Maria Montez

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Publicity still from Arabian Nights

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Maria Montez was a Dominican-born motion picture actress who gained fame and popularity in the 1940s as an exotic beauty starring in a series of filmed-in-Technicolor costume adventure films. Her screen image was that of a hot-blooded Latin seductress, dressed in fanciful costumes and sparkling jewels. She became so identified with these adventure epics that she became known as "The Queen of Technicolor." Over her career, Montez appeared in 26 films, 21 of which were made in North America and five in Europe.

Maria Montez was the stage name of María África Gracia Vidal. Born in Barahona, Dominican Republic on June 6, 1912, Maria was the second daughter of 10 children, and was given the name María África in honor of her diplomat/businessman father's native land, the Spanish Isla de la Palma, off the coast of the African continent. At a young age, she taught herself to speak English, and in 1932 she married William McFeeters, an American banker working in her seaside home town of Barahona.

Her marriage lasted several years but in 1939 she ended up in New York City where her exotic looks landed her a job as a model. Determined to become a stage actress, she hired an agent and created a résumé that made her several years younger by listing her birth as 1917 in some instances and 1918 in others. Eventually she accepted an offer from Universal Pictures, making her film debut in a Johnny Mack Brown B western.

Her Latin beauty soon made her the centerpiece of Universal's Technicolor costume adventures, notably the six in which she was teamed with Jon Hall — Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (1944), Cobra Woman (1944), Gypsy Wildcat (1944), and Sudan (1945). Montez also appeared in the Technicolor western Pirates of Monterey (1947) with Rod Cameron and the sepia-toned swashbuckler The Exile (1948), directed by Max Ophuls and starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

While working in Hollywood, she met and married French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, who had to leave a few days after their wedding to serve in the Free French Forces fighting against Nazi Germany in the European Theatre of World War II. At the end of World War II, the couple had a daughter, Maria Christina (also known as Tina Aumont), born in Hollywood in 1946. They then moved to a home in Suresnes, Ile-de-France in the eastern suburb of Paris under the French Fourth Republic. There, Maria Montez appeared in several films and a play written by her husband. She also wrote three books, two of which were published, as well as penning a number of poems.

The 39-year-old Montez died in Paris, France on September 7, 1951 after apparently suffering a heart attack and drowning in her own bathtub. Stories conflict on the cause of her death. She drowned in her bath tub, fainting as a result of over-dieting.

She was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris where her tombstone dispays her theatrical year of birth 1918.

Much loved by the people of the Dominican Republic, in her birthplace of Barahona the city changed the name of an existing street to that bearing her name. Her legacy as the only great star from that country remains, and in 1996 the Aeropuerto Internacional María Montez (Maria Montez International Airport) began service in Barahona.

But it is as a camp heroine that Montez may be (perhaps unfairly) best remembered by contemporary audiences world-wide, and particularly in the dual role of Tollea/Naja in Cobra Woman. Her line, "Give me that Cobra Jewel" is cited and quoted regularly within the gay community, and an image of Montez in this film can be found on the cover of the latest paperback edition of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge.

She is the sister of actress Julia Andre, who had a small role in the film "Pirates of Monterey".


Pin-up Gallery


  • Boss of Bullion City (1940)
  • The Invisible Woman (1940)
  • Lucky Devils (1941)
  • That Night in Rio (1941)
  • Raiders of the Desert (1941)
  • Moonlight in Hawaii (1941)
  • South of Tahiti (1941)
  • Bombay Clipper (1942)
  • The Mystery of Marie Roget (1942)
  • Arabian Nights (1942)
  • White Savage (1943)
  • Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944)
  • Follow the Boys (1944)
  • Cobra Woman (1944)
  • Gypsy Wildcat (1944)
  • Bowery to Broadway (1944)
  • Sudan (1945)
  • Tangier (1946)
  • The Exile (1947)
  • Pirates of Monterey (1947)
  • Siren of Atlantis (1949)
  • Wicked City (1949)
  • Portrait of an Assassin (1949)
  • Revenge of the Pirates (1951)
  • City of Violence (1951)
  • Camorra (1951)
  • The Thief of Venice (1951)


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