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Rita Hayworth, Chicana heroine?

29 July 2013

One of those “while looking for something totally unrelated” factoidal posts for which we can thank the internet…

Probably the first pro-Chicano Hollywood film had to be the 1936 “B western” Rebellion from Crescent Pictures Corporation (which stopped making films in 1939).  The only synopsis I could find is from an old “tripod” website, celebrating the works of its star, Rita Hayworth:

Rebellion is set in California, 1850. At the time, California was a newly acquired land of the United States. A treaty was signed to protect the

Rita Hayworth, before she was Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth, before she was Rita Hayworth

Mexicans living in the area, but it is not being upheld. When American bandits murder the father of Paula Castillo (Rita Cansino), she heads to Washington to petition for law enforcement to be sent to protect her people and their land from the thieving outlaws. In response to her plea, the president sends Captain John Carroll (Tom Keene).

Once in California, the first thing he does is dismiss a self-made court set up by a criminal named Harris (William Royle) and his gang. When Paula’s brother, Ricardo Castillo (Duncan Renaldo) is killed, both Paula and John begin taking more serious action. Soon Harris’ gang kicks Paula out of her own home. The captain teams up with Ricardo’s band of patriots and they succeed in giving much of the land and homes back to their rightful owners.

Meanwhile, when Paula becomes influential in a campaign to make California a state, Harris’ bandits kidnap her. But John rescues her in short order and gets her home back. With the help of Ricardo’s friends, he forces out Harris’ gang, and so brings justice to California. Soon California achieves statehood. John is chosen to be it’s first senator, and he and Paula plan to be married.

Rita Hayworth was then known, and billed, under her real name, Rita Cansino.  Although a native of Brooklyn, her father was a Spanish immigrant, so I guess she should at least be considered “Hispanic”.  Which, other than the now forgotten Lita Cortez, in a minor role, were probably the only hispanics on the set.  The main Chicano characters were played by future “Cisco Kid” Duncan Renaldo (a Romanian… although he started his film career as an illegal alien entering the United States from Brazil) and  Gino Corrado , an Italian).  In other words, about par for Hollywood when it came to casting Latinos in the movies… then and now.

Alas, for history, there was no Chicana leader, no Anglo champion of la Raza.  The first California senators were John C. Frémont (with the accent mark) — not only the leader of those gringo invaders, but a guy who became very rich from stealing mining rights from the previous Mexican land-holders  — and William Gwinn, who pushed through the bill in 1851 setting up the Public Lands Commission, which was used to deprive former Mexican citizens of their land and property rights.


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