Guadalupe Aballe

Gardel’s girl friend

young graceful woman with a baby face, with deep-looking eyes and expectations to be a star in the opera field, Isabel Martínez del Valle achieved a modest place in the history of tango because of her sentimental relationship with Carlos Gardel. Even though all Gardelians have heard stories about her, in the references about her life and her relationship with the Number One the true data are mixed with unreal events.

She was born on March 16, 1907, in the porteño neighborhood of Constitución and she attended the Colegio Santa Catalina. Her father was a railroad man and died when she was only six. Isabel had four siblings (two brothers and two sisters): Manuel, Dora, Concepción and Ignacio. Time later Concepción would become an outstanding classical dancer with whom Libertad Lamarque had lessons to perform “Tres valses”.

Gardel and Isabel were together since January 10, 1920 and Isabel herself spread different versions about the first encounter. She lived on Sarmiento Street between Carlos Pellegrini and Esmeralda, and they would have met on the corner of Sarmiento and Pellegrini. Gardel was with a third person about whose identity Isabel has given confusing information. Once she said that he was a Gardel’s secretary named Martínez and a relative of hers; on another occasion she mentions Martino, a secretary that knew her brother. About what happened later, her dissimilar statements continue: she herself invited Gardel to her place to have dinner and the dish was rice cooked in a Valencian style, or perhaps Martínez (or Martino) commented the young lady’s mother was preparing a tasty rice dish. Anyhow, the following day Gardel turned up at Isabelita’s house with all the ingredients.

Of course, the relationship had good times, Gardel and Isabel used to go to the cinema, to the theater, to the boxing stadium, to the race tracks, to enjoy a picnic in the Palermo woods with the Martínez del Valle family, or to take a stroll together. She recalled that one day they passed by the Colegio Pío IX and that Gardel told her that that was the school where he had studied. They used to go to cabarets like the Chantecler or the Tabarís or to have lunch at El Tropezón, or La Emiliana, or La Sonámbula.

Isabelita also knew Gardel’s close friends: Razzano, Leguisamo, Maschio. She used to go on vacation with the Razzano family. There are letters and postcards written by Gardel to Isabel that undoubtedly belong to the best times of their relation. Gardel was a good, generous man and Isabel received important gifts from him. For example, a mink coat, which had no lamé lining but a velvet lining -which much later, Isabel sold to the cheese manufacturer Magnasco- and an onyx ring with diamonds which when its cover was opened a photograph of the singer was seen. (Doña Berta had received a similar ring from his son).

Isabel dreamed of marrying him but those wishes did not come true. Some day the feelings of Gardel changed. One of the reasons might have been that the del Valle family largely took advantage of the singer’s generosity and he finally was fed up with them all, overwhelmed by the situation. There were many attempts made by El Zorzal to break up with her, but in the end they always reconciled.

Around 1931 Isabelita had made up her mind to become someone important in the world of singing. She traveled to Milano with her mother in order to polish herself. There she began to study even though the European winter was not good to her. Never-ending catarrhs and bronchitis greatly bothered her during her stay in the Old World. Her letters to Gardel (who was then in France) are all in the same mood. She was constantly asking him money and presents –she wanted a cross for January 10, 1932, a date to celebrate their 12 years together- and was also complaining because he neither wrote nor phoned very often.

In the early 1932, Isabel and her mother decided to travel to Lugo to visit the 82-year-old maternal grandmother who was ill. Previously they went to Madrid where they met Josep Samitier, a great friend of Carlos's. The soccer player wrote a recommendation to present at the Hotel Gran Vía which said that Isabel and her mother were relatives of his and he asked special treatment and accommodation for them. Isabel led Samitier to believe that she would go there, but she chose another place, and at the same time she wrote to Carlos telling him what had happened and enclosed the note of his friend, expecting a money order for her planned travel.

