Sep 29, 2022 - World

Marilyn Monroe's gowns, "King Kong" puppets: Hispanics made them

Photo illustration of Luis Reyes with negative strips and stars.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Arthur Bryan Marroquin/ABM Photography

The history of the silver screen was partly made by, and with, Latinos. A new book wants to make sure they get their due.

Why it matters: Latinos are deeply underrepresented in Hollywood and are often typecast as criminals or gangsters.

The book, Viva Hollywood: The Legacy of Latin and Hispanic Artists in American Film,” by Luis I. Reyes, charts how those stereotypes started.

  • Published Sep. 13 by Running Press, a Hachette imprint, the book also details how some performers were able to break out of them, and how key Hispanics were to the development of film.

Details: Among the most compelling parts of Reyes’ book are the tidbits of Hispanic influence that have been lost to history, like that some of Marilyn Monroe’s most famous on-screen dresses were designed by a Hispanic costumer, Bill Travilla, and that it was a Mexican American sculptor behind the puppets used to make the original “King Kong” movie.

  • The casting director for several Charlie Chaplin classics, and the choreographer for Elvis in “Jailhouse Rock” and Gene Kelly in “An American in Paris,” were Hispanic.
  • Rita Hayworth, who was of Spanish descent, was born Margarita Cansino but changed her name — and hairline — at the behest of her studio.
  • Reyes also dispels reports that the Oscar statue is modeled after Mexican actor and director Emilio Fernández, saying his research shows it’s likely just a rumor spread by Fernández.

What he's saying: “I wanted to show that we've been involved in the Hollywood film industry since the beginning,” Reyes tells Axios Latino.

  • “We’ve been making more inroads, defining our image and experience within American cinema. But we also have a long history that needs to be documented and celebrated.”
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