Latino performers were rare in the 1930s and 1940s, the Golden Era of Hollywood.
Mexican-born Lupe Velez was popular for her “Mexican Spitfire” comedies. Dominican American Maria Montez appeared in adventure films. Mexican American Anthony Quinn played minor villains until the 1950s, when he became a full-fledged star.
The greatest exception was the sex goddess Rita Hayworth, and her ethnic origins were all but invisible.
Born in Brooklyn in 1918 as Margarita Carmen Cansino, she was the daughter of Spanish-born dancer Eduardo Cansino. She made her first films in 1935 as Rita Cansino, but got little attention until she dyed her black hair auburn and changed her name to the Anglo-sounding Hayworth.
In the 1940s, her career took off. Audiences found Hayworth a beautiful and exciting star in such films as Cover Girl (1944) and Gilda (1946). Soldiers in World War II treasured her pinup picture.
Most fans didn’t realize she was Latina, even though she had played a Spanish temptress in the bullfighting movie Blood and Sand (1941).