Pedro Uzquiza

Mona Maris remembers Carlos Gardel

ven though she appeared in over fifty movies in which she shared the billboard with stars of the level of Buster Keaton, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Jeanette Mc Donald, George Sanders, José Mojica, Mary Pickford, Rita Hayworth, Bela Lugosi, Victor Mature and Adolphe Menjou, the Argentine people will always remember her as Carlos Gardel’s female partner in Cuesta abajo.

Today (1990), at age eighty-three, Mona Maris still keeps the fine, distinguished look that characterized her at the time when she was a Hollywood star, and her memories make her one of the last witnesses of Carlos Gardel’s life.

«They chose me for Cuesta abajo in a quite special way: by phone. I was in California and I came to know that Paramount was looking for two actresses with a Latin flavor for the roles of a well-to-do girl and a vamp. The candidates were Rosita Moreno, Raquel Torres and I. I had just finished the shooting of Kiss and Make Up which starred Cary Grant and was directed by Harlan Thompson.

«In the early days of sound movies the voice quality was highly regarded. Carlos Gardel himself, who was accompanied by Alfredo Le Pera and the director Gasnier, auditioned me by phone in the Paramount studios in New York. Gardel spoke emphasizing even more his typical porteño accent, surely, to check our reaction. I had never seen him before and I knew him only when I was chosen. It was for the vamp’s role.

«I started playing silly girl’s roles but with the passing of time I came to know that to play a femme fatale was twice as interesting. What I did not understand at that time was why I had been chosen. I never had an Argentine accent. I left Buenos Aires to live with my grandmother in France, in the Hautes-Pyrénées when I was very young, only four years old. I had almost lost my original language. I recovered it in Los Angeles, talking with the Mexicans.

«The shooting lasted a little bit more than five weeks. There I found out that Gardel was a charming being and a very good looking man. He had reached a great intellectual maturity and refinement in his habits, but none of those attributes made him lose spontaneity, the natural strength of his personality.

«At work he was much supportive with his fellow players, especially, with the beginners. Furthermore, he was so honest, a quality quite uncommon in a figure of his fame. He was conscious that it was very difficult for him to perform as an actor and he used to say it with no embarrassment. He did not know what to do with his hands, but he made his best and I’m sure that he would have become a very good actor like Bing Croshy or Frank Sinatra, singers who ventured into the movies and finally turned out excellent players.

«I last saw Carlos in New York, in August 1934. It was at a dinner. We had finished shooting “Cuesta abajo” and we agreed to get in touch by phone in case of future films. I returned to Los Angeles and later I went to Europe. One morning when I was at the Savoy hotel of London, the head-waiter, named Santarelli, who was a fan of the Zorzal Criollo, told me about the news of his death. I had a very dangerous reaction: for a month I was unwilling to do anything at all.

«People said that had not occurred that tragedy I would have become Gardel’s great love. There were many speculations about that possibility. The truth is that I was strongly drawn by his personality and I think that he was also struck by mine. We had something in common: we were both “children of love”. Neither he knew his father nor I knew mine. But Gardel was raised by his mother. We talked very much about the issue and we achieved a special rapport. Surely, if we had lived in New York that mutual attraction would probably have become love.

«He was very warm, quite generous, with an uncommon charm, but he was very shy too. That shyness made him so peculiar in his relationships, especially with women.

«He was much respectful to women, not aggressive in the field of love even though all women were after him. Gardel was quite a man, I knew him well enough to be sure of it.

«Gardel was not a myth, he was a reality, and he still is. He interpreted the music of his land like nobody else, and what people do is to go on acknowledging it.»

Excerpted from La Maga magazine Nº 11 (1995)