A Dominican Star
I Wish to Touch the Firmament for
Being Transformed in a Distant Star
But Shiny and Beautiful,
So Everybody Will Remember Me
For What I Was Once. . .
Maria Africa Gracia Vidal
ALSO KNOWN AS:
The Queen of Technicolor
The Caribbean Cyclone
DATE OF BIRTH (LOCATION)
June 6th, 1912, Barahona, Dominican Republic
DATE OF DEATH (LOCATION)
September 7th, 1951, Paris, France
5 Feet 7 Inches
36 (bust) & 36 1/2 (hip)
She was born in Barahona, (Dominican Republic) on June
6th, 1912, daughter of Isidoro Gracia García, of
Spanish descent, and Regla Teresa Maria Vidal, who was
from Baní (Dominican Republic).
She was named Maria Africa in honor to her father's
native land, La Isla de La Palma, Spain (although it
belongs to Spain, it is on the African continent).
Her father was an exporter of guayacan wood (lignum
vitae) and textiles and also possessed the title of
Honorary Vice Consul of Spain.
She was the second daughter of 10 children those
being: Isidoro, Aquilino, Joaquín, David, Ada,
Consuelo, Luz, Luis, Jaime and Teresita.
Since she was a little girl she showed she wanted to
be an actress. She learned English by herself (without
a teacher), listening to songs and reading magazines
from the U.S.A. And by reading newspapers, magazines
and books she became an intellectual, even though she
only went as far as the 8th grade.
As far as her childhood was concerned, Maria liked to
talk about the responsibility she had of baby-sitting
her little sister Lucita, which did impede her a few
times from playing on her brothers baseball team. One
day she discovered that if she would blow, softly, at
the eyes of Lucita, she would quickly go to sleep,
freeing her up to play baseball with her brothers
under the warm tropical sun of Barahona.
Her friends from Barahona used to say about Ms.
Gracia: "She was born with that calling."
They, also, said that when Maria was a child, instead
of playing with dolls she made her own stage by
placing a big white sheet from one wall to another and
lightly illuminating the room with an oil lamp. At
school, she explained her classes and lessons as if
she were on stage, moving her hands and making faces.
A lot of people remembered her as a happy child with a
lot of imagination.
She got married twice. The first time was in her
native town with the Irish banker William McFeeters,
on November 28, 1932. He was the agent in Barahona of
the First National City Bank of New York. They were
married for seven years until she traveled to New
York. Her first job in New York was posing for a
magazine cover for the sum of US $50.
McClelland Barclay, a famous New Yorker artist, knew
her through the media. Since then he understood she
would be the best prototype of the cosmopolitan woman
whose racial characteristics are not specific from any
particular region of the world. In this way, he did
not have to superimpose different racial types for
making his art work.
When Barclay exposed his painting, everybody wanted to
know who was the model and great offers for modeling
were received for that sculptural lady who was not so
young as she looked. According to the original birth
certificate, when she arrived to New York on July 3rd,
1939, she was 27 and not 19 as in the references of
some movie books have claimed.
This success was not enough for her. One day Maria
received a phone call from one of her friends who told
her that George Schaeffer, an important RKO executive,
was in town and would be having lunch at the
Maria went to the restaurant early, very well dressed
and in the company of her agent Louis Schurr. She was
flirting to everybody with her very best smile, so
that Schaeffer could not help but watch the foreign
beauty and soon sent a business card to her table.
Later, the executive asked her if she would like to
have some screen tests, and she said: "Movies! What
harm can they do to me?"
An employee of Joe Pasternark, executive of Universal
Pictures and rival of RKO, use his shrewdness for
watching her tryouts. He had the expertise of noticing
Maria skills and he proposed to Louis Schurr a
reasonable offer. He wanted to hire the services of
his client with the salary of US $150 a week, the
payment of the trip to Hollywood and other benefits.
RKO was slow in making a decision and her agent
recommended her to accept the offer from Universal
Maria Gracia chose the name of Maria Montez in honor
to the dancer Lola Montez whom Maria's father admired
Maria Montez reinvented herself. Carefully
recultivating the Dominican accent she'd lost after
moving to the U.S.A. and decking herself out in
jewels, exotic costumes, and a loyal retinue, Montez
became the exotic, tempestuous Latin leading lady.
