Emilio Fernández

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Emilio Fernández
Emilio Fernández in the film The Soldiers of Pancho Villa (1959)
Emilio Fernández Romo

(1904-03-26)March 26, 1904
DiedAugust 6, 1986(1986-08-06) (aged 82)
Mexico City, Mexico
Years active1928–1986
Spouse(s)Gladys Fernández
Columba Domínguez

Emilio "El Indio" Fernández (born Emilio Fernández Romo, Spanish:  [eˈmiljo feɾˈnandes ˈromo] ; March 26, 1904 August 6, 1986) was a Mexican film director, actor and screenwriter. He was one of the most prolific film directors of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the 1940s and 1950s. He is best known for his work as director of the film María Candelaria (1944), which won the Palme d'Or award at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. [1] As an actor, he worked in numerous film productions in Mexico and in Hollywood.


Early life

Born in Sabinas, Coahuila, on March 26, 1904, Emilio Fernández Romo was the son of a revolutionary general, while his mother was a descendant of Kickapoo Indians. He was the older brother of the Mexican actor Jaime Fernández. From his parents he inherited a deep feeling and love for his country, as well as its customs and indigenous beliefs, that led him to build his personality as a man of impetuous character. From his earliest years and throughout his life, he was characterized by a strong personality, brash character and pride in his indigenous roots, traits forged by the great influence exercised on him by his family. [2]

When he was a teenager, a fatal event forced him to flee his home and enlist in the ranks of the Mexican Revolution. Later, he entered the Mexican Military Academy (where in 1954 he gained the rank of colonel). In 1923 he took part in the uprising of Adolfo de la Huerta against the government of Álvaro Obregón, but this insurrection failed and he was sent to prison. He escaped, and left Mexico to go into exile, first in Chicago and later in Los Angeles. There he earned his living as a laundry employee, bartender, longshoreman, press assistant, and finally as a stonemason for Hollywood studio construction, a circumstance that favored his foray into film as an extra and as a double for stars like Douglas Fairbanks.

Model for the Oscar statuette

Fernández was the model for the Oscar statuette. According to the legend, in 1928 MGM's art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Motion Picture Academy members, was tasked with creating the Academy Award trophy. In need of a model for his statuette, Gibbons was introduced by his future wife, actress Dolores del Río, to Fernández. Reportedly, Fernández had to be persuaded to pose nude for what is today known as the "Oscar". [3]


His appearance in the film industry, though casual at first, became a commitment, encouraged by the same De la Huerta, who told him: Mexico does not want or need more revolutions Emilio. You are in the Mecca of film, and film is the most effective tool we humans have invented to express ourselves. Learn to make movies and you return to our homeland with that knowledge. Make our films so you can express your ideas so they reach thousands of people. [2] In 1930 he had an experience that significantly marked his career as a creator: his stay in the United States coincided with the arrival in the country of Sergei Eisenstein (Russian film director). He went to private screenings of Eisenstein's films, which deeply impressed him, revealing a style that was different from that used in Hollywood aesthetics. Three years later, he was influenced by seeing fragments of Que viva Mexico! (an Eisenstein film made in that country), which consolidated his desire to make films with a relentless and direct style, where the exaltation of both the strength and the beauty of Mexico was evident. Over time, this was evident in most of his films, in which the aesthetics of the Revolution, the evocation of Mexican natural landscapes and the exaltation of patriotism are constants.

He returned to Mexico in 1933, thanks to an amnesty granted by the government, with the firm decision to continue his film career, but during the first year he made a living as a boxer, a diver in Acapulco, a baker and an aviator. In 1934, he appeared in the film Cruz Diablo, directed by Fernando de Fuentes. His looks also landed him a starring role playing a native in Janitzio by Carlos Navarro.

