CALLE Actor Antonio Moreno at the back of Mercadona is not the most beautiful street in Los Barrios. But the story behind it is quite something for our pueblo.

It’s named in honour of a local bakers delivery boy made good who became a Hollywood heartthrob in the Roaring Twenties of 100 years ago.

Antonio Moreno – Tony to his friends – was the original red hot Latin lover of the silent film era,  smouldering on the silver screen when Rudolph Valentino was still in short trousers.

He was leading man to Garbo in The Temptress (1922) and Clara Bow in It (1926), the blockbuster that made her the ‘It Girl’; he worked with Gloria Swanson, Gary Cooper and Tyrone Power at Vitagraph, Paramount and Metro Goldwyn Mayer; he made over 100 films and directed four; and he was the first Spanish actor to receive a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame.

Belinda Documentary Evidence
Documentary evidence

Scant evidence remains of the handsome 15-year-old Spaniard who earned pocket money teaching wealthy Americans and Europeans to play polo in Campamento (during its posh heyday) and got his big break when some of those influential clients offered to fund his education in the States.   

But the forgotten sex symbol who crossed the Atlantic in 1902 to follow his American dream became ‘an obsession’ for Spanish journalist and film maker Mar Diaz, who has pieced  the fragments together for a documentary. “I knew I couldn’t tell Antonio’s whole story so I found a common thread – the search for his lost films,” says Diaz. “The story of his life is the history of cinema from 1912 until 1959.”  

Belinda With Garbo In The Temptress
With Garbo in The Temptress

Her research took her to the Library of Congress in Washington and the Academy of Cinema in Los Angeles, to Mexico City where Moreno directed Santa, the first Mexican talkie, to the home of his great-granddaughter Franci and back to Los Barrios where a few neighbours still remember the star and his mother who owned the finest house in the street, thanks to her son. These interviews are preserved in the 2016 documentary, The Spanish Dancer, named by Diaz after one of Moreno’s movies.

When talkies arrived, Tony reinvented himself as a character actor, playing a scientist in the 1954 horror classic Creature from the Black Lagoon and gun-slinging with John Wayne in western epic The Searchers.

Off screen he and his oil heiress wife Daisy Canfield Danziger were Hollywood’s Golden Couple, driving fast cars, hosting racy parties  and living the Great Gatsby lifestyle.

He died in Calfiornia in 1967 and though history overlooked him he never forgot his homeland, modelling his LA mansion on the grand houses of Cadiz which gave birth to a new architectural style Stateside, dubbed  Mediterranean Revival. 

Today his stately pile is a historic monument renamed The Paramour Estate – a fitting epitaph for a red hot Latin lover.

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