The first movie in which she appeared briefly is LUCKY
DEVILS, in 1941.
BOSS OF BULLION CITY is the title of the next movie in
which she appeared. The good-luck seems to be on her
side in this opportunity in which she is the co-star
with Johnny Mack Brown.
After being the co-star of the second of her 26
movies, she had to accept a small part in a B movie,
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, only saying one phrase.
To compensate this bad moment in the beginning of her
career, she had the idea of creating her own fan club,
MONTEZ FOR STARDOM CLUB, compound with collectors of
actresses photos in sensuous poses and short of
clothes. Nowadays they would be considered as very
innocent. Maria sent to herself a big part of the
letters that she received, after their fans would have
The good-luck was, again, on her side in her next
movie, THAT NIGHT IN RIO, she looks splendid for the
first time in Technicolor. Universal ceded Maria to
its rival, 20th Century Fox, in order to appear in a
film with Carmen Miranda, Alice Faye and Don Ameche.
"Life" magazine was very eloquent in emphasizing
Montez's performance, whom they gave as much
importance as Carmen Miranda and Alice Faye.
In this movie, Maria danced to a contagious rumba,
showing her beautiful red hair, proving that she
looked wonderful in colors by the first time.
Universal executives wasted her work in this film.
They suggested the wrong idea by dying her hair of
blonde, very common between the actresses, but it did
not match with her exotic appearance. They also
ignored her demands of not acting in B movies.
On RAIDERS OF THE DESERT she appeared for the first
time wearing transparent veils to give the illusion of
the magic of the Orient on the screen.
On MOONLIGHT IN HAWAII, the fans had to accept her in
the sixth billing as Ilani, the native "blonde" of the
Universal was not helping Montez, even though the
public, most of it compound by soldiers who were
fighting in the War World II, began to include her
between their pin-up girls, such as Rita Hayworth and
Lana Turner. In this way the soldiers were decorating
their lockers to give them the feeling of being at
Another proof of her increasing popularity was the
invitation to the "Harvard Student Union" for their
big Halloween party, in October of 1941. In that party
she danced with more than 900 students at the same
A few days later, the press reported, with big
headlines, of what was happening in the War, Maria
surprised the public with the unexpected statement of
that she is the fiancée of the Lieutenant Commandant
Claude Strickland, missing in action. "I know he's
alive somewhere." She said, with tears in her eyes.
This was one of the jokes she used to play to get the
attention of the media and free publicity, as when she
said Universal Pictures hired her, because the company
did not have glamorous actresses. In that time
Universal had big stars as Marlene Dietrich and
A 24-hour-a-day star, Montez was famous for her
spectacular entrances at nightclubs and social
functions. Once, when her arrival at the Universal
commissary failed to attract notice, she turned her
heels and left the room, returning moments later with
a huge entourage and accompanying loud noises.
In 1942, she appeared in the first "escapist" movie,
SOUTH OF TAHITI. Maria played the role of the girl who
lives in an enchanted island of an Asian continent.
Universal made this movie with the purpose of
competing with Paramount Pictures, whose movies, with
the legendary Dorothy Lamour, in the desert, in the
jungle or in a tropical island filled the theaters
with a public who wanted to escape the worries of
World War II.
In spite of the success of the movie mentioned above,
Maria was inserted again in a B movie, BOMBAY CLIPPER,
a silly film about spies which did not help her
A little later, Maria appeared in the production: THE
MISTERY OF MARIE ROGET, based on a novel by Edgar
The writers association "The Manuscripters" gave to
Maria Montez an award for her poetry TWILIGHT, which
was also published in the literary Latin-American
magazine "Baho Rueo", in 1942. Some of her poems were
published in the Sunday Mirror on May 3rd, 1943.
On October 1st, 1942, Maria found the love for the
second time at Dearbone train station. She fell in
love at first sight of the handsome gentleman, who was
six feet tall, white, with blue eyes and blond hair.
He had certain aspect that made him different from
most North-Americans. He was the French actor
Jean-Pierre Aumont, who was hired by the Metro Goldwin
Mayer, for acting in THE CROSS OF LARRAINE.