Meanwhile, her sister Concepción, from Milano, also wrote to Gardel asking him a loan of 2000 liras and begging him that Isabel would not learn anything about it. She ended the letter saying "sincerely your sister-in-law". Gardel did not send the money. In another letter Isabel asked him that he should buy a solitaire for her "to make Concepción angry because she says she never saw from you a worthwhile gift for me", and that he should tell her about presents "so that she'd realize that you love me very much". Years later Isabel would say that her sister burnt the letters that Carlos sent to her.

While Concepción failed in her attempt to borrow money, Isabel and her mother arrived in Lugo and were accomodated at the Méndez Núñez hotel. They visited their granny. Later they returned to Milano but as Isabel's catarrh was worse she went to see a doctor. And she threw a new problem at Gardel hoping that he would solve it. Her uncle had lent her 600 pesetas on condition that she would give them back to him so she turned to Carlos to get the money.

In April 1932 the Isabel's insistent demands were satisfied, the singer traveled to Italy and there they reunited. During this encounter the well-known photographs of Carlos and Isabel in Italy were taken.

Back in Buenos Aires, Isabel found her chance to sing. In March 1934 she joined the cast of the Narcisín group in the play "The Phantom of the Opera" staged at the Teatro Fémina succesfully. Isabel's photo a couple of times appeared in the Sintonía magazine. In one of them with a favorable epigraph: "a pleasant soprano". She also appeared at the play "Las joyas de Fausto", she sang in Bahía Blanca, Rosario and, at the Teatro Nacional, performed the tango "Silencio", but she soon quit her showbiz career.

That same year Gardel, from the United States and with Defino's help, decided to break up with the Martínez del Valle family. His last gift to Isabel was a house on Directorio Street which had to be paid in installments.

In November 1934 the definitive breakup took place. Isabel and her family lived in a rented house and Gardel was their guarantor. They had stopped paying and the owner threatened them with eviction; simultaneously, the installments for the Directorio house had not been paid since five months before. Defino talked about the issue with Isabel and her brother Ignacio and they reached an agreement: they accepted to move when Defino promised, as Gardel's proxy, that the debt of the Directorio house would be paid. They, in exchange, promised never to bother the singer anymore.

On November 20 the Martínez del Valles moved, Defino cancelled the debt for the rent with the owner and updated the book of payments of the house on Directorio. According to Defino, in conversations with Ignacio and with Isabel, it was understood that they would never turn to the singer and also his relationship with them all was ended. Only Ignacio would deal with Defino in order to hand him the book of payments of the house to be able to pay. As a last favor Isabel had asked Defino to rescue a ring from the pawnshop, but Gardel's proxy did not accept it. According to Defino, the situation with Isabel had become so tense because of her behavior. Had Isabel obeyed Gardel's decisions from the beginning her house would have already been paid. Ignacio agreed with him and they blamed Razzano because, according to Ignacio, was who advised her.

Isabel never admitted publicly that her relation with Gardel was broken. At the time of the accident in Medellín, on the contrary, she went on with the fiction of the affair until the end of her life. She was present at the mass at the Iglesia Santa Rosa de Lima and the media of the time mentioned her as his "fiancée". She encouraged the image of a disconsolate fiancée.

But life went on. Isabel married to Mario Fattori and they became parents of a boy, Martín. They settled in Uruguay where they owned a factory that manufactured pasta. They underwent several vicissitudes, lived in Punta del Este, went bankrupt with the factory, run a restaurant named Canario, rented the Hotel British House, run La Barra Hotel of Maldonado and the Arco Baleno. In the 70s the hotel was closed but they continued with the restaurant. Being a vidow, she returned to Argentina and appeared on TV programs and was interviewed to give details of her relationship with Carlos, in a way more romantic than what it truly was.

In her last years she had been working for Bestline, an enterprise of cleaning products . She had heart troubles and on May 4, 1990 she died in her house in Villa Ballester. Today she is a part of the Gardelian myth: the "everlasting fiancée" of Carlos Gardel.