Courtesy Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives
Delores Del Rio in 'Ramona' (1928). Photo Courtesy Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives.

Recovered and Restored: 'Ramona,' Silent Movie by Chickasaw Filmmaker

Angela Aleiss

The recently restored 1928 version of Ramona had its world premiere on March 29 in Los Angeles. Based on a weepy, once-popular novel by Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona tells the story of a mixed-race (Scottish and American Indian) girl who is raised by a Mexican family and suffers racial discrimination. The 1928 film version features internationally acclaimed Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio in the title role and non-Native actor Warner Baxter as her ill-fated Indian husband Alessandro.

The lead actors may not have been racially authentic, but the man in the director’s chair was certainly well suited to the material: Edwin Carewe, a Chickasaw filmmaker who directed dozens of films in the silent era.

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“Most people don’t realize that Edwin was an American Indian,” says Diane Allen, granddaughter of Carewe. Allen’s grandmother was actress Mary Aiken, who had married Carewe twice, in 1925 and 1929. “Even though he didn’t make films portraying Indians, he chose movies and cast roles that promoted the underdog, especially the female character,” Allen adds.

Ramona has been performed on stage annually since 1923 in Hemet, California — the website of the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater touts the play as both “America’s longest running drama” and the “Official California state outdoor play.” Carewe’s film was the third screen version of Jackson’s novel; the movie is silent with a running time of approximately 80 minutes.

Tinted still from 'Ramona' (1928) with Dolores Del Rio and Warner Baxter. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

“I think he’s underappreciated,” Allen says of her grandfather. “Really, he was a bit ahead of his time. He was obsessed with the female character and women in general.”

Carewe is known as the director who discovered actress Dolores Del Rio in Mexico and convinced her to move to Hollywood. He was hoping to transform Del Rio into a star to match the appeal of silent screen “Latin Lover” Rudolph Valentino.

“[Carewe] had a passion for women and their beauty and their talent,” Allen says by phone from her home in Los Angeles. In fact, Del Rio made at least seven pictures with the director.


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seanglenn47's picture
Submitted by seanglenn47 on
Great piece of both film and Native American history. This story gave a lot of great facts about Edwin Carewe and Dolores Del Rio. Luckily, this film was saved. However, so many other classic films, and also what were once called "race" films are disappearing every day. Thousands of titles of films made for general audiences, and thousands of American films made for segregated black audiences, Yiddish films made for Jewish immigrants, and Slavic films made for other immigrant groups have already disappeared. Once these films disappear, they can never be recreated, and a slice of American history is lost forever. Glenn in the Bronx, NY.

Larry41's picture
Submitted by Larry41 on
Thanks to the Library Of Congress and others for finding and saving this once lost film… The 1928 production Ramona was the third film version of the Helen Hunt Jackson novel of the same name, first dramatized (in one reel!) by D. W. Griffith in 1910. Dolores Del Rio plays the title character, the ward of domineering California sheep rancher Senora Moreno (Vera Lewis). Escaping her cruel and judgmental guardian, Ramona sadly resigns herself to the probability that she will never find true happiness because she is a half-breed. Though she loves Moreno's grandson Felipe (Roland Drew), Ramona does not want him to bear the stigma of a mixed marriage, so she marries Allesandro (Warner Baxter), an Indian shepherd. SPOILERS: Misfortune continues to befall the heroine when her husband is lynched by bigoted white ranchers; shortly thereafter, her baby dies from injuries sustained in a bandit raid because the white doctor refuses to treat an Indian infant. Suffering a total nervous breakdown, Ramona wanders into the woods, having lost all memory of her previous existence. But faithful Felipe rescues the girl, snapping her out of her amnesia by singing her favorite childhood song (courtesy of the Vitaphone soundtrack). Ramona was remade in 1936 with Loretta Young and Don Ameche.