Emilio "El Indio" Fernández (born Emilio Fernández Romo, Spanish pronunciation: [eˈmiljo feɾˈnandeð ˈromo]; March 26, 1904 – August 6, 1986) was an actor, screenwriter and director of the cinema of Mexico. He is best known for his work as director of the film Maria Candelaria, which won the Palme d'Or award at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.
Fernández was born in Mineral del Hondo, Coahuila, Mexico. His father, Fernando Garza, was a military man, and after 1910, a revolutionary while his mother was a Kickapoo Indian, a tribe that inhabited the region of Sabinas, hence the "Indio" nickname. El Indio dropped out of school to serve in the revolutionary uprising led by Adolfo de la Huerta.
President of Mexico Álvaro Obregón sent de la Huerta into exile (in Los Angeles, California) and Fernández received a 20-year prison sentence but escaped prison using dynamite and followed de la Huerta to the United States. De la Huerta worked as a music teacher and Fernández as an extra in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s.
Model for the Oscar statuette
Fernández is often said to be the model for the Oscar statuette, although there is no historical evidence for this. According to the legend, in 1928, MGM's art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Academy Award members, supervised the design of the award trophy by printing the design on a scroll. In need of a model for his statuette, Gibbons was introduced by his future wife, Dolores del Río to Mexican film director Emilio "El Indio" Fernández. Reluctant at first, Fernández was supposedly convinced to pose nude to create what today is known as the "Oscar".
With his experience in Hollywood, he joined the Mexican movie industry as a screenwriter and actor. "El Indio" obtained his first acting role in Corazón bandolero (1934) of Raphael J. Sevilla. His looks also landed him a starring role playing a native in Janitzio of Carlos Navarro.
He also wrote the script for La isla de la Pasión ( a.k.a. Clipperton, 1941), a film he would also direct. His next two films as a director were successful not only in Mexico but the rest of Latin America, Flor silvestre (1943) and María Candelaria, for which he was awarded the Palm d'Or at Cannes along with Gabriel Figueroa(1943). Both filmed with photographer Gabriel Figueroa. He developed his own style which had such an effect in the industry that his portrayal of rural Mexico became a standard for the film industry and also became the image of Mexico in the world.
Other successful films directed by Fernández including Las Abandonadas, Bugambilia (1944, with Dolores del Río and Pedro Armendariz, principal Fernández's actors in México); La Perla (1946), Enamorada (1946), Rio Escondido (1947) and Maclovia (1948) (with María Félix, with a great success in Europe; Pueblerina (1949) (with another Fernández muse: his wife Columba Domínguez) and The Torch (filmed in the United States, with Paulette Goddard)
In 1947, Fernández directed some scenes of the film The Fugitive, directed by John Ford.
In the middle of the 1950s, the films of Fernández fall in decadence and he is relegated by other notable Mexican film directors like Luis Buñuel. Fernández returned to his role as actor. In México, he participated in films like The Soldiers of Pancho Villa (1959) with María Félix and Dolores del Río and El Crepúsculo de un Dios (1968, directed by himself). His 1967 film A Faithful Soldier of Pancho Villa was entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival.
In Hollywood, he participated in films like The Night of the Iguana (1964, directed by John Huston, with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner), Return of the Seven (1966, with Yul Brynner), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974, directed by Sam Peckinpah) and Under the Volcano (1984). The last film in which he acted was Los Amantes del Señor de la Noche in 1986.
Notable film collaborations
- Gabriel Figueroa
Considered the premier Cinematographer of Mexico's Época de oro, between 1930–1960, Figueroa was nominated for several awards, including the Oscar in 1964. Worked as DP on twenty-five projects with Fernandez including the Palme d'Or winning María Candelaria, Flor Silvestre and the multi-Ariel winning Enamorada. Together they glorified "Mexico's landscapes, dramatic, cloud-laced skies, and more importantly, its stoic Indian faces."
