The last Diva of Mexican Cinema, Maria de los Angeles Félix Güereña was born on the Ranch El Quiriego, in Alamos, Sonora, on April 8th, 1914 in times of the Mexican Revolution, a period of national pride and male supremacy.
Her parents were the military Bernardo Felix and Josefina Güereña. He was descendent of the Yaqui Indians and she had Spanish blood, and was educated in a convent at Pico Heights California.
Se had 16 brothers, from which only 11 survived childhood: Josefina, María de la Paz, Pablo, Bernardo, Miguel, Ma. Mercedes, Fernando, Victoria Eugenia, Ricardo, Benjamín and María del Sacramento. Maria spent a long part of the day playing with her brothers, climbing on trees, riding on horses and playing bets. She studied at Guadalajara, where she was first named beauty queen. Wishing to avoid her strong father's domination, she got married at age 16 with Enrique Alvarez, cosmetics salesman. With him, Maria had her only child, Enrique Alvarez Felix, but due to her husband's jealousy, she decided to get a divorce.
It was then when Maria went to Mexico City where she started working at the office of a plastic surgeon as a receptionist. Their son, Quire, was at first under Maria's custody, but his father who took him back to Guadalajara kidnapped him. Maria was unable to stop him and he ignored the destine of her son.
In 1940, while she was walking down the street of Palma, in the center of Mexico City, she was approached by Fernando Palacios who proposed to make some cinema shots. She hesitated at first but later she accepted. She began her career with the lead role at El Peñon de las Animas in 1942, together with Jorge Negrete, whom she spoused 10 years later. Although there are strong rumors that state that she married Raul Prado, from the Trio Los Calaveras, she always denied it.
Her first official marriage was to the musician Agustin Lara, who she admired since childhood. Maria often told her sisters: "One day, I am going to marry that man that sings so pretty". They met when Maria was already making films. Although Lara was not a handsome man, Maria was totally in love and she said "He was handsome for me. Being handsome is not just an attractive look. A handsome man is a male with words of love in his mouth". It was Agustin Lara who helped her to recover her son. As soon as Quique was back with her, Maria sent him to different colleges abroad and then he became an actor and made a successful career in films, theater and television. During the time they were married, Agustin Lara composed his most beautiful songs, most of them inspired by Maria: "El Chotiz Madrid", "Humo en los Ojos" and "Maria Bonita" (Beautiful Maria). This song is considered Maria's hymn and it is played every time she made a public appearance. For instance, in Paris at the Restaurant Maxim's, the violinist plays this song every time Maria visits that place.
Maria's marriage was ended due to Agustin's excessive jealousy. It is told that once he tried to shoot her. Fortunately he did not succeed, but that was the main cause that Maria had to leave him. Nevertheless, she never stopped loving him. An offer to make a movie in Europe influenced Maria's decision to divorce Lara. Maria came back to Mexico successfully. During one of the parties she was invited, she met Jorge Negrete again. From that moment, she started wooing her until they finally got married on October 18th, 1952. Mexico's most beautiful woman and Mexico's most handsome "charro" got married. Mexican people were very pleased.
A few months after their wedding, Maria went to Europe to film "La Bella Otero", when she was informed that Jorge Negrete was seriously ill at a Hospital in Los Angeles, California. When Maria arrived, he was in coma. He died on December 6th, 1953. Maria came back in Mexico with her husband's dead body. She was strongly criticized for wearing pants, which was not decent for a lady at that time. After some time, during a party at some friend's house, she met the French businessman Alex Berger. Some months later, Alex proposed to her and they got married on December 20th, 1956. It is with Berger that Maria was really happy and complete in the maturest relationship in her life. He built for her a house in Hegel 610 at Polanco and bought 87 racehorses for her. These horses won a lot of international prices such as the French Derby of the Jockey Club with her horse Caracolero, the Great Derby of Dublin, Ireland with her horse Malacate, the Prix Round Point with Nonoalco, one of her favorite horses and the Steeplechase of Paris with her horse Verga. With Alex she lived 6 months of the year in Mexico and 6 months in Paris on a small but comfortable flat just 5 minutes from the Arc of the Triumph.
After 18 years of living together, Alex died in Paris on December 31st. Maria was really sad for a long time. It was after his death when she got depressed. She lost weight. She cried all alone. She locked herself into a room with her pain. Until one morning she said to herself that she had to choices: "Either you die and go to the after life, or stay in this life and endure whatever it may come". Soon after, Maria decided to sell the horses. On December 1981, some friends offered a dinner for her in Paris, where she met Antoine Tzapoff, descendent of Russian immigrants and 20 years younger than her. With him she shared the last years of her life. Maria and Antoine traveled together all along the Mexican Republic. He made painting exhibitions about the Mexican Indians, they also traveled to Valencia, España and on March 13th, 1997 his paintings were exhibited at Paris under the name "When dance becomes a Rite".