"Since the first time I saw her I wished deeply to
make her a formal marriage proposal to Maria, but I
could not find the courage of doing it, because my
duties as a French officer were calling me and, very
soon, I will have to say good-bye. Until a day I heard
myself asking her: Will you marry me?" According to
Aumont in his autobiography "Sun and Shadow". Maria
was his second wife after the French actress Blanche
Maria's answer was: "Yes, I will marry you even though
you would have to go to the War at the next day! But
give me a few minutes for consulting my astrologer
about the day you have chosen." Carroll Lighter
Norwell, Hollywood's famous astrologer, gave her a
favorable answer and they arranged the wedding for the
day that Jean Pierre chose: July 13th, 1943.
Maria gave to Jean Pierre a bracelet with the
following dedication: "I love Jean Pierre because he
gives me white roses, if he would give me a delicate
gift of Cartier it would not make me so happy."
The wedding was on Maria's house. The maid of honor
was Janine Crespin, with the company of the best man
Charles Boyer, the painter Frederick Sprague was the
organist who played the nuptial march and as guests of
honor were her astrologer, her gardener and two
masseurs. In the ceremony Maria and Jean Pierre kissed
each other 112 times. Unfortunately, for Maria, Aumont
had to go to War a few days later.
At last! Universal knew where to put her and they
wisely included her in the production of ARABIAN
NIGHTS. Set in Orient, this film in Technicolor (the
first one in color for Universal), gave to Montez the
chance of wearing oriental clothes. Her oriental eyes
and her exotic face were splendidly shown by the
turbans while the veils showed her great silhouette.
The beautiful effect turned in by Maria with such
clothes, caused a big influence in Occidental
fashions, specially with the turbans. After 3 years of
constant work, she started to enjoy the benefits of
This was the first movie in which she was the co-star
with Jon Hall and Sabu.
This movie was the one that inspired her most famous
quote: "When I look at myself, I am so beautiful I
scream with joy!"
It was also the first movie of a popular series of
escapist films which were made by Universal between
1942 and 1945. WHITE SAVAGE, the second one of these
series, was the movie that gave her the name of "The
Queen of Technicolor".
In order to continue with the Orient subject,
Universal produced later ALI BABA AND THE FORTY
THIEVES. This movie was the most commercial one of
Maria appeared in COBRA WOMAN on 1944, a rare story
set in a village where a cruel priestess lived. This
proved to be a real challenge for Montez, because she
has the dual role of the twin sisters: Nadja, the evil
queen of a tribe of snake lovers, and Tollea, the
simple and good girl.
The critics agreed in saying that Montez appealed to
her power of conviction for playing this dual role,
using also her delightful narcissism, for compensating
her lack of dramatic resources.
Siödmak, COBRA WOMAN's director, after working with
Maria, said: "Montez is one of the few actresses whose
behavior is influenced by her work as an actress, if
she is a queen, she will demand you to bow before her,
even on the breaks, but if she is a slave, you could
treat her very bad and she will not complain."
Maria reached the stardom she craved, in spite of
being a newcomer (in that time, the foreigners who
came in Hollywood were known as that), of having
started her career at the age of 28 and she did not
have time for cinematography classes, which did not
allow her to develop her dramatic potential.
The "Tempestuous Montez" always had a big retinue of
reporters who followed her everywhere, because she
offered material for a whole page. When there was not
anything new between the movie stars, Los Angeles
editors shouted to their reporters: "Go to Beverly
Hills, and see what Montez is doing!" According to the
reporter Pete Martin of the Saturday Evening Post.
She had a reconnaissance in Dominican Republic her
country, it was the medals of the Order of Juan Pablo
Duarte in the Grade of Officer and the Order of
Trujillo in the same grade, given by the dictator
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, on November 1943, when they
were making the movie GYPSY WILDCAT. This
reconnaissance was the only one given to a woman in
the history of Dominican Republic.
GIPSY WILDCAT gave to the Universal millionaires, huge
sums of money. The studio wanted to go on with these
kinds of movies, but Montez was afraid of being
stereotyped and did not want to allow the movie
producers to make her an actress that only could make
stereotyped roles, always accompanied with the same
actor and stocked in the same kind of movies (she
appeared in more than 4 movies with Jon Hall).
