Actress Linda Cristal, who was known for her role as fiery Victoria Cannon in The High Chaparral but also spent a year playing General Hospital's Dimitra Antoinelle, passed away on Saturday at her home in Beverly Hills, California. The 89-year-old's death was confirmed by her son, Jordan Wexler, who said she died in her sleep.
Cristal was born in Argentina to a French father and Italian mother who named her Marta Victoria Moya Peggo Burges. She had a very tumultuous childhood that included her family having to flee to Uruguay after her father, a publisher, ran into conflict with a criminal gang (or he fell foul with the ruling political elite -- there are conflicting stories). When Cristal was thirteen, she lost both of her parents in what is rumored to be a suicide pact (they died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their car).
Despite her shaky start in life, Cristal went on to study voice and piano at the Conservatoria Franklin in Uruguay and achieved a very full career in the entertainment business -- though she did first toy with the idea of following in the footsteps of several of her aunts and entering a convent. Instead, fate stepped in -- while vacationing in Mexico with her older brother, the actress was 'discovered' by film producer and director Miguel Alemán Velasco, who was also the son of the country's ruling president. He signed her to a contract under the moniker Linda Cristal, and she made a name for herself making Spanish language films.
"I never became a big star, but then I wouldn't have been a big nun either," she told Look magazine in 1960.
Hopeful for a career in Hollywood, Cristal decided to learn English as her fourth language (Spanish, French, and Italian being the other three that she could speak) and subsequently made her US film debut with a small role in the 1956 western film Comanche. She went on to star in several western films like The Alamo and Two Rode Together but is best known for her role as Victoria Cannon in The High Chaparral, which she landed in 1967.
Legend has it that Cristal found the audition script for The High Chaparral to be extremely bland and saccharine, so she audaciously improvised, reimagining the character as a more tempestuous heroine with "fire and spunk." It obviously worked, and she played the role for four seasons, ultimately earning two Primetime Emmy nominations and winning the 1970 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a TV Drama.
After The High Chaparral ceased production in 1971, Cristal made guest appearances in a handful of TV shows and also spent some time working as a Realtor, presiding over her own import/export business, and investing. She made a final comeback to acting in 1988 as General Hospital character Dimitra Antoinelle, the mistress of Port Charles mob boss Victor Jerome (Jack Axelrod). The year-long role ended up being her final acting job.
Besides her son Jordan, Cristal is survived by another son, Gregory Wexler, and two grandchildren.
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