Lupita Tovar

Lupita Tovar
Lupita Tovar in an Argentinean magazine
Born Guadalupe Natalia Tovar
(1910-07-27)27 July 1910
Matías Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico
Died 12 November 2016(2016-11-12) (aged 106)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of death Heart disease
Other names Lupita Kohner
Occupation Actress
Years active 1929–1945
Notable work Drácula
Spouse(s) Paul Kohner
(1932–1988; his death)
Children 2; including Susan Kohner
Parent(s) Egidio and Mary Tovar
Relatives Frederick Kohner (brotherinlaw)
John Weitz (son-in-law)
Paul Weitz (grandson)
Chris Weitz (grandson)

Guadalupe Natalia "Lupita" Tovar[1][2] (27 July 1910 – 12 November 2016) was a Mexican-American actress, best known for her starring role in the 1931 Spanish language version of Dracula, filmed in Los Angeles by Universal Pictures at night using the same sets as the Bela Lugosi version, but with a different cast and director.[3] She also starred in the 1932 film Santa, one of the first Mexican sound films, and one of the first commercial Spanish-language sound films.[4]

Early life

Tovar was born in Matías Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico, the daughter of Egidio Tovar, who was from Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico,[5]:2 and Mary Tovar (née Sullivan), who was Irish Mexican, from Matías Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico.[5]:3 Tovar was the oldest of nine children,[5]:5 though many of her siblings did not survive early childhood.[5]:11 Tovar grew up during the time of the Mexican Revolution and her family was very poor.[5]:7–8 She was raised in a very religious Catholic environment, and went to a school where she was taught by nuns.[5]:15

In 1918, Tovar's family moved north to Mexico City where her father worked for the National Railroad of Mexico in an administrative position.[6]:220


Early career

Tovar was discovered by documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty in Mexico City. Tovar had performed in a dance class and was invited, along with other girls, to do a screen test as part of a competition. Tovar won first place.[6]:220–221 The prize was a 6-month probation period, followed by a 7-year contract at $150/week, to Fox Studios.[5]:20–25[6]:221 The studio had realized they could make money by simultaneously shooting Spanish-language movies of English language studio productions, so had been casting for Spanish stars.[3] She moved to Hollywood in November 1928 with her maternal grandmother, Lucy Sullivan.[5]:29

Tovar, under contract, was required to study intensively to enhance her skills for films. Her weekly schedule included guitar, two hours four days; Spanish dances, one hour three days; dramatics, one-half hour two days; and English, one hour every day. Her accent was considered an asset in talking motion pictures. Her English improved significantly in just seven months from the time she arrived in Hollywood in January 1929, when she could not say "good morning" in English. To improve her English, she attended talkies; she also learned new words and how to say them by reading voraciously. In 1929, Tovar appeared in the films The Veiled Woman with Bela Lugosi (now thought to be a lost film) and The Cock-Eyed World.

In 1930, she was mentioned for leads in two talkies starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Richard Barthelmess. Fairbanks put off the filming of what became The Exile. After his death, the film was made in 1947 by his son, Douglas, Jr., directed by Max Ophüls.

Tovar appeared in the Spanish version of Dracula

Spanish language remakes

Lupita's future husband, producer Paul Kohner, convinced Carl Laemmle to make Spanish language movies that could be shot simultaneously at night with their English originals.[7]

In 1930, Tovar starred opposite Antonio Moreno in La Voluntad del Muerto, the Spanish-language version of The Cat Creeps and was based on the John Willard mystery play, The Cat and the Canary. Both The Cat Creeps and La Voluntad del muerto were remakes of The Cat and the Canary (1927). Casting was done in July 1930 with the film being released later the same year. The Spanish version was directed by George Melford and, like the Spanish-language version of Drácula, was filmed at night using the same sets as those used for filming the English-language version during the day.

