A flurry of excitement hit town in the late 1930s when a Hollywood actress passed through on U.S. 1… and picked up a Wake Forest College boy!
Dolores Del Rio Plays Supporting Role to Lucky Hitch-Hiker blares the headline in the October 15, 1938 edition of the Old Gold & Black. Today her Wikipedia entry identifies Del Rio, a native of Mexico, as the first major female Latin cross-over star in the Golden Age of Hollywood. She made many important films during a long career that spanned the 1920s-50s.
For its part, the 1938 article in the Wake Forest College newspaper describes her as, “a dark, slender girl who works for some picture-taking people out in a town called Hollywood, California.”
Yes, you could certainly put it that way.
The Del Rio story is a fun one. It starts with a dark and rather dirty limousine coming to a hesitant stop along U.S. 1 to pick up a student thumbing back to campus from Henderson.
His name was Hodge Newell, and this was an era when hitching was so common the college boys had picked a spot near campus to use as a “bumming corner” for attracting the attention of passing motorists.
When the limo came to a stop, Newell noticed the man in the front seat had on a chaffeur’s cap. But it was the girl in back who really caught his eye. As he climbed in she smiled and made a joke about leaving his gun outside the car.
“Or aren’t all hitchhikers holdup men?” she asked.
Newell assured her he’d never shot anyone with anything more dangerous than his camera–which he was carrying with him, as he served as the Old Gold & Black staff photographer. The girl then asked if she needed to introduce herself. (With a touch of that celeb condition known as, “Don’t you know who I am?”)
According to the newspaper, Newell was saved from embarrassment when he saw “Dolores Del Rio” printed on the car’s registration card, and he immediately asked if he could take her picture.
She said yes, and he snapped this shot at a filling station just outside of Youngsville.
Del Rio’s features are blurry after many generations of lost resolution due to the photo first being printed in the Old Gold & Black, later scanned by Z. Smith Reynolds Library, then screen-grabbed on a museum computer, and run through a cleanup effect.
You can visit the original article here.
Apparently Del Rio enjoyed riding in the car with Newell, because here’s the rest of the story:
“Dolores–she insisted that I call her by first name–was very agreeable about everything. I think I made an impression on her.” Newell added in a confiding tone, “She promised to drop me a card soon.
She seemed inclined to talk a good bit, commented on the beautiful scenery, was interested in my account of Wake Forest’s impressive football team.”
Had Del Rio heard of Wake Forest before?
“She said yes, but I’m afraid she had her fingers crossed. Like I did when I told her I’d seen her latest picture.”
Newell must have had a good time. The paper says he went on to Raleigh with the actress, never stopping in Wake Forest. Once in Raleigh, he got out and hitchhiked back.
“But I’d have gone on farther if I’d had a reasonable excuse!” he said.