"El Indio" continued to keep busy in Mexico, performing melodramas and folklore films. In 1941, with the financial support of General John F. Azcárate and the encouragement of his friend, the actor David Silva (then a law student), he filmed La isla de la pasión with which he made his debut as a director. That same year he traveled to Cuba where he met the woman who would be his first wife, Gladys Fernandez, and he adopted her daughter Adela.

In 1943 he was contacted by the Mexican film Studios Films Mundiales. Emilio Fernández (director), Mauricio Magdaleno (writer), Gabriel Figueroa (photographer), Dolores del Río and Pedro Armendáriz (actors), creating the team that achieved the biggest blockbusters of the time. Their first work together was Flor silvestre , the film that debuted Dolores del Río in the Mexican cinema.

Next, Fernández filmed María Candelaria (1944), for which he was awarded the Palm d'Or at Cannes [1] along with Gabriel Figueroa. He developed his own style which had such an effect in the industry that his portrayal of rural Mexico became a standard for the film industry, and also became the image of Mexico in the world.

In 1945, based on the history of American writer John Steinbeck (who adapted the screenplay in collaboration with him), Fernández filmed La perla , one of the most important films in his long filmography, considered by critics as a work of art which portrays a story of ignorance and human misery, achieved by the superb photography of Figueroa and rigorous direction of Fernández. It is an allegory about the limits of wickedness of man in his greed and desire for power. This film won the award for Best Cinematography, and a mention for Best Film contribution to progress in the Venice Film Festival (1947). It also received the Silver Ariel (1948) for Best Picture, Directing, Male Performance and Photography; the award of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (1949), and the award for Best Cinematography at the Festival of Madrid (1949).

By that time his career was at the pinnacle of success. Then came the films that consolidated his style and strengthened their reputation in the world. Among the most significant are: Enamorada with Maria Félix; The Fugitive ; Río Escondido (winner of Best Cinematography in the Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia); Pueblerina with his then wife Columba Domínguez and Maclovia . These films were imbued with realism and nationalism with a strong indigenous character, revealing his love of the Mexican landscape and beauty in indigenous traits. [ citation needed ] These attributes helped to shape the image of Mexico in the world at that time. In 1949, Salon Mexico won the award for Best Cinematography at the festival in Brussels, Belgium. He followed these in 1950 with urban films, Víctimas del Pecado , starring Ninón Sevilla, and Cuando levanta la niebla, with Columba Dominguez and Arturo de Córdova. In 1950, he made his only film in Hollywood The Torch , a remake of Enamorada starring Paulette Goddard.

As the years passed, the aesthetics of Indio Fernández began to be viewed as old fashioned by critics, who called his films "precious" and accused Fernandez of showing the world a false image of Mexico. [ citation needed ] By the mid-1950s, the films of Fernández fell into obscurity as he was supplanted by other notable Mexican film directors like Luis Buñuel. Fernández returned to his role as actor. Although he did little directing in the 1960s, he had several roles as an actor, appearing in: The Soldiers of Pancho Villa (1959), La bandida (1962); The Night of the Iguana (1964, directed by John Huston, where he shared credits with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner); Return of the Seven (1966); The Appaloosa (1966, with Marlon Brando), among many others. His 1967 film A Faithful Soldier of Pancho Villa was entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival. [4] He also acted in three films directed by Sam Peckinpah: The Wild Bunch (1969), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974).

During the last years of his life, he found it impossible to direct, and although his performances as an actor in films in Mexico and abroad continued to be numerous, they failed to restore the happiness that directing gave him. In the late 1970s he was imprisoned in Torreón after he was found guilty of the death of a farmer. He was released after 6 months probation. Lack of signatures every week, due to an accident, caused him to be imprisoned again. Those were hard times, in which he held his character and his passion for film. He was a man of 74 years, silent and taciturn, who refused to recognize the twilight of his career. Free again, he returned to his mythical house in Coyoacan, to live in solitude and sell crops from his garden to survive.