Lots of famous painters have made portraits of Maria Felix or "La Doña", as she was also called. Some of her paintings are at her home in Mexico City and some others at Cuernavaca. Maria used to say that all her men had been sexy, and she defined a sexy man as: "The one that makes me feel like making love when I see him dressed". That was the main reason why, when she first met Antoine, just one look of love was enough for her to know that they belonged to each other. She was in love again. Antoine promised he would paint her younger and younger everyday, a love pact he accomplished. She in Mexico, Antoine in Paris. They called each other on the phone everyday on what she called "her magic hour". Being still young, her son Enrique suffered a massive hearth attack that killed him in 1996. Maria was in Paris when she heard about his death and she rushed back to Mexico in order to say goodbye to her son. It was devastating for Maria, one of the few times she cried. To honor his memory, Maria published her book "A line on the water", where she included the collection of her pictures that Enrique had gathered through his life as well as a very emotional letter that she had written to her son for the day she died. Ironically, he was never able to read it. "A line on the water" contains pictures of Maria, from the beginning of her career as well as portraits painted by Diego Rivera, Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Antoine Tzapoff among others. The prologue was written by the Literature Nobel Award winner Octavio Paz an it also includes a speech given by the French Ambassador in Mexico, Bruno Delaye, when he gave her the Medal of the "Ordre des Arts et des Lettres".
The book shows images of her houses in Polanco and Cuernavaca, and all her prizes and trophies both for her films as for her racehorses.
Some pages are dedicated to show pictures of her collections of porcelains, jewelry, tapestry, fine dresses and her wonderful collection of furniture style XVI century to Napoleon III. Maria participated on 47 films starring with actors such as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores del Río, Pedro Infante, Rossano Brazzi, George Marshall, Yves Montand, Gerard Philippe, Vittorio Gassman, Curt Jurgens, Fernando Rey, Jack Palance, Jorge Mistral,Arturo de Córdova, Jorge Negrete, Carlos Thompson and Ignacio López Tarso. Her fame extended all over Latin America, Spain, Italy and France. Nevertheless, Maria never wanted to appear in Hollywood or learn English. After her appearance on her third film, Doña Bárbara (1943), she became even more famous. Maria led the character with an amazing strength to the extent that she was called respectfully "La Doña" ever after.
One of the films Maria was most proud of was French Cancan (1954), directed by Jean Renoir and filmed in France. It was with this film that she was recognized in European countries where she was better known as "The Mexican". Her last movie was "La generala",(1970). That same year she appeared on the soap opera "La Constitución". She abandoned the screens later, although she kept being a public figure and participated on some special programs and shows. On Maria's list of friends, there are famous names such as Jean - Paul Sartre, Colette, Jean Cau, Leonor Fini, Plácido Domingo, Jean Paul Belmondo, Luis Miguel Dominguín, Manolete, Jean Gabin, Jean Renoir, Gerard Philippe, Ives Montand, Salvador Dalí, Alan Delon, La Güera Olaguíbel, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Miguel Alemán, Adolfo López Mateos, Leonora Carrington, Carlos Monsivais, Dolores Del Río, Jacobo Zabludoski, Juan Gabriel, Eva Perón, Pedro Armendáriz, Pita Amor, Salvador Novo, Xavier Villaurutia and Juan Rulfo.
Maria Felix was always attracted to jewelry such as the ruby necklace from Agustin Lara, the emeralds that Jorge Negrete gave her and he was not able to pay due to his death, her enormous collection of Victorian Snakes with turquoises and diamonds, the Harry Winston diamonds, the Russian snake she bought at New York and her huge collection of Cartier Jewels, most of which were designed specially for La Doña. Among them, snakes, saures and a belt with gold coins. She had also golden jewelry from the XVIII and XIX centuries. On some of the jewels, Maria and Antoine took of the central figure of the medals and he painted her face, her eyes, or his eyes, like on the golden cigar box made by Cartier, where he painted his two eyes. Maria called them « Her love jewelry ».
King Faruk of Egypt offered her Nefertari's crown if she accepted to spend a night with him. Maria never accepted.
Maria used to wear 3 gold bracelets with her names on diamonds. Tane made them. One says « Puma Pumita », which is the name given to her by Alex Berger. The other says « Maria Bonita » which is the nave that Agustin Lara gave her. The last one says « Doña Doñita » in honor to Mexican people.
In addition to Maria Bonita, song composer's have inspired on her in order to write songs such as « Ella », « Oiga » from Cuco Sánchez, and she used to say that in France, a young man wrote for her the lyrics of « Je l'aime a mourir ».
Maria recorded songs of Agustin Lara on her record entitled « Enamorada » where she sings in Spanish and French.
Maria became the muse of writers such as Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Luis Spota, Carlos Monsivais, Salvador Novo and Elena Poniatowska. In France, Henry Burdin wrote in 1982 his book entitled « The Mexican », inspired on Maria's life. In Spain, Luis Gasca (1994) dedicates to her several pages of his book « Bad Girls, Evil women ».
In 1993, she published her autobiography « All my Wars ». This book became a Best Seller.
She got three « Ariel » Awards as best actress for Enamorada (1947), Río Escondido (1949), Doña Diabla (1951) and was nominated for El monje blanco (1946) and Camelia (1955). In 1984 the National Fashion Chamber in Italy and the French Haute Couture Federation named her as one of world's best-dressed women. In 1986 she received the award « Diosa de Plata » for her career. Hermes in Paris dedicated two pages to La Doña on a book they published on 1995. On 1996 she received a tribute on the XVIII International Film Festival of films directed by women in Creteil France (They exhibited some of her films).In 1996 she was received the award of the National Art and Literature Ordre in France.
In 1997 she was guest of honor at the First Film Festival in Madrid, Spain. They exhibited some of her films.
Maria Felix, or « a woman with a man's hearth » as she called herself, died while she was asleep at her house in Polanco, April 8th, 2002, exactly 88 years after she was born.
Her friends said that even to die, Maria Bonita had luck and style.