Anne Gwynne, a friend and also one of Universal's
actresses, said at the end of her career: "If I would
have followed the example of Maria Montez, I am sure
the Studio would have given me better opportunities."
Also in 1944, Maria Montez was one of the guests of
the First Lady of U.S.A., Eleanor Roosevelt, for the
birthday of her husband, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, at the Statlor Hotel in Washington, D. C.
Before finishing 1944, there was the premiere of
BOWERY TO BROADWAY, a movie in black and white that
breaks the monotony with the series of her escapist
movies initiated in 1942.
In that year also, Maria was a Good Will Ambassador
between the U.S.A. and the Latin American countries.
In 1945, she only appears in the movie SUDAN, the last
one of her escapist movie, which filled a whole era in
the North American history of the films of the 40's.
Also in 1945, there are changes in Montez life, the
first one was, bringing from her native town of
Barahona, her brothers Jaime, Ada, Luz, Consuelo,
Teresita and Lucita who tried to enter the world of
the movies. The second one was the arrival of her
husband, Jean-Pierre Aumont who came back from World
War II in 1945.
According to Lucita, Maria recommended her the
following: "The first thing a young lady should do for
being an actress is to believe she is the most
beautiful and important of all the women who live on
Earth. In other words, behave as if you were a queen.
Do not be afraid in front of any of the directors, not
even how exigent and ill-tempered they could look to
you. Remember, my dear Lucita, it is the public and
not them, who has the last word."
Her brothers did not have much success in Hollywood,
but Consuelo appeared with the name of Julia Andre in
PIRATES OF MONTEREY and she got married to the
Universal publicist, Kenneth Carter.
Luz Montez got married to the journalist of the "Paris
Match", Jean Roy, whose real name was Ives L. Leleu.
Her brother Jaime Gracia, with the name of Jaime
Montez played in the movies TIME OF CUCKOO,
MONTSERRAT, LIVE WIRE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, BULL FIGHT,
ANA LUCASTA and BAD MAN. A few years later he joined
the U.S. Army and obtained the grade of sergeant and
participated in the war of Korea.
Teresita was hired as exclusive model of the French
magazine VOGUE in the 50's.
Maria refused to appear in the movie FRONTIER GAL,
because she was fed up of the escapist movies and she
received a sanction of Universal with a fatal
suspension of her contract although it was only
The movie FRONTIER GAL (1945) would be then starred by
the actress Yvonne De Carlo, who substituted for Maria
in SALOME WHERE SHE DANCED, this one was killed by the
critics, but it made De Carlo very famous.
Yvonne De Carlo and Maureen O'Hara were transformed in
the new stars for Universal's escapist films. But none
of them could surpass the marvelous scenic presence of
Maria, her delightful narcissism, and they were not as
unique as the most convincing of the queens of
escapist film who will remain forever as The Queen of
Technicolor, because none of her successors will
receive such an ostentatious title. (According to
Jerry Vermille, in Screen Facts, #13, Vol. 3 (Page
19), 1966, USA.)
The movie TANGIER was made by the Universal with the
purpose of pleasing Maria. In spite of that, once more
her beauty stood out, this film in black and white was
known as the biggest mistake of her whole career,
because it showed a lot of her limitations.
On February 14th, 1946, at 8:14 a.m., Maria gave birth
to a pretty baby girl of 8 pounds and 3 ounces, who
received the name of Maria Christina. Nowadays she is
known as the actress Tina Aumont (or Tina Marquand).
In those days, Jean-Pierre Aumont, her husband said
about her: "Maria Montez has a double personality, the
one she made for Hollywood, and the mother and wife. .
. that woman full of simplicity, culture and romance
of an overflowing humanity."
While they were making THE EXILE, in 1946, Maria, too
late for complaining, learned that they only mentioned
the name of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the promotion and
that she only appeared in 20 minutes on screen.
Universal signed a contract with Montez for 8 movies
in the position of star or co-star, Maria and her
lawyers decided to sue Universal Pictures and Douglas
Fairbanks Jr. and she and her lawyers won US $250,000.
