Katy Jurado, diva and villain of our cinemaBy: Rafael Aviña
The Golden Age of Mexican cinema knew how to lead its sensual villains along intriguing paths, and none more so than the Jalisco-born actress María Cristina Estela Jurado García, better known as Katy Jurado (1924-2002). With her wide eyes and languid look, she impressed Emilio Fernández, who offered her a part in his first feature La isla de la passion in 1941, one that a 16-year-old Jurado had to turn down when her parents refused to grant her permission. It wasn’t until two years later in 1943, already married to the actor Víctor Velázquez, that she made her debut in Gilberto Martínez Solares‘ Girls Boarding School.
Jurado became, almost immediately, the antithesis of the sweet, gentle heroines of contemporaneous Mexican cinema – she was an unscrupulous man-eater in films like No matarás, We, The Poor, Hay lugar para dos, The Brute, or La mujer del carnicero. At the same time, she was making it big in Hollywood. She had the opportunity to star alongside other young stars like Rita Macedo, Mapy Cortés and the heartthrob Emilio Tuero in the romantic comedy Girls Boarding School, a film whose publicity stated: “Miss, if Tuero was your teacher and you were in love with him, how would you let him know?”
She was so captivating in that film that just a month later, she was cast in her first role as an antagonistic villain in Chano Uruetas No matarás, where she stole the show from Carmen Montejo. Her break came with La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (Miguel Contreras Torres, 1943), a film in which she was able to showcase her unique beauty, one that had echoes of actresses like María Félix or Elsa Aguirre. In the film, an adaptation of the novel by José Rubén Romero, which stars Manuel Medel, Jurado plays Soledad, the beautiful love-interest of Pito, who ends up with the town’s rich man rather than its poor protagonist.
Jurado knew how to create her own style: a unique cadence in her dialogue and a sensuality that lay somewhere between naivety and coquetry. Following films like Balajú, La rosa del Caribe, La sombra de Chucho el Roto, The Museum of Crime or Guadalajara pues, she was cast in 1947 in one of her most successful roles, in Ismael Rodríguez‘ We, The Poor. Here she plays “The late-riser”, a sinful but loyal friend, capable of showing tenderness, even with chewing gum in her mouth or a cigarette between her lips.
Another important role came with Hay lugar para dos, the sequel to Alejandro Galindo‘s Esquina bajan, which starred David Silva, Fernando Soto “Mantequilla” and Delia Magaña, and that told the story of Gregorio Del Prado, a bus driver who gets so caught up in Jurado’s sensual cabaret that he is involved in a tragic accident. The film was followed by El Seminarista, with Pedro Infante and Women’s Prison, where she starred alongside Miroslava, Sarita Montiel and María Douglas. In 1952 Jurado gained one of her most important roles in Luis Buñuel‘s The Brute, where she played the exuberant lover of the lustful landlord Andrés Soler who tries to seduce a violent butcher, played by Pedro Armendáriz.
Also in 1952, Jurado made the leap to Hollywood when she starred in the Western High Noon as Helen Ramírez, ex-lover to Gary Cooper’s sheriff, who faces four vengeful pistoleros alone. She won the Golden Globe for Best Actress for her part in the film. She went on to make films like: El corazón y la espada, with César Romero; Arrowhead, with Charlton Heston; Broken Lance, with Spencer Tracy (a role that gained her a nomination for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor); Trapeze, with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis; The Racers, with Kirk Douglas; The Badlanders, with Alan Ladd and Ernest Borgnine (to whom she was briefly married); One-Eyed Jacks, directed by and starring Marlon Brando, alongside Pina Pellicer; and Barrabás with Anthony Quinn.
She later returned to Mexico to make Y Dios la llamó tierra, in which she plays the daughter of the town President (played by David Silva), a woman desired by the whole town, during the Cardenismo years. Later, she was an exuberant prostitute in two films with a revolutionary bent: in The Bandit (1962) she stars alongside María Félix as La Jarocha, and in Ismael Rodríguez‘ La mujer del carnicero (1968), a story of horror, passion, fear and shame.
She made Stay Away Joe with Elvis Presley in 1968, and reached an impressive level of histrionic maturity in Jorge Fons‘ Fe, esperanza y caridad (1972), where she plays a woman suffering an emotional and bureaucratic ordeal as she attempts to reclaim the body of her husband, who died in an absurd accident. In the seventies and eighties she took on notable roles in films like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, El Elegido, El recurso del método and Jorge Fons‘ extraordinary film Los albañiles, where she plays the unfaithful wife of a murdered nightwatchman (Ignacio López Tarso). She also starred in The Children of Sánchez, The Widow of Montiel and Under the Volcano.
Even up to the nineties the extraordinary, atypical actress Jurado was still surprising in roles like Mamá Dorita, the wife of the false prophet played by Paco Rabal in Arturo Ripstein‘s El evangelio de las maravillas. When she was 78 years old, she starred in Leopoldo Laborde‘s Un secreto de Esperanza.