Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ricardo Cortez (1900-1977)

The American born actor of Austrian ancestry (His Jewish parents immigrated from Austria right before he was born)  looked more like a Latin Lover with his dark eyes and olive toned skin.  Unlike a lot of actors Ricardo didn't start out as a child star or have an interest in acting from an early age. Growing up in New York he started out as a stock broker on Wall Street and even tried boxing for a few years before his looks got him noticed by Hollywood executives. During the era when Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert and Ramon Novarro were at the top of the box office playing Latin Lovers, he was recruited to play the part. His birth name of Jacob Krantz was changed to Ricardo Cortez and the creation of his on screen persona began in 1922.

publicity still for "The Spaniard" 1925 

Ricardo appeared in a couple of films in 1923 but it was his performance along side co-star Bebe Daniels in "Argentine Love" 1924 that got him noticed. He had top billing by 1925 and went on to star opposite the studios top stars like Greta Garbo in "Torrent" 1926 then with Bebe Daniels again in "Volcano" that same year. He co-starred with Joan Crawford in "Montana Moon" 1930 and opposite Claudette Colbert in "Torch Singer" 1933. Parts were coming his way and even though his acting wasn't at the caliber of John Gilbert or Ramon Novarro he was a box office draw often due to his good looks. (That sounds like a few attractive actors I know of today who we women go to the movies just to stare at even though their acting will never win them an Oscar).

with Mary Astor in "I Am a Thief" 1934
with Dolores Del Rio in "Wonder Bar"

Rudolph Valentino who was the studios top box office draw, died suddenly in 1926 and the studio rushed to replace him with Ricardo as their "Latin Lover". Ricardo wasn't thrilled with the idea and it made him nervous for two reasons. Rudolph's following was vast and his fans we're loyal not to mention those we're big shoes to fill. Also Ricardo wasn't actually of Spanish decent and rumors had already started to swirl regarding his actual nationality. The studio tried to squash the rumors by announcing that he was Latin but a different type of Latin from France or somewhere else in Europe other than Spain. The public wasn't buying it so the studio finally had to admit that Ricardo was actually Austrian and hoped his acting would overshadow the misrepresentation of their new star.

with Greta Garbo "Torrent" 1926

Soon after Ricardo's success in "Torrent" the talkies arrived which he transitioned to with ease. His thick New York accent made him perfect for playing a villain and con men. He went on to star in "The Maltese Falcon" 1931 playing Sam Spade. (Yes its true, Humphrey's version was a remake although the most memorable). He also played Perry Mason in "The Case Of The Black Cat" 1936. And along side Bette Davis in "The Big Shakedown" 1934. No longer cast as a Latin Lover he often played a womanizer and cad in a few B rated movies throughout the 1930's.  

with Claudette Colbert in "Torch Singer" 1933

With more desirable film roles diminishing Ricardo tried his hand at directing after 1936 but after just a few films he grew tired of Hollywood and vice versa. The relationship was over so he retired from Hollywood and returned to Wall Street where he worked for one of the top brokerage firms. This enabled him to live comfortably the rest of his life. During the 1950's he made a few cameo's in films but he would remain back East. He had appeared in over 100 films during his stay in Tinseltown. He married only once to silent screen star Alma Rubens in 1926. They remained married until her death from pneumonia in 1931 but more on that drama filled relationship later.

Click on Ricardo's autograph and photos from my collection for a closer view.

Ricardo's feature in Photoplay Magazine

Mr. Cortez passed away in New York in 1977 and was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.  His burial place can be viewed HERE.

Interesting Ricardo Cortez Facts:

His wife actress Alma Ruben's who had been a successful silent screen star when they married went on a downward spiral. Shortly after their marriage she developed a nasty drug habit which affected her acting and lead to a couple of arrests during the late 1920's for disorderly conduct. After a near fatal overdose in 1929 she was placed in an asylum for a short period. Ricardo,  fed up with her ongoing troubles filed for divorce before she went back East to appear in a play at the end of 1929. Upon returning to Hollywood and out on bond, Alma was busted again but this time for morphine possession after police searched her home. While awaiting trial for her latest troubles she went into a coma and died in 1931.

His wife Alma once said about him "Although I didn't find out until almost a year after our marriage, Ric, instead of being a gallant Spanish caballero which I believed, was the son of a Kosher butcher from New York". (Oh Alma of all people you should have known that Hollywood is the land of make believe and nothing is what it seems).

Ricardo's tragic wife Alma Ruben's at the height of her career

He's the only actor to have ever gotten top billing in a movie over Greta Garbo. Thats quite a feat considering she was at the height of her fame at the time.

with Franchot Tone and Loretta Young

Until next time,


  1. Not to be a spoilsport but John Gilbert also received billing over Garbo in Flesh And The Devil and Love.

  2. The photo of Claudette Colbert is with actor David Manners not Ricardo Cortez. Also Ricardo Cortez married twice after the death of Alma Rubens, he left behind a widow he he died in 1977

    1. Anon,
      Thanks so much for the info. Not sure how I got that info wrong. I'll go through and correct it.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and I do hope you'll return often.