Starring Lupe Vélez: La zandunga’s première invitation.

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Movie premiéres were taken seriously in Mexico since the silent era. As far as resources permitted in each case, producers and distributors promoted their films’ first screenings in any way possible.  Apart from sending invitations to authorities, diplomats, intellectuals and some prominent citizens, they handed printed bills, displayed posters and stills everywhere–or just the latter, if funds were scarce-. Sometimes, they had publicity cars luring people to the movie theater, and beautifully designed ads were run in newspapers.

For La zandunga, the first film Lupe Vélez made in her country, its distributors prepared a grand première with a special invitation:  covers were of translucent pearlized plastic, bound by a golden metallic bow.


And the movie was worth the special treatment, given that Lupe enjoyed great popularity among moviegoers in Mexico. It became evident at her arrival in Mexico City for the making of the film.  Thousands of people were waiting for her, and their eagerness to see and contact the actress ended with Ms. Vélez being “mobbed”, as some periodicals reported.

Lupe, awed by the experience, declared she did not know beforehand how fervently fans worshipped her.

La zandunga was produced by Pedro Arturo Calderón, José U. Calderón’s eldest son. Don José and his brother Rafael, with their partner Juan Salas Porras, ran several companies related to show business: a movie theatre chain, the powerful Azteca Films and other distribution companies. They were also involved in film producing.

When la niña Lupe signed her contract to make La zandunga, former Mexican President Emilio Portes Gil and Mexican consul in Los Angeles, Renato Cantú Lara, acted as witnesses to it.

Fernando de Fuentes, who already had a reputation as a filmmaker, directed the movie. Renowned folklorist Rafael M. Saavedra wrote the screenplay.  Lorenzo Barcelata took charge of the musical score and songs. Leading actors Lupe Vélez, Rafael Falcón, and Arturo de Córdova got supported by the some finest comedians of the time: Joaquín Pardavé, Carlos López Chaflán, and Rafael Icardo. María Luisa Zea, young actress who played Lupe’s best friend, outstood in her role.  The movie was shot in November-December, 1937.

La zandunga’s prèmiere, impatiently expected by fans, journalists, and critics, took place on March 18, 1938, at the Cine Alameda, a modern and exquisitely decorated movie theater on Avenida Juárez, in Mexico City.

Both the opening and the film were highly successful; none of the 3,300 seats at the Alameda remained empty.

On the same date, President Lázaro Cárdenas announced the expropriation of Mexico’s oil industry. The relevance of his proclamation was such that newspapers would not pay a great deal of attention to La zandunga’s première, but a few reviews of the movie commented the event. Hortensia Elizondo[1] did, in her column “El cinema en México”[2], published in ‘La Prensa’ (Spanish-language newspaper based in San Antonio, Texas). About the première she wrote:

“[…] Thousands of people enthusiastically crowded the theatre on Juárez Avenue on March 18, in spite of being that the day when all Mexico gathered close to their radios, to listen to the President announcing the most crucial step in our national history:  the freeing of our oil industry from imperialist hands.  The crowd at the theatre ignored –or would not want to think about- the historical moment they were living, and frantically applauded the Mexican star in her debut on the national silver screen.  The first applauses went to Johnny Weismuller, brought by the Messrs. Calderón with the purpose of attending the première.  Tarzán told the audience he loved Mexico much, because it has given him his beloved “Lupi Vélez”.  The applause was loud, and became roaring when Lupe appeared onscreen, in tehuana.  […] the attention [to the movie] was interrupted only when someone in the audience gave the Tarzan yell when Lupe was kissing Arturo de Córdova [in a scene].  The crowd laughed uproariously and so did big boy Weismuller […].”

After the première, La zandunga was seen all over Mexico, in hundreds of venues catering to Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States, and all through the Spanish-speaking world.  The film ran countless times during two decades, and is still screened at film retrospectives. Of its première, only an invitation and a few notes are left.

[1] Hortensia Elizondo Cisneros (1908-1953), Mexican writer, film reporter, and journalist.  For several years, she was also sub director at the “Casa de Orientación para Mujeres” de Coyoacán. 

[2] Lupe Vélez se consagra en la película ‘La zandunga’ (by Hortensia Elizondo, published in ‘La Prensa,’, San Antonio, Texas, April 4, 1938).