any violence between them except the sexual kind. … She would call up newspapers and say, ‘Who am I married to today?’ ‘Am I divorced yet?’ She loved kidding with reporters but would get furious when she was quoted in Mexican dialect. … She would say, ‘I don’t speak like that. I work really hard on my English.’”
And Cooper’s mother was not to blame for the couple’s split, as many insisted.
“Lupe was hard to take on a long-term basis,” Golden explained. “She wasn’t on cocaine, but you would think she was. But that was just her personality, and most men could only take so much of that. … Gary Cooper was a quiet and private person. Lupe was not. But I think, in many ways, they were the love of each other’s lives. … And, my God, they were so gorgeous together. It’s a crime against nature that they never had a baby.”
Velez eventually married Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimming champ who starred as Tarzan on screen.
“They told the press they were having an open marriage, which was jaw-dropping for any Hollywood star to admit in the 1930s,” Golden explained. “They said, ‘When we’re both in California and working, we’re together. But when we’re both traveling for work, we can see other people.’
“I don’t know what they saw in each other,” Golden admitted. “He was a nice guy … but not as handsome as most of her male friends. But I think, in polite terms, they were friends with benefits. They both liked rough sex. They both liked fighting. … But I think the fact that they were apart for so long kept them together.
“They just weren’t together all that often. And when she finally filed for divorce, they didn’t care anymore. … There was no bad talking between them. But I think they just got bored and tired of the marriage. So they did the sensible thing and split up.”
The tumultuous marriage lasted from 1933 to 1939.
Today, Golden said it’s not surprising Velez’s films have been forgotten with time.
“She could have been as big as Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo,” she said. “But she just didn’t have a major studio backing her for a long-term contract. … Still, she worked continuously on the stage and screen up until the time of her death. … She was just up against too many odds.”
Golden noted the urban legends surrounding Velez’s death “annoys the heck out of me.” But she hopes it will encourage readers to look up her life and films for the truth.
“I hope people rediscover her and fall in love with her,” she said. “So, in a way, any publicity is good publicity.”