In early 1986, Emilio Fernández suffered a fall at his home in Acapulco, which caused a fracture of the femur. According to his daughter Adela, in the hospital he received a blood transfusion that was infected with malaria. Emilio Fernández died on August 6, 1986. [5]


Fernández's death left a void in the history of Mexican cinema. He was beloved by his countrymen for passionately portraying the people, the customs, and the identity of Mexico. In addition to his 129 films, he is also seen as bequeathing Mexican culture to the world through countless beautiful images of Mexicans and evocations of an orderly Mexican society that loved the world. His film legacy has been recognized with the Ariel Award, the Colón de Oro in Huelva, Spain, and with a chair in his name at the Moscow Film School. Emilio Fernández Romo was known for creating visceral characters, for the drama of his stories, for the use of indigenous characters and their issues, and for reproducing authentic Mexican culture in both Mexican and European films [ clarification needed ] . With photographer Gabriel Figueroa, writer Mauricio Magdaleno, and actors Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores del Río, María Félix and Columba Dominguez, Romo conducted various productions that promoted both national customs and the values associated with the Mexican Revolution.

He was portrayed by Joaquín Cosio in the Mexican biographical film Cantinflas .

Personal life

Gladys Fernández, a 16-year-old Cuban girl, became his first wife in 1941. Their relationship was affected by Emilio's passion for Hollywood diva Dolores del Río and Gladys ended up leaving him. Emilio and Gladys had a daughter, the writer Adela Fernández y Fernández.

His most stable relationship was with the actress Columba Domínguez. They were together for seven years, but the relationship collapsed because Columba became pregnant, and he did not want more children. She decided to have the baby without his consent, and the breakup was brutal. Their daughter, Jacaranda, died in 1978 after falling from the top of a building.

His marriage to Gloria De Valois Cabiedes produced another daughter, Xochitl Fernandez De Valois, and he was married to Beatriz Castaneda from 1964 to 1970.

Fernández was infatuated with the British-American actress Olivia de Havilland, whom he never met. Fernández asked the then-president of Mexico, Miguel Alemán, to extend a street in Coyoacán to his mansion, and to name it Sweet Olivia. Thus, he would always have her symbolically near, transformed into a street, and always at his feet. [6]

After the death of Fernández, a lawsuit broke out between his daughter Adela and Columba Domínguez. Adela had been named sole heir of her father and took possession of his house, an impressive fortress in the neighborhood of Coyoacán in Mexico City, which Columba claimed as her own. According to Columba, Adela was not a biological daughter of Fernández, but was adopted by him when she was abandoned by her mother. Adela's death in 2013 left the legal situation unclear. [5]

The House-Fortress of Fernández, managed by his daughter Adela until her death in 2013, became a space dedicated to various cultural activities in Mexico City, and has served as a backdrop for filming over one hundred Mexican and foreign films.


