Born as Isabella Garcia on April 10, 1933, in Central Lugareño, Cuba, Chelo Alonso was an actress whose name rarely comes up in conversation these days, but we firmly believe that she deserves a lot more attention than she’s been given. Chelo’s acting career led to her first becoming a star in Italian cinema, and by the 1960s, she was one of the most prominent cult film heroines and sex symbols in the United States.
Throughout her time in the entertainment industry, Chelo made quite a name for herself. She faced many obstacles due to racism and stereotypes, but she will forever be remembered as the Original Cuban Bombshell. Keep watching to learn all about her fascinating life story.
From Cuba To Italy To Hollywood
Chelo Alonso grew up in Camaguey, Cuba. Her father was a full-blooded Cuban, while her mother was of Mexican descent. Since childhood, Chelo always had a passion for dance and theater, and she initially gained recognition in her home country for her dancing ability, becoming quite the sensation of sorts at Cuba’s National Theater in Havana.
Before leaving Cuba, Chelo got married to her first husband, although unfortunately, we don’t have his name. In a later interview, Chelo revealed that her husband forbid her to dance. Since dancing was her biggest passion, she decided to leave him. At first, she went to Singapore, where she met Prince Abdel Aman. He was so infatuated with her, that he proposed marriage. Even though she was divorced from her first husband, Singapore law forbid princes from marrying a divorced woman.
Not long after that, she emerged as one of the hottest new exotic dancing talents at the Folles Bergere in Paris, France. That’s around the time that she began getting billed as the ‘new Josephine Baker’, seeing as how she too had once performed and rose to fame at the Folles.
Honing in on her so-called exotic heritage, promoters pitched her as the ‘Cuban H-Bomb”. When performing onstage, she would mix Afro-Cuban rhythms from her home country with a style of dance called bump and grind.
Chelo first gained international attention after appearing in the 1959 film Nel segno di Roma, or Sheba and the Gladiator as it’s known in English. The film starred Georges Marchal and Anita Ekberg, and while it might not have the biggest film of the year, owing to her exotic dance numbers, her image and name received more prominent billing on publicity posters than either of her two co-stars. Anita Ekberg, in particular, was dismayed by this choice, especially since she and Marchal were the film’s leads.
The majority of films that Chelo appeared in were adventure flicks in the style of the Italian film Le fatiche di Ercole, or Hercules as it was known internationally. Hercules starring Steve Reeves, was a big hit with audiences who were captivated by the new genre of film. It helped pave the way forward for the countless films that would attempt emulate it.
These sorts of movies required exotic talent, and Chelo’s dark complexion and undeniable beauty seemed to fit the bill perfectly. She went on to star alongside Steve Reeves in 1959s Goliath and the Barbarians and 1960s Morgon il pirata.
Goliath and the Barbarians ended up earning Chelo the coveted Italian Cinema’s Female Discovery Award, leading her to receive even more international attention.
Chelo spent the next couple of years appearing in other adventure films such as Terror of The Red Mask, which took place in the 1700s and involved a strange castle. In The Pirate and the Slave Girl, Chelo played Princess Miriam. She also appeared in the film Attack of the Moors.
Some of Chelo’s best scenes naturally were the ones in which she would dance around, but she also became famous for playing characters with fiery tempers. Her fans loved watching her as she would get enraged at some unsuspecting hero.
Around this time, she refused Che Guevara’s invitation to return back to Havana during the revolution. Instead of taking up his offer, she chose to remain in Rome, where her acting career was still thriving.
In 1960, Chelo appeared in the comedy, Gastone, starring alongside two Italian cinema giants, Vittoria De Sica and Alberto Sordi. A year later, she would deliver a noteworthy performance in For The Huns. In that film, she played the courageous Queen of the Tartars, Tanya.
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A Second Marriage And The Birth Of Her Son
While making Morgan il pirata in 1960, Chelo fell in love with and married a man named Aldo Pomilia, a producer and production manager that had helped make the film. In 1961, Chelo gave yet another memorable performance in Atlas Against The Cyclops. In that film, she portrayed Queen Capys alongside Gordon Mitchell. After working together on the 1962 film Quattro notti con Alba, Chelo and Aldo had one son whom they named Aldino Pomillia. After giving birth to her first child, Chelo took a break from acting for a while. She wanted to make sure that she gave her new son all of the love and attention that he deserved, but she had no intention of retiring from acting entirely.
While taking a break from film, Chelo recorded a couple of songs and even briefly hosted a cooking show in which the public could watch her prepare traditional Cuban meals.
While visiting her husband in Spain in 1965, where he was working as a production supervisor for the film The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Chelo made a brief, albeit uncredited, mute cameo. Aldo then executive-produced the film that would prove to be her big comeback. Performing alongside her fellow countryman, Tomas Milian, Chelo appeared in the cult western flick Corri uomo corri as the character Delores. Film buffs almost universally agree that the film role was the best of her career.
Chelo next made a brief appearance once again playing a character named Delores in another cult western film called La notte del serpenti, AKA Nest of Vipers. After production wrapped up on that movie, Chelo abandoned the world of cinema to instead focus on Italian television.
In 1986, Chelo was heartbroken when her husband passed away. She then moved to the city of Siena in Tuscany, Italy where she retired from acting for good and started focusing on two projects. One of these was operating a cat breeding business with her son Aldino while the other was managing a four-star hotel that she opened at a small farm in the Italian region of Senese.
For the remainder of her life, Chelo largely stayed out of the spotlight, but she did occasionally give interviewds with magazines in which she would reminisce about her life in the entertainment industry.
In 1991, she gave an interview with People in which she revealed that her cousin Dominique Alonso was preparing a biography about her with the title Central Lugareno. It’s unclear what ever came of that project.
After living a long, productive life, Chelo Alonso passed away in Mentana, Italy, at the age of 85 on February 20, 2019.
Chelo Alonso was one of the most astounding beauties of her time. And even though her name isn’t a very familiar one today, she arguably was every bit as talented and gorgeous as some of her better-known contemporaries. She lit up the screen every time she appeared on camera. Her perfect figure, those striking cheekbones, and that luscious mane of brown hair – she had all the elements to elevate her to the status of one of the greatest bombshells of all time.
It’s not everyday that somebody like Chelo Alonso comes along and shakes up the film industry. While it’s true that Hoilywood is committed these days to including diversity in their films, Chelo Alonso managed to make a name for herself at a time when Cuban’s hardly had any representation onscreen. No, we’re not forgetting about Desi Arnaz, but you have to admit that he was a rare exception. Chelo Alonso, on the other hand, was a self-made woman who achieved fame through her hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.
Are you familiar with Chelo Alonso? If so, which one of her films was your favorite? Let us know in the comments section down below.
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