She made 80 films in just five years, but silent movie star Myrtle Gonzalez faded into oblivion… until now.
Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the pioneer Mexican American actress on the anniversary of the 1914 release of The Level, one of her most well-known films.
Gonzalez was born in Los Angeles, California, on September 28, 1891. Her father was from a family of Mexican-descendant Californios (Spanish and Mexican settlers in California prior to becoming a U.S. state) and her mother was the daughter of immigrants from Ireland.
Before her start in the nascent movie industry, Gonzalez was a child soprano who sang in local church choirs and performed in theaters throughout the city, according to author and scholar Rosa-Linda Fregoso, who wrote about the silent movie star in her book meXicana encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands.
Gonzalez participated in local plays before joining the silent motion picture studio Vitagraph Company of America, where she made her film debut in The Yellow Streak (1913). She also starred in 1914’s The Kiss. The Internet Archive actually has a clip of the film, if you want to see her in action.
Gonzalez went on to star in Universal Studios feature films like The Secret of the Swamp and The Girl of Lost Lake.
Among her many roles, she also played bold, outdoorsy heroines who lived in the wilderness, forcing her to adapt to filming in new, treacherous climates, as shown in an old archived magazine of the time. That’s how Bay Area-based guest artist Ana Ramírez González portrayed the trailbrazing Latina actress, who once acted in three feet of snow.
Gonzalez died at age 27 in 2018, during the Spanish flu pandemic. However, according to author Fregoso’s research, she writes Gonzalez died of failure, attributed to a “several fall suffered three years [earlier] while doing stunt riding in a photoplay.”
Much of the silent movie star’s work has been lost, but the Library of Congress has been able to preserve some of her films.
And now, this Google’s Doodle tribute, whose reach is only within the U.S., has helped preserve the memory and bring awareness to one of the first Latina actresses to break into Hollywood.