Later she appeared again in Technicolor in the movie
PIRATES OF MONTEREY.
After this movie, Maria took the decision of
abandoning, forever, Universal Pictures. The movie
producers did not move a finger when letting go one of
their most commercial actresses, but they either hid
their resentments caused by Maria's lawsuit were
bigger than their interests of keeping her.
Maria Montez, now free of any contract, signed with
the movie producer Seymour Nebenzal in order to make
the movie THE SIREN OF ATLANTIS with United Artists.
At the end of War World II, Maria Montez moved to
Paris with her husband Jean-Pierre Aumont. Jean Pierre
wanted to come back to Paris in order to get rid of
the limitations his accent was causing him, he said:
"At the beginning, my accent was my best friend, but
later it became a big pain, because the North-American
movie producers only wanted me for acting as the hero
of their movies, meanwhile, deep inside of me, it was
growing the desire of playing dramatic roles."
To Maria the circumstances were very different. In
1946, when she went to Europe, she was still the best
commercial actress for Universal Pictures and,
although her contract was expiring, the Studio offered
her a new one, for another 7 years, and with better
The welcome, France did in this occasion to the French
actor and his beautiful Dominican wife (the first star
of the North-American movies who visited France after
War World II), was very pleasant to the couple.
The French people showed a big sympathy to the
gorgeous star. Paulette Gallard had her hair done in
the same beauty parlor of Maria and she does not
forget her laugh, her voice with that accent,
constantly saying spicy words which everybody liked.
From September 20th to October 5th, 1946, Maria Montez
and Jean-Pierre Aumont were invited to the First Film
Festival in Cannes.
The first movie Jean Pierre and Maria made in France
was HANS LE MARINE (Wicked City). François Villiers,
brother of Jean Pierre, was the director of the film.
Also played in this occasion Lillie Palmer and Jean
Roy, the husband of Luz (Lucita) Montez.
The next movie of Maria was PORTRAIT D'UN ASSASIN
('Portrait of an Assassin'), made in France by Bernard
Roland. Important European actors such as Erich Von
Stroheim, Arletty and Pierre Braseur appeared in the
main roles. According to the critics Maria looked more
charming and convincing than ever before. Proving her
histrionics skills started to get better.
While Maria was working in this movie, Jean Pierre
wrote a successful play, THE EMPERATOR OF CHINA, in
which he was the star along with Lillie Palmer and
Phyllis Risk. The play was adapted for Broadway by
Philip Barry with the tittle of MY NAME IS AQUILON.
Later Maria traveled to Italy for playing the leading
lady role in the movie IL LADRO DI VENEZIA ('The Thief
of Venice'). Her performance was accepted by the
critics and they said it was the best work of her
During the making of this movie, Maria had a strong
fight with Jean Pierre which surprised the media
because they have never produced comments or gossips
about their relationship. The couple was considered to
have one of the strongest marriages among movie stars.
On March 22nd, 1949. Jean Pierre said to the media the
following: "Love dreams do not last for ever." But
they could solve their problems and some weeks later
the French actor said: "I'm writing a theater play for
Maria. Before the possibility of the dissolving of our
marriage, our love became more intense."
In their 8th anniversary, Maria gave him an Alfa Romeo
car and he bought her original earrings of platinum
and diamonds designed by a famous Bulgarian jeweler.
Years later these earrings were given by Jean Pierre
to Diana Ross in the movie MAHOGANY (1973).
The second Italian movie from Montez was AMORE E
SANGUE (City of Violence).
When she came back to Paris, Maria started to rehearse
for her debut in theater with the play L'ILE HEREUSE
(The Happy Island), the one Jean Pierre wrote for her.
The premier of the play was on January 1951, in the
Edouard VII theater of Paris, Maria played the role of
a Latin American actress called Carlotta Goya that
when she comes to Hollywood, she is the victim of
intrigues and offenses of the important people of the
movies. L'ILE HEREUSE had such a success in Paris that
it was placed in other European cities.
The French actor and the Dominican actress traveled
together to Italy for being the stars of the movie LA
VENDETTA DEL CORSARO (The Pirates Revenge).
