By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
A Western shot in color, El Mexicanowould turn Rivero into the country's top hunk. On a promo tour in the southern state of Chiapas, he was taken aback by the crowds, and his sudden stardom.
"You are just not ready. It catches you by surprise. I never imagined . . . ," he says. "And the women! Wow! I said, 'Is this for me?' When I got back to Mexico City they chased me."
Though never disrespectful of women or using his status as a way of coercing them, Rivero also never shunned an affair -- of which there were many. "I always tried to bed the main actress," he says. "Sometimes I got her, sometimes I didn't, but I always tried."
MEXICAN LAW STIPULATES THAT WHEN filming in Mexico, foreign companies must employ a certain quota of local labor. Included among the actors hired for the western Soldier Blue, shot in 1970, was Jorge Rivero. It was his first Hollywood credit.
With a script that still seems audacious today, the film told the story of the massacre of a tribe of Cheyenne by a U.S. cavalry division, evoking the carnage in Vietnam. The part of the tribe's chief, Spotted Wolf, went to the athletic, aquiline-nosed Rivero. He spoke only a few lines, but he got to play the husband of Candice Bergen, who starred as a white woman who sympathizes with the tribe.
He also got an audition with Howard Hawks, who was casting for Rio Lobo. As French-Mexican Confederate Lieutenant Pierre Cardona, he would co-star with none other than John Wayne. But first Rivero had to do something.
"I went with an English teacher at the university and learned my parts phonetically," he says, laughing. "I went up before Hawks and said my part . . . The problem was that I didn't even know what I was saying!"
Rivero held his own next to Wayne, and looked good on horseback. And, in a scene with Jennifer O'Neill, Rivero -- as usual -- got the girl. After giving Rivero a kiss that sends him into a swoon, she asks Wayne, "Are all Mexicans like him? One kiss and he blows up!"
When it came time to promote the film in Europe, Wayne was battling cancer, so the MGM executives called Rivero. Used to driving to locations and changing costumes in the back seats of cars, he could barely believe the luxury hotels he was booked into and the level of attention he received at press conferences.
"I had never been driven in a limo in my life!" Rivero says. "And those rooms! They were so big you could skate in them!"
Again, his timing was perfect. Europe, especially Italy, was in the middle of its sword-and-sandal, spaghetti Western and horror bonanza. The powerful Roman studio Cineccitá offered Rivero the role of Sartana, one of many gunslinger characters, like Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name." He starred in three Sartana films, and a producer told him, "I guarantee you that if you stay in Italy, you will never run out of work."
Derided for decades, Eurotrash cinema is now undergoing some revisionism, with filmmakers like Sergio Corbucci, Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci getting a more serious look from critics. Rivero appeared in some of the best of the worst. In Eroticofollia (Evil Eye), an Italian-Spanish-Mexican production, he played the part of Peter Crane, an American playboy in Rome who is telepathically forced to commit murders by a satanic cult. A bad flick with a cool attitude, it's filled with decadent dialogue, orgies, incredibly beautiful men and women, and gratuitous nude scenes.
In post-Franco Spain, going through its "transition" period after the dictator's death, the industry dove headfirst into sexploitation films. Spanish producers made sure to cast a naked Rivero in softcore porn like La Playa Vacia (The Empty Beach), in which he engages in a ménage à trois with Pilar Velasquez and Amparo Rivelles.
To this day Rivero is unapologetic about being typecast as a sex object first and an actor second. He was always conscious that it was his body that was the real reason he got a lot of job offers: "Directors were always telling me to take my shirt off," he says.
AS RIVERO WAS ENJOYING HIS INTERnational success, Mexico's movie industry was undergoing profound changes. When he became president in 1970, left-leaning Luis Echeverría budgeted 1 billion pesos -- then an exorbitant sum -- to finance a new, more socially conscious cinema. The Banco Cinematográfico was created to distribute funds to revitalize the industry.
This enabled a generation of young and brash filmmakers like Arturo Ripstein, Felipe Cazals and Carlos Humberto Hermosillo to begin producing films unlike anything Mexico had ever seen. With their abrasive criticism of government corruption and morality taken to the extreme, movies like El Castillo de la Pureza (The Castle of Purity), Canoa and Los Cachorros (The Cubs) proved to be seminal works.
They also started a rivalry with the studios that is still a sore spot three decades later. The state-funded filmmakers claim that the studios produced terrible, embarrassing movies that eventually tired even the most loyal moviegoers. Rivero, a studio veteran, counters that it was the state filmmakers who overspent money and resources on movies that made almost nothing at the box office. He adds that the new directors reeked of intellectual arrogance.