Book Review: The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez

Hot off the presses is a new biography of Ricardo Cortez, an actor who appeared in over 100 motion pictures starting in the silent era in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Despite the long career and numerous successes, however, Ricardo Cortez remains largely unknown. The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez serves to correct that. Published by BearManor Media The Magnificent Heel is authored by Daniel Van Neste and it will no doubt acquaint you with one of Hollywood’s interesting stories.

The Magnificent Heel tells the story of Ricardo Cortez from his humble beginnings as the son of Hungarian Jews in New York’s Lower East Side to becoming an exotic sophisticate from European upper class. How does this happen? Well, it’s the magic of Hollywood.

Young Jacob Krantz (Cortez’ birth name) had dreams of being an entertainer from early in his life. In contrast to stories of a life of plenty shared even today, the Krantz family actually worried constantly about putting food on the table. Young Jacob had to survive hunger, disappointment and the deaths of his beloved father and younger sister before his dreams were to become reality.

Dan Van Neste presents The Magnificent Heel into two distinct parts with a complete annotated filmography following details of the actor’s life in and out of the movies. Both parts are equally entertaining with personal stories that include details of Cortez’s three marriages and enough behind-the-scenes fare to keep lovers of classic Hollywood satisfied. Of course Van Neste explains how Jacob Krantz became Ricardo Cortez upon signing a contract with the most prestigious movie studio in Hollywood. In hopes of repeating the success of Rudolph Valentino, Famous Players Lasky/Paramount changed Jacob’s name and image to personify the epitome of the Latin Lover. As it turned out only Cortez’s dark, good looks matched that on-screen persona and he’d come to resent the depiction and decision. Neither the image or denying his culture came easily for him. Luckily, Cortez had nothing if not an overpowering desire to succeed, something he’d demonstrate time and time again throughout his life and career.

From stories of Ricardo Cortez’s burgeoning career to the struggles the actor went through during the precarious transition to sound, Van Neste offers insight every step of the way. We learn that Cortez’s career was resurrected by RKO and that he suffered disillusionment from his stint as a B-movie director. Enjoyable are the stories of the many Hollywood players Ricardo encountered on his way to completing over 100 movies in over five decades in every major studio in Hollywood.

In the end Ricardo Cortez would look back on his professional life with satisfaction, grateful for any recognition he received from the industry. But I think whatever recognition he got wasn’t enough, which is why I’m glad to have had the opportunity to read The Magnificent Heel. I highly recommend Mr. Van Neste’s telling of this story and thank him for sending me a review copy. The Magnificent Heel is an honest, interesting story about a man who had deep regrets, but still managed to leave his mark on Hollywood.

I’ll leave you with what fascinated me most in The Magnificent Heel. Two particular things come to mind, actually. The first is how stories of his struggles illustrate Ricardo Cortez’s innate sense of survival, without which lesser men would have disappeared. The second is sadder, what I perceive as the deep shame that permeated Cortez’s early success as he was forced to change an identity he loved dearly in exchange for the fame he craved.

Ricardo Cortez died on April 28, 1977, forty years ago this week.

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