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Oh my God, she killed Ricardo Cortez!

Yesterday's entry mentioned Erich von Stroheim in passing, referring to his ability to reinvent himself in Hollywood. The same can be said of the Carole Lombard leading man who's the subject of today's entry.



His name? Ricardo Cortez, shown above with Lombard in the 1932 Paramount film "No One Man." A smooth Latin in the Rudolph Valentino/Ramon Novarro tradition? You might think so, but you would be wrong. Cortez wasn't of Hispanic origin at all; in fact, like von Stroheim, he was Jewish and hailed from Austria, born with the name Jacob Krantz, before his family emigrated to New York. But when he started in silent films, he looked sufficiently exotic that his moniker was changed to be consistent with the roles he played. (He was billed above Greta Garbo in her first U.S. film, "Torrent" in 1926.)

He had one other significant difference from Valentino. Instead of playing the heroic gigolo, Cortez's characters were generally smarmy -- he might indeed sweep a woman off her feet, but it would do her no good. Never fear, though...Cortez invariably got what he deserved in the end, and that was usually a demise brought on by that woman. Some examples:

* In 1931, the wonderfully named Helen Twelvetrees laid him low with some bullets in "Bad Company."

* Two years later, Kay Francis performed the honors in "The House Of 56th Street." That same year, Loretta Young dispatched him with a pistol in "Midnight Mary."

* In 1934, three different women did him in, in three different ways: Anita Louise fatally shot him in "The Firebird," Dolores Del Rio knifed him to death (while dancing!) in the musical "Wonder Bar," and Francis poisoned him (hey, he'd sold her into white slavery!) in "Mandalay."

It's no wonder that in his fine book "Complicated Women," Mick LaSalle wrote, "it sounds as if the pre-Codes were merely open season on Ricardo Cortez." Yes, Cortez was the pre-Code version of Kenny, the luckless "South Park" character who dies in every episode, but no woman who ever killed him could be considered a...well, you know the word.

In "No One Man," Lombard -- playing the absurdly named Penelope Newbold -- didn't get the opportunity to gun down Cortez's character (just as well, since she didn't take up skeet shooting until later in the decade). His romantic rival in this film was played by the suave Paul Lukas, shown below (and no, we're not going to spoil any more of the plot for you):



Finally, here's another publicity still from that film, one which has to be seen to be believed. Some of you may recall a shampoo in the 1970s and '80s called "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific." This picture explains why that company never branched out into making a deodorant called "Gee, Your Underarms Smell Terrific."



From the look on Lombard's face, one wonders if she was oblivious to the image's ridiculousness.

Sometimes Cortez played the good guy, and even survived. He played Sam Spade in the 1931 version of "The Maltese Falcon," a decade before Humphrey Bogart made the role his own. He also played a doctor who hails from a poor background in the urban drama "Symphony Of Six Million."

Once the Code was enforced in mid-1934, Cortez fell out of favor in films. So he left Los Angeles, went east to New York, and became -- of all things -- a successful investment banker. He died in April 1977...of natural causes.

The three pictures from "No One Man," one of Carole's least successful vehicles, are available from Profiles In History as part of its upcoming Hollywood memorabilia auction; the lot is #1307. If you're interested, go to http://www.profilesinhistory.com/new/index.php?option=com_auctions&catid=34
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