Lorraine Chanel gets her only moment of fame for being the mistress of a well known actor. While this is something of importance, it’s sad her own merits and achievements are all overshadowed by her association with a man. There are only 3 photos of her on the net, enough of an indicator to tell us how ungrateful that role is.
It was quite hard separating fact from fiction in Lorraine’s life. She was lauded as an exotic, Mexican senorita, but in fact she was born to American parents in San Antonio, Texas, on December 6, 1924 to Herbert and Adeline Channel. And no, even her mother was neither Mexican nor French (there were various false reports about this in order to maximize her appeal to the general public), but American born in Texas in 1901, but possibly of French ancestry or with familial connections to Mexico . She was the middle of three sisters, her older sister being Norma and her younger sister Jeannett.
She was educated in San Antonio, attending Jefferson High School. Some time after 1940, the family moved to Veracruz, Mexico.
Lorraine career is sporadic and not at all notable. She had her first credit quite late, more than 30 years old. She acted in only four features o the height of her fame, from 1955-1957. With the exception of the Magnificent Matador, a Budd Boetticher passion project about matadors, they were all Mexican productions, and one has to wonder what happened to her after she came to Hollywood in 1954, why did she not have any roles in US movies?
Her Mexican roles were not that accessible to audiences and are impossible to find easily today, without delving into various old archives. She did have a leading role in a segment of the movie Canasta de cuentos mexicanos , and was featured to some degree in The Magnificent Matador , but not enough to push her career into the higher spheres.
From 1957 to 1967 she was on a hiatus, and then she did two Mexican flicks in five years, Claudia y el deseo and SOS Conspiracion Bikini. In the later she was just one of the bevvy of bathing beauties without much to do but look pretty.
Lorraine returned to american film making in the mid 1970s, but only for television. She had minor supporting roles in four TV productions, comedy Club Med, adventure Falcon’s Gold, cheap horror Guyana: Cult of the Damned ,and western Nevada Smith. Club Med and Nevada Smith even made some ripples in the world of prime time TV, and some of the stars went on to make bigger and better things, (Linda Hamilton, Jack Scalia, Simon MacCorkindale) but not Lorraine. She retired for good after Club Med, making her a woman with a 30+ year long career. Quite impressive for Hollywood, if you turn a blind eye on the fact that she made only 11 movies in those 30 years.
Lorraine as indirect catapulted into movie history not as a actress, but rather as an consort – the woman behind the man. This man is no less than Gary Cooper, one of the foremost actors of the 20th century. Cooper met Lorraine in Acapulco in December 1952 – a exactly a year after he broke up with the woman who was arguably the love of his life – Patricia Neal. He was separated from his wife, actress-socialite Sandra Shaw (known to friends as Rocky Cooper), and dated a string of women in those 12 months. Lorraine brought some much needed stability into his hectic love life that knew of no true affection but only fun, mindless liaisons.
There has to be no illusions about Cooper in this regard. He was a slight hypocrite when family was concerned, reveling the home life Sandra gave him, but enjoying affairs on the sly, with no string attached. Sandra tolerated this, but Patricia Neal went beyond the “casual affair” territory and posed a genuine threat to the marriage. Cooper obviously considered leaving his wife to marry Neal – yet, when the moment came, he chickened out. It’s hard to say exactly what happened between the three of them, but my the time he met Lorraine, he was a restless man on the cusp of the middle age, unhappy and hollow.
She was a local beauty, he was filming a movie. The affair started, symbolically, after watching the ritual dressing of the famous matador Carlos Arruza. One can only imagine the passionate moments on the hot sands of Acapulco, an old man suddenly feeling alive again, revitalized, and a young, beautiful girl blinded by the dazzling light of a movie star…
Lorraine and Gary dated in secret for about a year, and then their affair finally hit the papers in December 1953. Hailed as a stunningly beautiful Mexican gal who snarled Cooper, there were marriage notices and questions about his divorce were put forth.
To my great regret I have no information about what happened behind the scenes with Lorraine, Gary and Rocky. The situation culminated in February 1954, when Cooper publicly denied any intention of wedding her, calling Lorraine his good friend. A very low blow IMHO. Yet, it seems that Rocky tugged at the leash, and Gary came back running. Even after this public statement, Gary continued to see Lorraine. Rocky struck back by dating Carol Thompson. The drama continued to flow. In April, Cooper made the final severing in the papers.
Now, the sources differ. Several claims that Gary returned to his wife in 1954, yet a few say that he and Lorraine continued to see each other. My own guess is that Gary and Lorraine continued their affair in secret, much like in the beginning. After April 1954, she is not connected to Gary any more in the papers. She and Katy Jurado came to Hollywood and lived together in a duplex in Los Angeles.
Gary and Lorraine had a good cover to hide them. Namely, in July 1954, Lorraine started dating Cesar Romero, the perennial Hollywood bachelor. On the first glance, this was very much expected – Cesar was Italian/Cuban, she was Mexican, and they connected as two “latinos” in Hollywood over their shared background. Not to forget, Cesar was one of the best dancers in town and quite the lady charmer. Yet, today we know one small detail the columnists did not know back then (or if they did, it was kept hush hush) – Cesar was a closeted homosexual. He dated a long list of Hollywood stunners, and all was for show. He never married any of them – he probably served as a surrogate best friend/male escort. My theory is that Loraine dated Cesar for publicity, so she could spend her evenings with Gary.
To confirm that Cesar was only semi serious, she was also seen around with Bert Friedlob, the producer who was Eleanor Parker’s second husband. This looked like a very casual fling.
A relationship with a gay men can only go so far, and before the year was out, Lorraine switched to greener fields – from Cesar to Casey Robinson, the noted screenwriter, in cca. October 1954.
Casey would prove to be Lorraine’s longest relationship, lasting all the way until mid 1957. They went out on the town constantly and took romantic trips, including a one to Madrid in 1955 (where the press expected them to elope… which they did not).
Now, if I want to be a incurable romantic with a flair for high drama, and I believe that Gary and Lorraine dated all the way to 1956, I would say that Lorraine overlapped Gary and Casey for the first several months of the relationship. Sooner of later, things escalated, she was perhaps made to choose, and wisely stuck with Robinson, who was at least unwed at that time after divorcing the stunning ballerina, Tamara Toumanova.
Several sources claim that Lorraine was the love of Cooper’s life – this can be discussed in great length, and no clear answer can be given, but it is clear that Cooper was deeply in love with her and if he had been a free man, would have probably married her. In 2001, long after his death, she even opened up her home to reporters to talk about Gary.
According to the papers, after her romance with Robinson ended, she married a Mexican admirer names Kleban in cca. August 1957. I have not found any records of the marriage, but let’s assume that it did happen. The marriage probably ended at some point. The last mention of Lorraine in the papers is in 1964, when she was supposed to act, along with three other Mexican actresses, in a movie.
Whos Dated Who claims that she had a three year long affair with George Sanders after the death of his wife, Benita Hume. This also means that they were together during his ill advised marriage to Magda Gabor (that would not surprise me in the least). According to the site, it ended only months before his suicide in april 1972. Lorraine returned to the US after years of living in Mexico in 1993.
Lorraine Chanel died on October 18, 2008, at the age of 83.