You could probably say that the idea of the Latin lover started with legendary Italian lothario Giacomo Casanova. But Hollywood has taken the notion and ran with it for decades, so much so that is has become a commonly accepted Latin stereotype. Who really started it? And why won’t it die? Who is continuing the falsehood that all Latinos are Latin lovers? Let’s look at the actors who have carried this mantle throughout Hollywood history.
Italian actor Rudolph Valentino was the first Latin Lover in Hollywood. He rose to fame in silent films including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, Blood and Sand, and The Son of the Sheik. Valentino’s death in 1926, at the age of 31, caused a widespread panic among his fans; about 100,000 people filled the streets during his funeral.
Mexican actor Ramon Novarro (a cousin to Mexican Hollywood star Dolores del Rio) took over the title of “Latin lover” after Valentino was gone. His last name was Samaniego, but Ramon was encouraged to change it to Novarro.
Rod La Rocque
Rod La Rocque, the son of a French-Canadian, played the role of Latin lover during his film career, which spanned from 1914’s The Showman, to 1941’s Meet John Doe.
Born Jose Paige, Don Alvarado also acted in roles, which fell under the Latin lover category. Some of his films include The Loves of Carmen (1927), Drums of Love (1928), and Rose of the Rio Grande (1938).
Born in Spain, actor Antonio Moreno starred opposite major Hollywood stars, including Gloria Swanson (1922, My American Wife), Greta Garbo (1926, The Temptress), and Clara Bow (1927, It). Playing the Latin lover in several roles, Moreno also acted in various Mexican films during his career.
You didn’t have to be Latin, French, or Italian to get in on Hollywood’s Latin lover craze. Jewish actor Jacob Krantz (aka Jack Crane) changed his name to Ricardo Cortez (the irony is that many Latin actors would have to do the exact opposite for roles in later years). His studio did this to cash in on the fame of Valentino; Krantz’s brother Stanley, a cinematographer, also changed his surname to Cortez.
Gilbert Roland is another name which comes up when talking about the Latin lovers of Hollywood. The Mexican actor is known for various roles however, including Armand in 1926’s Camille, Victor “Gaucho” Ribera in 1952 The Bad and the Beautiful, and The Cisco Kid.
Remember the over-the-top romantic cartoon skunk, Pepe Le Pew? He was modeled after French actor Charles Boyer’s role as Pepe Le Moko, in the film, Algiers. If Valentino was the original Latin Lover, Charles Boyer was the original French Lover.
He played everything from The Cisco Kid, to Ram Dass in The Little Princess, to The Joker on Batman, but Cuban-Spanish actor Cesar Romero, too, played the role of Latin lover. So much so that Romero even came out with an album, entitled Songs by a Latin Lover.
Argentinian actor Fernando Lamas was an actor, who played Latin lover roles, and as such became a legendary Hollywood heartthrob. He was the inspiration for Billy Crystal’s Saturday Night Live character, Fernando, who had the famous catchline, “you look marvelous!”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Lorenzo Lamas, son of Fernando Lamas, continued the Latin Lover legacy of his father. The actor became a big heartthrob in the 1980s.
At different points in Hollywood history (and depending on what the accent was, and who had it), an accent could mean the end (as when talkies started), or the beginning, of a successful acting career. His accent (Mexican/Spanish) was one of the factors that made Ricardo Montalban a star. One of his varied roles was that of Roberto Santos, in the 1953 film, Latin Lovers.
Italy produced a number of Hollywood’s Latin lovers; one of these was Marcello Mastroianni. The actor, who was actually nicknamed, the “Latin lover,” starred in films including La Dolce Vita, 8½, and City of Women.
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas is a major example of the modern-day Latin lover in Hollywood. He has perpetuated the stereotype in films such as The Mask of Zorro, Desperado, and even as an animated cat in Puss in Boots.
Although it is a comedy, How to Be a Latin Lover, starring Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez, is a continuation of one of the stereotypes that Latins can’t seem to escape — that of the Latin lover. In the film, Eugenio plays Maximo, a gigolo who lives off of rich, older women.