A Farewell to Chelo Alonso (1933 – 2019)
In the last 5 years, we’ve had to say a sad goodbye to three of Steve Reeves’ leading ladies of film: Virna Lisi (“Duel of the Titans”) in 2014, Christine Kaufmann (“Last Days of Pompeii”) in 2017, and now in 2019, Chelo Alonso (“Goliath and the Barbarians”, “Morgan the Pirate”). Chelo passed on February 20, just a couple months short of her 86th birthday while living in Mentana, Italy. She leaves a son Aldino and a few grandchildren.
Introducing Chelo Alonso
The darkly stunning, high-cheek boned Chelo Alonso was born Isabel Apolonia García Hernández in Central Lugareño, Camagüey, Cuba, to a Cuban father and Mexican mother. She initially achieved recognition in Cuba for her dancing ability at age 17, becoming a sensation at Cuba's National Theatre in Havana. Her sensual, exotic style caught the eye of many and eventually led her to high notice at the burlesque club, the Folies-Bergères in Paris. She was billed as the "new Josephine Baker", a renowned dancer who had also performed and became famous at the Folies. Chelo’s seductive belly-dancing style contributed to her being billed as both the "Cuban H-Bomb" and “Cuba’s answer to Marilyn Monroe” by the American press. She remained in France for a few years but soon left to make Italy her permanent residence for the remainder of her life.
A young Chelo
Her Brief but Popular Film Career
Her natural beauty and attraction did not escape movie producers, and Chelo Alonso soon became a celebrated star of Italian cinema and household name. She debuted on the scene just as a new genre was taking the world by storm, the sword and sandal era. In 1958, she made her movie debut as Erica the slave dancer and conspirator in “The Sign of the Gladiator”. It was just a secondary role, but she attracted much attention thanks to an erotic dance scene. In some publicity posters, her name and photograph were more prominent than those of main stars Anita Ekberg and George Marchal. The star of the film, Anita Ekberg, was not at all pleased.
Lobby card from “Sign of the Gladiator” prominently featuring Chelo
Goliath and the Barbarians (1959)
This was the first of two movies she would make with Steve. The other film was “Morgan the Pirate”, which was filmed a year later in 1960. Chelo played Londo, the chieftain’s daughter. Some of her best scenes included when she danced. But, she was also getting noticed for playing a character with both sensitive and comforting emotions in addition to displaying a fiery temper. Following her appearance in this film, Chelo was voted Italian Cinema’s Female Discovery of 1959. That year was also a busy year of acting as she completed a remarkable six films. It was also around this time that revolutionary leader Che Guevara’s asked her to return to Havana, especially since it was well known he had a crush on her. Chelo refused because she preferred to remain in Rome.
Scenes from 1959’s “Goliath and the Barbarians”
Scenes from 1959’s “Goliath and the Barbarians”
Morgan the Pirate (1960)
This was one of seven films she made that year and her last with Steve. Unlike “Goliath”, she didn’t receive formal billing but more a guest-starring role (per the opening credits: “With the extraordinary participation of Chelo Alonso as Consuela”). Compared to “Goliath”, she had less screen time and that may be attributed to some of her scenes being deleted before the American release. It was on “Morgan”, she met her future husband, Aldo Pomilia, a production manager for the film.
Scenes from1960’s “Morgan the Pirate”
Three deleted scenes from the American release (above)
Chelo also charmed a number of co-stars, including two films with Lex Barker, “The Pirate and the Slave Girl” (1959) and “Terror of the Red Mask” (1960), and one film with Mark Forest, “Son of Samson” (1960).
Final Screen Appearances
After making the film Desert War in 1962, a film produced by her husband, she withdrew from the movie spotlight for four years to dedicate herself to television and raising her son, Aldino. She recorded a couple of songs and even took part in a cooking show, where the public could witness her prepare a typical Cuban meal of rice and chicken.
Then in 1966 things temporarily changed. While visiting her husband in Spain, who was production supervisor for the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, she agreed to make an uncredited, nonspeaking cameo. Ironically this was probably her most widely seen work around the world thanks to the huge global success of Sergio Leone’s blockbuster western. What less than 1 minute of screen time will sometimes do for a person’s film career.
Scenes from her brief appearance in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
Two years later, her husband produced a promising comeback for her. She played opposite her
countryman, Havana-born Tomas Milian in the cult western “Run, Man Run”. Chelo played Dolores, and critics agreed it’s was the best film role of her career. But she lost interest in reigniting her career.
Movie poster and still from “Run, Man Run”
For her last film, she briefly repeated that role in another 1969 cult western, “Nest of Vipers” (AKA “Night of the Serpent”), after which she abandoned the film industry altogether and focused more on Italian TV.
In her later years (photos courtesy of Giuseppe Alletto)
After the death of her producer husband in 1986, Chelo semi-retired, remained with her son Aldino, and started a cat-breeding business. She opened a small farm in the Italian region of Senese, which eventually became a luxurious hotel she helped manage.
Chelo Alonso lit up the screen every time she performed before a lens. That striking figure, those wonderful cheekbones, and that beautiful hair undoubtedly nominate her as an unforgettable movie queen. She appeared in just 19 films, but if she was featured in only one, there’s a good chance we still wouldn’t forget her name.
Thank you, Chelo for the many screen memories. Your presence in Steve Reeves’ films, and all your films, made them all that much better. May you rest in Heavenly peace.