|With all this exposure Amalia became very well known and in 1946 she broke into movies, playing the part of a glamorous rumba dancer (a Rumbera or Cabaretera as the female dance performance genre was known) in the film Pervertida, a melodrama directed by José Díaz Morales and starring Julio Ahuet, Ramón Armengod and Emilia Guiú.
The Atomic Bomb
Not long after making her movie debut, one evening whilst performing at Mexico City's Waikiki nightclub, the American impresario Edward Perkins visited the show. He was impressed enough to offer Amalia a contract to undertake tour the USA, performing a stage adaptation of the movie musical A Night in Havana, with the Lecuona Cuban Boys. Amalia happily accepted, leaving Mexico for more than one year. During this engagement Amalia played to packed houses across the US, under the soubriquets Amalia Aguilar: Woman of Fire and Amalia Aguilar: Atomic Bomb.
Amalia recalls fond memories of this first US visit, including performances at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, Chicagos Latin Quarter nightclub and particularly Hollywoods celebrated Trocadero nightclub, performing every night in front of stars such as Carmen Miranda, Bob Hope and the Ritz Brothers.
However, perhaps her most prestigious performance of the entire visit was at the Hollywood Bowl where she appeared with the famous Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat and his orchestra.
And then, if more need to be said about Amalias talent, one evening the movie producer Howard Hughes approached her, with the idea of making Amalia his exclusive star in a film portraying the life of Lupe Velez, (a famous Mexican actress). Unfortunately however for contractual reasons this project never took off.
Whilst in the USA, Amalia also appeared in her second movie, a short burlesque style comedy titled: A night at the Folies, produced by W. Merle Conell and filmed at the Follies Theatre in Los Angeles California. Here Amalia performed two numbers Afro Mood and Rumba-Amalia.
|Amalia and Kiko Mendive : Pervertida (1946)|
|Mario Moreno (Cantinflas) & Amalia at the Sans Souci nightclub, Mexico City (1946)|
|Million Dollar Theatre Los Angeles (1947)|
A Night at the folies (1947)
|Return to Mexico
Even before the US tour Amalia had already made quite a name for herself in Mexico City, performing at some of the top nightspots such as El Patio, El Minuit and El Folies.
Enhanced by the successful USA trip, Amalia was now considered to be real cinematic hot talent. In 1948 she appeared in four movies: Conozco a los dos, Dicen que soy mujeriego, Calabacitas tiernas and En cada puerto un amor.
In each of these four movies Amalia does what she does best: dancing. She also displays dynamic acting skills, whether playing musical, comedy or melodramatic roles. In Calabacitas tiernas she plays a feisty Cuban bandleader/dancer, who is never afraid of a fight; in Dicen que soy mujeriego and En cada puerto un amor she plays the jilted lover and in Conozco a los dos, takes on the role of female comedic counterfoil.
In these, her first real cinematic acting roles, Amalia holds her own against some of the biggest names in the Mexican movie business of the time including: Pedro Infante, Sara Garcia, German Tintan Valdes, Rosa Quintana and Domingo Soler. In each of her varied roles, Amalia gave all, combining serious acting with witty comedy and of course, best of all, her superb and very sensual dance performances.
|Production still: Conozco a los Dos (1948)|
|Dicen Que Soy Mujeriego (1948):
with screen 'heartthrob' Pedro Infante
|Conozco a los Dos (1948)|
|Dicen Que Soy Mujeriego (1948)|
|Calabacitas Tiernas (1948)|
|En Cadre Puerto un Amor (1948)|
|El Gran Campion (1949)|
|El Colmillo de Buda (1949)|
|Calabacitas Tiernas (1948):
with Germain Valdes (Tintan)
|Novia a la Medida (1949)|
|La Vida En Broma (1949)|
1949 continued in much the same vein as 1948, with Amalia appearing in a further four movies; El gran campion (the story of Mexican boxing champion Kid Azteca), El colmillo de buda, La vida en broma and Novia a la medida.