- Pedro Armendáriz
Very much El Indio's Alter-ego on the screen, the charismatic Armendáriz dominated and defined Mexican cinema in the 1940s, often as a foil and lover to Fernandez's muse Dolores del Río. Starred in the first film that Fernandez directed (1941's Isla de la pasión) and many of his most iconic most notably as the cursed pearl fisherman in the 1947 adaptation of La Perla.
- Dolores del Río
A massive silent star in the Hollywood of the 1920s, her career faded during the sound era and despite her appearance (in a rather natty leopardskin leotard) in Orson Welles' 1943 film Journey into Fear it seemed like her best years were behind her. That was until Fernandez offered her the lead role the following year in Flor Silvestre. This was a triumph and saw her relaunched in her home country – and incidentally in her first Spanish language role – as a major icon. Six further collaborations followed including the film that defined Mexico's Golden Age – Maria Candelaria.
- María Félix
Directed by Fernandez in Enamorada (1946), Río Escondido (1947), Maclovia (1948), Reportaje and El Rapto (1953)
- Columba Dominguez
His wife and mother of his daughter, Jacaranda. She was directed by Fernández in the classic Pueblerina (1949) and other movies like La Malquerida (1949), Cuando levanta la niebla (1951) and Pueblito (1961) among others
- Sam Peckinpah
A notable performance in the film Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and as one of the main antagonists in The Wild Bunch.
- Charles Bronson
Played an inmate along with the iconic action star in the movie Breakout.
- John Wayne
Small part in the film The War Wagon
- Yul Brynner
Played the Villain in Return of the Seven.
Fernández lived from 1949 until his death with the Mexican actress Columba Dominguez, who had a daughter named Jacaranda. Fernandez also had another adopted daughter named Adela.
From 1964 - 1970 Emilio was married to Beatriz Castaneda From Durango.
Fernández was in love with his muse, Dolores del Rio, but she never corresponded his love. In 1945, he was linked romantically with the British American actress Olivia de Havilland.
- 1941 – La Isla de la pasión
- 1942 – Soy puro mexicano
- 1942 – Flor Silvestre
- 1944 – Maria Candelaria
- 1945 – Las Abandonadas
- 1945 – Bugambilia
- 1946 – Pepita Jiménez
- 1946 – Enamorada
- 1947 – La Perla
- 1947 – The Fugitive (uncredited as co-director w/ John Ford)
- 1948 – Río Escondido
- 1948 – Maclovia
- 1949 – Salón México
- 1949 – Pueblerina
- 1949 – La Malquerida
- 1950 – Duelo en las montañas
- 1950 – The Torch
- 1950 – Un Día de vida
- 1951 – Vìctimas del Pecado
- 1951 – Islas Marías
- 1951 – La Bienamada
- 1952 – Siempre tuya
- 1952 – Acapulco
- 1952 – El Mar y tú
- 1952 – Cuando levanta la niebla
- 1953 – La Red
- 1953 – Reportaje
- 1953 – El Rapto
- 1954 – La Rebelión de los colgados
- 1955 – La Rosa blanca
- 1955 – Nosotros dos
- 1955 – La Tierra del fuego se apaga
- 1958 – Una cita de amor
- 1960 – El Impostor
- 1962 – Pueblito
- 1963 – Paloma herida
- 1967 – Un Dorado de Pancho Villa
- 1969 – Un Crepúsculo de un dios
- 1974 – La Choca
- 1976 – Zona Roja
- 1979 – México Norte (remake of his own Pueblerina)
- 1979 – Erótica
- 1934 - Janitzio (film)
- 1939 - Los de Abajo
- 1943 - Flor Silvestre
- 1959 - The Soldiers of Pancho Villa
- 1964 - The Night of the Iguana
- 1966 - The Return of the Seven
- 1969 - The Wild Bunch
- 1972 - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
- 1984 - Under the Volcano
- 1986 - Los Amantes del Señor de la Noche
- (es) at the Cinema of Mexico site of the ITESM.
- Biopic at IMDB
- Mexican Film Biography with Pictures