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9 March 1888: Birth of one of Spain's most celebrated vaudeville performers

Raquel Meller.
Raquel Meller. / SUR
  • Raquel Meller was a celebrated vaudeville performer who appeared in several films and toured extensively throughout Europe and America

Born in Tarazona in Aragón on 9 March 1888, Raquel Meller was a celebrated vaudeville performer who appeared in several films and toured extensively throughout Europe and America.

Christened Francisca (Paca) Marqués López, the popular actress, singer and dancer descended from one of the oldest families in Aragón. At the age of four, her family moved to Barcelona, but her father, a blacksmith, died a few years later and the youngster was placed under the care of an aunt who was an abbess in the convent in Figueras.

Paca's aunt intended the youngster to live the life of a nun, but she rebelled against her aunt and ran away, supposedly helped over the wall of the convent by a sympathetic gardener. She returned to Barcelona and worked as a seamstress in a dressmaker's shop. She was a keen singer by the age of 13 and her voice attracted crowds of people while she sang as she worked. One in particular was Marta Oliver, a celebrated singer who nurtured the talents of the young hopeful.

She made her debut in Valencia in 1908 under the pseudonym of La Bella Raquel and later changed her name to Raquel Meller.

She married a Guatemalan journalist in 1917 and the couple adopted a child seeing as Meller was unable bear children. She also made her debut in Paris that year, before embarking on a tour of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.

Her first film appearance came in 1919, and she went on to appear in several successful silent films and quickly became popular throughout the Western world. Known for wearing numerous gold bracelets on her right arm - supposedly one for each significant stage of her career - Meller's most profitable movies were Violettes Imperiales (1923) and Carmen (1926). She became a favourite with the media, but was said to have been difficult to work with and that she often threw tantrums during filming.

She was twice booked to perform in the US, but cancelled both times, so when she finally arrived in 1926, she was forced to assure her appearances with a bond of 100,000 dollars. It was during this tour that Meller attracted the attention of Charles Chaplin, who tried unsuccessfully to get Meller to co-star with him. He did, however, incorporate the melody of one of her most popular songs, La Violeta, as the theme tune to his 1931 movie, City Lights.

Meller faded from public view during the late 1930s, although she hit the headlines several years later after Spanish senator, Emilio Junoy, accused her of betraying Mata Hari to the French police in an apparent fit of jealously. The rumour claimed that the Dutch dancer, accused of spying for Germany during World War I, was executed as a direct result of information passed by Meller, but the actress always denied the rumour.

Following a heart attack, Meller died on 26 July 1962.