Wednesday 18 September 2019

Obituary: Chelo Alonso

'Cuban H-bomb' famed for sensual roles in 1950s and 1960s movies

SEX APPEAL: Chelo Alonso starred in Sheba And The Gladiator
SEX APPEAL: Chelo Alonso starred in Sheba And The Gladiator

Chelo Alonso, the actress and dancer, who has died aged 85, was heralded as "the new Josephine Baker" when she took to the stage at the Folies Bergere in Paris in the 1950s. She quickly gained a legion of male admirers who would return to see her time and again.

She made up for her lack of height with sensual routines that mixed Cuban and African styles, as well as belly-dancing, and she became known as "The Cuban H-bomb". On screen, she would be noted for what one critic described as "her volcanic temperament, highly distinctive cheekbones and wild mane of dark hair".

But Alonso had her detractors - including Fidel Castro, who was so incensed that she was raising her profile outside Cuba that he reputedly sent Che Guevara on an unsuccessful mission to talk her into going back.

Swedish actress Anita Ekberg had also been less than impressed with Alonso. In 1958, they were shooting the sword-and-sandal epic Sheba And The Gladiator (also known as Sign Of The Gladiator) when the producers, responding to Alonso's sex appeal, beefed up her role as a slave, dancer and conspirator, and gave her equal billing with her Swedish rival, who was not best pleased.

Chelo Alonso was born Isabel Apolonia Garcia Hernandez on April 10 1933 at Camaguey in Cuba. Her Cuban father and Mexican mother were both artistic and encouraged their daughter to embrace her passion for music and movement.

By her early teens, she was performing in Havana at Cuba's National Theatre, and via dancing stints on Broadway and in Paris, she arrived in Italy and was cast in a series of sword-and-sandallers alongside such beefcake hunks as Steve Reeves, Mark Forest and former Tarzan, Lex Barker.

After Sheba And The Gladiator, there were such classics of the genre as Goliath And The Barbarians - which earned Alonso the accolade of "Italian cinema's female discovery" from the National Board of Film Advertisers - The Pirate And The Slave Girl, Attack Of The Moors, Terror Of The Red Mask, The Huns (as Tanya, Queen of the Tartars) and Atlas Against The Cyclops.

While filming another of these epics, Morgan, The Pirate (1960), she met the film's production manager, Aldo Pomilia. They married in 1962, and after completing the drama Desert War, Alonso retired to bring up their son.

Four years later, she had a non-speaking cameo in Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood, on which Aldo was production supervisor. She played a woman who cooks a meal for the hired gun, played by Lee Van Cleef, while he waits for her husband and son to return home. When they show up, he shoots them dead.

Two more spaghetti westerns followed, in which she played the sultry Dolores in Run, Man, Run (1968) - her best performance - and the following year in Night Of The Serpent.

After that, Alonso devoted herself to television work in Italy, where she was a mainstay for the next two decades, appearing on everything from variety shows to cooking programmes.

When her husband died in 1986, she retired to run a four-star hotel and, later, a cattery.

Alonso, who died on February 20, is survived by her son.


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