As director

YearOriginal titleEnglish titleProduction countryLanguageCastAward nominations
(Wins in bold)
1941La isla de la pasiónThe Island of the PassionMéxicoSpanish Pedro Armendáriz, Isabela Corona
1942Soy puro mexicano I'm a Real Mexican MexicoSpanish Pedro Armendáriz, Andres Soler
1942 Flor Silvestre Wild FlowerMéxicoSpanish Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz
1943 María Candelaria (aka Xochimilco)Portrait of MariaMexicoSpanish Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz Cannes Film FestivalPalm d'Or
1944 Las Abandonadas The AbandonedMexicoSpanish Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz Ariel Award – Best Actress
1944 Bugambilia BugambiliaMexicoSpanish Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz
1945 La perla The PearlMexicoSpanish Pedro Armendáriz, María Elena Marqués Venice Film FestivalGolden Lion
Ariel AwardsGolden Ariel, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography
Golden Globe – Best Cinematography
1945Pepita JiménezMexicoSpanish Ricardo Montalbán, Rosita Dáz Gimeno
1946 Enamorada In LoveMexicoSpanish María Félix, Pedro Armendáriz Ariel Award – Best Actress
1947 The Fugitive (producer)The FugitiveUnited StatesEnglish Henry Fonda, Dolores del Río
1947 Río Escondido Hidden RiverMexicoSpanish María Félix, Carlos López Moctezuma Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – Best Photography
1948 Maclovia Maclovia (aka Damn Beauty)MexicoSpanish María Félix, Pedro Armendáriz
1949 Pueblerina Small Town GirlMexicoSpanish Columba Dominguez, Roberto Cañedo Cannes Film Festival – Official Selection
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – Best Photography
1949 La Malquerida A Woman without LoveMexicoSpanish Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz
1950 Salón México Mexico LoungeMexicoSpanish Marga López, Miguel Inclan Brussels Film Festival – Best Photography
1950Duelo en las montañasDuel in the MountainsMexicoSpanishRita Macedo, Roberto Cañedo
1950 The Torch United StatesEnglish Paulette Goddard, Pedro Armendáriz
1950Un día de vidaOne Day of LifeMexicoSpanish Columba Domínguez, Roberto Cañedo
1951 Vìctimas del Pecado Victims of the SinMexicoSpanish Ninón Sevilla, Rodolfo Acosta
1951' Maria Islands MexicoSpanish Pedro Infante, Jaime Fernández
1951La bienamadaThe BelovedMexicoSpanish Columba Domínguez, Roberto Cañedo
1952Siempre tuyaAlways YoursMexicoSpanish Jorge Negrete, Gloria Marín
1952AcapulcoMexicoSpanish Elsa Aguirre, Miguel Torruco
1952Cuando levanta la nieblaWhen the Fog LiftsMexicoSpanish Columba Domínguez, Arturo de Córdova
1953 La Red (aka Rossana)The RedMexicoSpanish Rossana Podestà, Armando Silvestre Cannes Film Festival- Best Narration
1953 Reportaje Report NewsMexicoSpanish
1953El RaptoThe RaptureMexicoSpanish María Félix, Jorge Negrete
1955La rosa blancaThe White RoseCubaSpanish Jorge Mistral, Rebeca Iturbide
1955La Tierra del Fuego se apagaTierra del Fuego is offArgentinaSpanish Jorge Mistral, Bertha Moss
1958Una cita de amorAn appointment with loveMexicoSpanish Silvia Pinal, Jaime Fernández 8th Berlin International Film Festival – Official Selection
1962PueblitoLittle TownMexicoSpanish Columba Domínguez, Lilia Prado San Sebastián International Film Festival – Las perlas del Cantábrico
1963Paloma herídaWounded DoveMexico/GuatemalaSpanishPatricia Conde, Columba Domínguez
1967 Un Dorado de Pancho Villa A Faithful Soldier of Pancho VillaMexicoSpanishEmilio Fernández, Maricruz Olivier 5th Moscow International Film Festival – Official Selection
1969Un Crepúsculo de un diosA Twilight of a GodMexicoSpanishEmilio Fernández, Guillermo Murray
1974 La Choca la ChocaMexicoSpanish Pilar Pellicer, Gregorio Casals Ariel Award – Best Direction, Best Supporting Actress, Best Photography, Best Edition
Karlovy Vary Film Festival – Best Direction
1976 Zona Roja Red ZoneMexicoSpanish Fanny Cano, Armando Silvestre
1979México NorteMexico NorthMexicoSpanish Patricia Reyes Spíndola, Roberto Cañedo
1979EróticaEroticMexicoSpanish Jorge Rivero, Rebecca Silva

