On August 3, when the popular graphic “Google Doodle” featured the birthday of the elegant film star Dolores Del Rio, the beautiful image description omitted one of the most famous movie roles played by this popular actress. She was the star of “Evangeline“, the silent movie dramatization of the epic poem, published in 1847 and written by Maine poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
“Evangeline” is a metaphor for the terrible period in French-Acadian history called “le grand Grand Dérangement” or “the Great Upheaval”. This label describes the British driven episode of the French-Acadian expulsions, beginning in 1755, when thousands of people were forced from their homes and rooted up from their way of life, where they lived in modern day Nova Scotia, known, at that time, as Acadie.
In a mass forced exodus, the British split families apart and put them on ships, where they were sent to various ports along the east coast American colonies. Some of the refugees were even sent to France and England. In the poem “Evangeline” the heroine is among those displaced. Longfellow’s poetic prose described Evangeline’s quest to search for her lost love Gabriel, after le Grand Dérangement.
In the silent movie directed by the famous filmmaker Edwin Carewe, the heroine Evangeline was played by Dolores del Rio (1904-1983).
She was a Mexican and Hollywood star.
Google Doodle glamorized Dolores del Río in a colorful illustration surrounded by flowers. Before she died in 1983, del Ríos had an acting career spanning three decades in the US and Mexico, and is considered to be the first Latin American actress to sit on the jury of the Cannes film festival. Her Google Doodle tribute said she was “a trailblazer for women in Hollywood and beyond.” Her long and varied career spanned silent film, sound film, television, stage and radio.
In fact, Ms. del Rio (born in 1904, named María de los Dolores Asúnsolo y López-Negrete) was, quite ironically, perfectly cast in her lead Evangeline role.
Although she was a famous Mexican actress, her family was also displaced by political upheaval. In fact, her family lost all its assets during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1921. She was among the Durango, Mexico’s aristocratic families who were threatened by the insurrection that Pancho Villa was leading in the region. The Asúnsolo family decided to escape. Dolores’s father went to the United States (he was a refugee) while she and her mother fled to Mexico City in a train, disguised as peasants. In 1912 the Asúnsolo family was reunited in Mexico City. This traumatic family experience was certainly parallel to Evangeline’s tragic yearning to be reunited with her fiancé. “Evangeline“, the silent movie, was released in 1929, directed by Edwin Carewe. Prior to the movie, the story had been a Broadway play.
In the film, Evangeline’s fiancé Gabriel was played by the actor Roland Drew.
By 1845 when Longfellow began working on the poem “Evangeline”, the fate of the Acadians had largely been forgotten. Longfellow researched the history of the expulsion at the Harvard library and the Massachusetts Historical Society. He learned that the French began to settle Acadie, modern-day Nova Scotia, in 1604. For the next 150 years, they cultivated the land, maintained a friendly relationship with the native Micmac Indians, and remained neutral in the ongoing conflicts between the French and the English. By the mid-18th century, there were 12,000 to 18,000 Acadians. In 1755 when these British subjects refused to take up arms against the French, they were exiled from their lands, in what the Acadians call “Le Grand Dérangement.” The Acadians were scattered far and wide. Many eventually ended up in Louisiana, where they became the basis of the Cajun culture.
Longfellow’s Evangeline is one of the most popular poems in American literary history
I’m hoping the good creators of the popular Google Doodles will have an opportunity to read this blog and thereby consider including Evangeline in whatever graphic they design for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s birthday, on February 27 (b-1807 in Portland, Maine).