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Obituary: Linda Cristal

Argentinian actress who played a fiery Mexican in the ground-breaking TV western series 'The High Chaparral'


Linda Cristal

Linda Cristal

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via

Linda Cristal

Linda Cristal, the Argentinian actress, who has died aged 89, played Victoria Montoya, a, hot-tempered Mexican beauty and second wife of rancher Big John Cannon (Leif Erickson) in the television series The High Chaparral (1967-71).

The series, developed by David Dortort and shot mainly on location in Arizona, broke new ground in its treatment of ethnic minorities. At a time when Latinos in westerns were often portrayed as outlaws or bumbling sidekicks, the Montoyas - Victoria, her father Don Sebastian (played by the Jamaican actor Frank Silvera) and her brother Manolito (played by the Puerto Rican actor Henry Darrow) - were powerful, aristocratic landowners.

Victoria's marriage to John Cannon was among the first cross-cultural marriages on television.

Linda Cristal, who won three Golden Globe Awards for her role, recalled that when she was interviewed by the makers of the series, she asked to be allowed to throw away the dull script she had been given and improvise: "I made up stories showing love, hate, passion, envy, jealousy. In my intensity, I was all over these people, roughing them up. But I walked out with the contract."

After the series finished, Linda Cristal largely disappeared from Anglophone television screens, although she continued to work in soap operas in Mexico and Argentina.

She was born Victoria Moya on February 23, 1931 in Buenos Aires. Her father, Antonio, was a French immigrant. Her mother, Rosario, was Italian. She did not have happy memories of her childhood: "My mother… was very cruel to me," she told an interviewer in 1988. "I would tell her of my hopes and dreams and she would dismiss them with laughter and scorn." When she was 13, both her parents died in their car of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The teenage Victoria decided to become a nun and went to Mexico City. There she was spotted by the producer Miguelito Aleman, who changed her name and enrolled her in acting lessons.

She made her debut in the Mexican film Cuando Levanta la Niebla in 1952 and appeared in films in Mexico before winning a contract with Universal Pictures in 1956 and moving to Hollywood.

Promoted with much ballyhoo as an actress whose legs were insured for 10m pesos (€700,000), she won parts in Comanche (1956, with Dana Andrews); The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958); The Perfect Furlough (1958), for which she won a "New Star of the Year'' award at the Golden Globes; Cry Tough (1959); Two Rode Together (1961) and, most memorably, as John Wayne's love interest in The Alamo (1960).

But the roles dried up in the early 1960s and Linda Cristal announced the first of several retirements. Though High Chaparral seemed to promise better times, Hollywood roles still proved hard to come by. In her final film, she played Charles Bronson's love interest in Mr Majestyk (1974).

After continuing to work in soap operas in Mexico and Argentina for several years, Linda Cristal carved out a successful career as a businesswoman, developing property and setting up an import/export business. She became very wealthy, with homes in Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and Buenos Aires.

In 1988 she came out of retirement to join the cast of General Hospital, playing the mistress of the crime boss Victor Jerome (Jack Axelrod).

Linda Cristal, who died on June 27, was married and divorced at least twice. She is survived by two sons.