1949 was a very important year for Latin music, since it was when the rhythm/dance style known as mambo first arrived in Mexico from Cuba. The mambo would for a short time achieve worldwide popularity, a popularity that helped propel Amalias movie career across the Americas. Although first defined but not invented - by Cuban bandleader Damaso Perez Prado, the mambo acted as a symbol of musical modernity and with a Mexican audience achieved, almost overnight, huge success.
Prados mambo fused the contemporary sound of North American big band jazz (a la Stan Kenton) with the Cuban rumba, presenting a new and dynamic sound and style, both thrilling in its edgy, staccato attack and powerful through Prados unique brass arrangements. In the nightclubs, cabarets and dancehalls of Mexico, the mambo became a sensation, not least in providing the soundtrack for a disillusioned underclass of Mexican youth known as Pachuco. Equally with the importance of both dancehalls and the cinema to the urban Mexican audience, the talented Prado soon found himself contracted to write for movies, where his jazzy mambo rhythms suited the Rumbera genre perfectly.
Prados main vocal collaborator during this period was another Cuban named Beny More. More, both a phenomenal vocalist and performer, had arrived in Mexico a few years before Prado, also drawn by the prospect of economic opportunity. Importantly he also performed regularly in the same cabarets and nightclubs as Amalia and her Rumbera compatriots, strengthening the bond between the Rumbera and the mambo. During 1949-1951, the duo of Prado and More recorded some fifty-plus 78prm sides together for RCA Victor records. This success of these recordings alone brought More enough status that when he returned to Cuba in 1951, he was able to form his own orchestra, attaining the status of one of the nations best loved vocalists, a position he retains even in death (he died in 1962).
|Press ad (1949)|
|So then, it is important to acknowledge that it was alongside both Prado, and More that Amalia enhanced her reputation, appearing in movies with both. Firstly with More in En cada puerto un amor (1948), where she dances to a guaracha sung by More, and again in Novia a la medida (1949), where the duos performance of the mambo El baile del sillon offers (in the writers opinion), one of the great musical highlights of Mexican cinema of the entire period.
Of course, this was the epoch of the Rumbera in Latin cinema (and the era where Mexican cinema reigned supreme across central and south America). This period importantly also marks the end of the era where Cuban music was a real musical force (immediately before the American rock and roll machine steamrollered all other musical forms). Thus any Rumbera movie guaranteed audiences both hot music and dynamic choreography, as well as a hard melodramatic or a somewhat racy comedy plotline. And so the talented Amalia through her varied roles (and not least comedic performances) became one of the Rumbera most favored, firstly by Mexican audiences, then with the export of her movies, to Latin cinemagoers across the entire continent.
Although by now an established actress, Amalia always first and foremost a stage performer, continued appearing regularly in the society nightclubs of Mexico City (by now with her own backing band Los diablos del tropico) and one evening in cabaret, she was approached by a Mr Joe Bullon, husband of the Black French-American superstar Josephine Baker. Bullon watched Amalias performance and then offered her a lead role at the Follies Bergere cabaret in Paris. However she declined, being already committed to an exclusive contract with Mexicos prestigious Cine Azteca film studio.
|With Beny More (1949)|
In 1949 whilst undertaking movie promotion work in the USA, Amalia attended the premiere of rival Rumbera Maria Antonieta Pons latest movie La hija del penal at the Puerto Rico Theatre in the South Bronx district of New York. A large venue (capacity 3200 + 500 standing) offering both variety acts and movie shows on one bill.
|Cabaret Mexico City 1948a|
|Like Amalia, Maria Antonieta Pons was also Cuban born, but importantly, had been based in Mexico longer than Amalia and at the time was perhaps the biggest star of the Rumbera movie genre. In fact such was her popularity, that even in New York, at this particular show, she had sold out both seated and standing capacity.
That evening Amalia was called up on to the stage and introduced to the audience. Onstage, no doubt as a publicity stunt, Amalia was challenged by Pons, to a performance battle and the duo undertook a spirited showdown. What followed it is written was a battle of stage histrionics that drove the audience wild.
Amalia performs in New York
The tenderest little pumpkin : Amalia (1948)