As actor

  • 1928: El destino
  • 1930: Oklahoma Cyclone – Pancho Gomez (uncredited)
  • 1930: The Land of Missing Men – Lopez – aka Black Coyote
  • 1930: Headin' North – Mexican Gambler (uncredited)
  • 1931: Sunrise Trail – Pancho (uncredited)
  • 1932: The Western Code – Indian Joe
  • 1933: Laughing at Life – Revolutionary (uncredited)
  • 1933: Flying Down to Rio – Dancer (uncredited)
  • 1934: La buenaventura – Boris
  • 1934: Corazón bandolero – Chacal
  • 1934: Cruz Diablo – Toparca, bandolero
  • 1935: Martín Garatuza
  • 1935: Tribu – Itzul
  • 1935: Janitzio – Zirahuén
  • 1936: Celos – Sebastián
  • 1936: María Elena – Bailarín de La Bamba
  • 1936: Marihuana – El Indio
  • 1936: Allá en el Rancho Grande – Dancer
  • 1937: El superloco – Idúa
  • 1937: El impostor
  • 1937: Las cuatro milpas
  • 1937: Las mujeres mandan – Bailarín
  • 1937: Almas rebeldes
  • 1937: Adiós Nicanor – Nicanor
  • 1939: Juan sin miedo – Valentin
  • 1939: With Villa's Veterans – Mayor El Indio Fernández
  • 1940: El fanfarrón: ¡Aquí llegó el valentón! – Aguilucho (Juan José)
  • 1940: Los de Abajo – Pancracio
  • 1940: El charro Negro – Emilio Gómez
  • 1941: El Zorro de Jalisco – Ernesto
  • 1941: Rancho Alegre
  • 1942: La isla de la pasión
  • 1943: Wild Flower – Rogelio Torres
  • 1959: The Soldiers of Pancho Villa – Coronel Antonio Zeta
  • 1962: Pueblito – Coronel (uncredited)
  • 1963: La bandida – Epigmenio Gómez
  • 1963: Paloma herida – Danilo Zata
  • 1964: El revólver sangriento – Félix Gómez
  • 1964: The Night of the Iguana – Barkeeper (uncredited)
  • 1964: Yo, el valiente
  • 1964: Los hermanos Muerte – Marcos Zermeño
  • 1965: The Reward – Sgt. Lopez
  • 1965: La conquista de El Dorado
  • 1965: Un callejón sin salida – Moran
  • 1966: La recta final – Don Lucio
  • 1966: Duelo de pistoleros – Pancho Romero
  • 1966: The Appaloosa – Lazaro
  • 1966: Los malvados – El coyote
  • 1966: Return of the Seven – Lorca
  • 1967: A Covenant with Death – Igancio
  • 1967: Un tipo dificil de matar
  • 1967: The War Wagon – Calita
  • 1967: A Faithful Soldier of Pancho Villa – Aurelio Pérez
  • 1967: El silencioso – Emilio Segura
  • 1968: Guns for San Sebastian
  • 1968: El caudillo – Coronel
  • 1968: Un toro me llama
  • 1969: The Wild Bunch – General Mapache
  • 1969: Duelo en El Dorado – Indio Romo
  • 1969: El crepúsculo de un Dios – Himself
  • 1970: The Phantom Gunslinger – Sheriff
  • 1971: La chamuscada (Tierra y libertad) – Coronel Margarito Herrero
  • 1971: La sangre enemiga – Juan
  • 1972: Indio – Victorio
  • 1972: El rincón de las vírgenes – Anacleto Morones
  • 1973: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid – Paco
  • 1974: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia – El Jefe
  • 1974: Breakout – J.V.
  • 1975: Lucky Lady – Ybarra
  • 1975: Detras de esa puerta – Police Director
  • 1976: Zona roja
  • 1979: Erótica – Hernández
  • 1980: Las cabareteras
  • 1982: Una gallina muy ponedora
  • 1983: Mercenarios de la Muerte – Maestro tata
  • 1984: Under the Volcano – Diosdado
  • 1985: Treasure of the Amazon – Tacho / Paco
  • 1985: Lola la trailera – Leoncio's Bodyguard
  • 1986: Los Amantes del Señor de la Noche – Don Venustiano
  • 1986: The Kidnapping of Lola – Commander Prieto
  • 1986: Ahora mis pistolas hablan
  • 1987: Arriba Michoacán (final film role)

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