Actress. She is best remembered as the Queen of Technicolor for her many roles in B-type escapist movies during the 1940s. She was also called the Caribbean Cyclone, due to her exotic looks and the roles she played. Born Maria Africa Gracia Vidal de Santo Silas in Barahona, Dominican Republic, the second daughter of ten children to father Isidoro Gracia Garcia Vidal and mother Regla Teresa Maria Vidal. Her father, an exporter of wood and textiles, was also the Spanish Consul to the Dominican Republic and her mother was a local, born and raised in Bani, Dominican Republic. Early on, she wanted to become an actress, and self taught herself English by listening to American songs and reading English magazines and books. On November 28, 1932, she married Irishman William McFeeters, the Barahona agent for the local branch of the First National Bank of New York, and in 1939, after the family was transferred to New York City, they were soon divorced. To earn money, she quickly entered the modeling world of New York City, and when she posed for a painting by noted NY artist McClelland Barclay, she was soon in high demand due to her exotic beauty. She signed a contract with Universal Studios, which included a move to Hollywood and a salary of $150 per week. Picking the stage name of Maria Montez in honor of dancer Lola Montez (a favorite of her father's), she quickly adopted the persona of an exotic, mysterious Latin lady. She began making B-movies, with minor supporting roles in such films as "Boss of Bullion City" (1940), and "The Invisible Woman" (1940). In 1941 she was loaned to 20th Century Fox Studio to make "That Night in Rio" (1941), a Technicolor film with Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche. It was in this film that Technicolor brought out her natural beauty, and following that film, her role offers improved. With the United States involved in World War II, she soon became a favorite pin-up girl for soldiers. In 1942, she starred in "South of Tahiti," one of her few A roles, and despite its success, she was soon sent back to making B movies. On July 13, 1943, she married French actor Jean Pierre Aumont (1911-2001), who she had met only nine months earlier. She would give birth to their only child, a daughter Maria Christina Aumont, on February 14, 1946; Maria Christina would later become an actress under the stage name of Tina Aumont. Shortly after their marriage, Jean Pierre Aumont would join the Free French Army, and fight in North Africa, Italy and France. While Aumont went to war, Maria was soon cast in a variety of escapist type B movies, including "White Savage" (1943), "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" (1943), "Cobra Woman" (1944) and "Gypsy Wildcat" (1944). While filming "Gypsy Wildcat" in her native Dominican Republic, President Rafael Trujillo awarded her the Order of San Pablo Duarte and the Order of Trujillo, for bringing fame to her country. These movies, filmed in color and popular with the general public, brought out her exotic beauty by featuring her as a scantily clad damsel in distress, but were virtually no help to her acting career. These B roles continued after the war, but were declining in public demand, so in 1949, she and her husband moved to Paris, France, to appear in a number of French and Italian adventure films. She starred in such films as "Hans le marin" (Hans the Sailor, 1949), "La Vendetta del corsaro" (The Revenge of the Pirates, 1951), and "Il Ladro di Venezia" (The Thief of Venice, 1951), the last of which many critics considered her best work as an actress. On September 7, 1951, she was found dead in her bathtub in Paris by her sisters, Ada and Teresita, having apparently drowned while having a heart attack. No autopsy was performed, so the actual cause of death remained unconfirmed. In 1996, the newly opened international airport in her hometown of Barahona, Dominican Republic, was named the Maria Montez International Airport in her honor.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson