Myrtle Gonzalez was a celebrated actress in the silent era. Born on September 28, 1891, and passing away on October 22, 1918, she starred in 78 films from 1913 to 1917. She was recognized as the first Latino/Hispanic actress in Hollywood.
Gonzalez is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Enid Maitland in Vita graph’s six-reel feature-length drama “The Chalice of Courage.” During her career, she earned the reverential title “The Virgin White Lily of the Screen” from a magazine writer.
Admired widely for her contributions to early filmography, Gonzalez left an indelible mark on Hollywood culture as its first Latina star and exemplified strong female characters during a time when women often lacked representation in leading roles.
Myrtle Gonzalez was born in Los Angeles, California, on September 28, 1891. She was the daughter of Manuel George Gonzalez and Lillian L. Cook. She is a descendant of a native Hispanic Californio family on her father’s side, and her maternal grandparents were born in Ireland.
Gonzalez grew up displaying remarkable dramatic talent and had a good soprano voice. She sang in choirs and performed at local concerts and benefits, as well as playing juvenile parts on the stage with Fanny Davenport and Florence Stone.
Gonzalez’s first marriage was to James Park Jones, with whom she had one son: James Parks Jones, Jr. Born circa 1911, the couple divorced sometime later.
Gonzalez grew up in Los Angeles and was delighted when movie production shifted there from other locations.
She got the chance to collaborate with film companies like Vitagraph and Universal, eventually featuring in five movies with William Desmond Taylor, including Her Husband’s Friend (1913), Tainted Money (1914), Millions for Defence (1914), The Kiss (1914) and Captain Alvarez (1914).
Gonzalez often portrayed a strong, courageous woman in her roles.
For the last six years of her career, most of her films were set in the snowy country or forests. She was dedicated to hard-hitting storylines and excelled in challenging scenes that required a lot of physical prowess.
Gonzalez pushed herself both mentally and physically while on set, striving for authenticity in her acting style like few women before her. Her focus on nailing intense action sequences proved Gonzalez was capable of much more than playing sentimental love interests; she wanted to be remembered as an emotionally rich entertainer who could make a real impact on her audience.
Personal life and death
On December 1, 1917, actress Juanita Gonzalez and actor/director Allen Watt got married in Los Angeles. She gave up her screen work and retired. However, Watt was serving in the U.S. Army at Camp Lewis – Washington state’s climate proved too much for Juanita’s health, and Captain Watt retired to take her back to Southern California.
Sadly, she passed away at the age of 27 during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 while staying with her parents in LA at 908 West Thirtieth Street.
Juanita Gonzalez was a pioneering Latina film actress who worked diligently during one of the most uncertain times in United States history—World War I. With her departure, however, came a reminder that both joy and sorrow come unexpectedly, even in times of dire hardship, but death never negates the impact made by any life lived fully.