Tovar shot Drácula, in 1930, when she was 20 years old. The film was produced by her soon-to-be husband, Paul Kohner.[3]


In 1931, Tovar starred in the film Santa, the first to have synchronized sound and image on the same celluloid strip.[8]

The film was based on a famous book featuring an innocent girl from the country who has an affair with a soldier and then tragically becomes a prostitute. Santa was such a hit that the Mexican government issued a postage stamp featuring Tovar as Santa.[3][7]

In 2006, Santa was shown in a celebratory screening by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called "A Salute to Lupita Tovar" that featured a conversation between Tovar and film historian Bob Dickson. The event was in honor of Tovar.[9]

Other films

In 1931, Melford directed Tovar in another Universal picture, East of Borneo, which starred Rose Hobart. Tovar also worked on films at Columbia Pictures. Although she herself did not make any silent films, with her earliest films released by Fox Film Corporation in the Fox Movietone sound-on-film system, some may have been released in silent versions for theaters not yet equipped for sound.

Personal life

Tovar went by the nickname Lupita since she was a girl.[5]:1

During filming of Santa, which was done in Mexico, producer Paul Kohner had to return to Europe because his father was sick. It was this separation, and another the next year when Kohner was producing a film for Universal Pictures in Europe, that made Tovar realize she loved Kohner. Kohner proposed on the phone—he had previously tried to give her a ring—and Tovar went to Czechoslovakia to meet him. They were married, by a rabbi, in Czechoslovakia on October 30, 1932, at Kohner's parents' home.[6]:226–227

In 1936, the couple had a daughter, Susan Kohner, a retired film and television actress, and, in 1939, a son, Paul Julius "Pancho" Kohner, Jr., a director and producer.[10][11] Their grandsons, Chris and Paul Weitz, are successful film directors.

Tovar owned a bassinet that would be used by several well known New Yorkers, including Julie Baumgold, a writer and her husband Edward Kosner, publisher of New York; Elizabeth Sobieski, a novelist and mother of actress Leelee Sobieski, Judy Licht, a TV newswoman, and her husband Jerry Della Femina, an advertising executive.[12]

She died at the age of 106 on 12 November 2016 in Los Angeles of heart disease.[13][14][15]



See also


  1. "Guadalupe Lupita Kohner (1952) - New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists". FamilySearch. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  2. "Passenger Manifest - Pan American World Airways, Inc.: Guadalupe Lupita Kohner -- Paris to New York (1952)". FamilySearch. 28 October 1952. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Montagne, Renee (15 February 2008). "Lupita Tovar, Mexico's Sultry Screen 'Sweetheart'". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  4. Marble, Steve. "Lupita Tovar, a Mexican star in Hollywood's golden era, dies at 106". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 November 2016. “Santa” was probably not the first Mexican “talkie,” but it was certainly one of the first commercial breakthroughs of the sound era in Spanish-language cinema.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Tovar, Lupita; Kohner, Pancho (2011). Lupita Tovar: The Sweetheart of Mexico: A Memoir as Told to Her Son Pancho Kohner. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corp. ISBN 978-1-456-87736-1. OCLC 755706899. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Ankerich, Michael G. (2011). The Sound of Silence: Conversations with 16 Film and Stage Personalities Who Bridged the Gap between Silents and Talkies (Reprinted. ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0-786-46383-1. OCLC 743217471. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  7. 1 2 Ankerich, Michael G. (28 July 2013). "Lupita Tovar, Still Carrying On". Close-Ups and Long Shots. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  8. Gurza, Agustin (10 July 2001). "Milestone Mexican Film to Screen in L.A.: Movies * Its lead actress will appear at the showing of 'Santa', which synchronized image and sound on the same strip.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  9. King, Susan (6 December 2006). "Cine File: Academy parties like it's 1906". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  10. "Susanna Kohner - California Birth Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  11. "Paul Julius Kohner - California Birth Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  12. Nemy, Enid (9 April 1989). "New Yorkers, Etc.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  13. "Muere Lupita Tovar, la primera "Santa" del cine sonoro mexicano" (in Spanish). Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  14. "Lupita Tovar, protagonista de la primera película del cine sonoro mexicano, fallece a los 106 años - Periódico Noroeste" (in Spanish). Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  15. "Lupita Tovar Dead: 'Dracula' Actress Was 106". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  16. Fitzgerald, Mike (2010). "An Interview With... Lupita Tovar". Western Clippings. Retrieved 30 August 2015.

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