In this opportunity Jean Pierre could see the
affection the Italians had for his wife: "The Italians
asked for her autograph in the streets and she blew
them kisses. When we were in the Santa Maria
Trastevere Restaurant, some kids got close to her and
one of them put on his knees and told her: Give us
another movie, please, I am begging you!"
On May 1951, her agent Louis Schurr made her a
proposal for coming back to Hollywood which she
accepted gladly, but unfortunately she could not do
Maria Africa Gracia Vidal, died on September 7th,
1951, while she was taking a bath, in her house in
Sureness, Paris. Her sisters Ada and Teresita found
her drowned in the bath tub.
According to the doctors, her accident could be
provoked by 2 different situations:
1) She had a heart attack due to a shock produced with
the contact with the hot water (45 Celsius degrees).
2) The hot water made her faint and she drowned. There
was not an autopsy, so the real reason of her death is
Her funeral was in the Saint Pierre of Chaillot Roman
Catholic Church, on September 11th, 1951. Her body was
wearing a blue satin dress with white accessories,
designed by Jacques Hein, as it would be appropriated
to the one called in life, The Queen Technicolor.
In Dominican Republic, the news of her death caused a
lot of sadness. In her town, Barahona, it was declared
a communal grief of 24 hours on the September 8th,
1951. Ten days later they changed the name of the
street Prolongación de la Uruguay with the one of
President Joaquín Balaguer officially opened the
Barahona International Airport on Saturday, 27 April,
1996: The Maria Montez International Airport.
In Santo Domingo, the capital of the country, hundreds
of people went to Santomé theater for watching a
posthumous homage to the Queen of Technicolor on
September 19, 1951.
Before showing ARABIAN NIGHTS and ALI BABA AND THE 40
THIEVES, the public got on their feet in order to stay
one minute in silence. Later, some people distributed
several photographs of the actress around the halls.
On May 1998, they put in Santo Domingo a bronze star
dedicated to Maria Montez at the Bulevar de la
Juventud y de las Estrellas (Youth and Stars
Boulevard) on Winston Churchill Ave.
In her will, Maria distributed her legacy (US
$200,000) to her mother, some of her brothers, her
daughter and her husband.
But her best legacy she gave to the Dominicans was to
reach the stardom at the age of 28, in spite of not
being from a small North American town as Ava, not
having the experience of the Music Hall or Broadway,
she was from a province of the Dominican Republic
where she lived the first 20 years of her life.
Eight years later, she arrived to Hollywood, where she
was competing wisely for the fame and got it, in spite
of the obstacles she had to deal with. Her filmography
consists of 2 French, 3 Italians and 21 North-American
movies composing the total of 26 movies which put the
name of the Dominican Republic in the encyclopedias
and stories of the 7th Art.
Nowadays movies like ARABIAN NIGHTS are classics of
The movies IL LADRO DE VENEZIA and PORTRAIT D'UN
ASSASIN have the best performances of her artistic
Maria wrote 3 books, numerous poems, between them
TWILIGHT, which won an award of the association The
Manuscripters. She also wrote the songs DOLIENTE and
FOREVER IS A LONG TIME, HOLLYWOOD WOLVES I HAVE TAMED
and REUNION IN LILITH are the titles of the books
written by the actress. But REUNION IN LILITH was
Memories of her legendary beauty are the paintings of:
McClelland Barclay, Ernst Van Leyden and Frederick
Sprague. Also, the Dominican painters Angel Haché and
Adolfo Piantini were inspired by the actress.
Maria Africa Gracia was as simple as spectacular were
the movies in which she appeared.
A good daughter, sister, wife and mother, Montez was,
at that level, so far away of Hollywood that she could
never inspire a writer of sensationalist scandals.
I hope some day in Dominican Republic, it will be a
museum dedicated to the actress where we could dream
today and tomorrow with that gorgeous and exotic lady
that was so close to us.
The information in this page is from the book "MARIA
MONTEZ: Su Vida", by Margarita Vicens de Morales. In
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, you can get this
LIBRERIA LA TRINITARIA
Arzobispo Nouel 160, Corner José Reyes, Zona Colonial
Phones (809) 682-1032 / 686-6110
Comments or Questions?
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Maria Montez Video Titles
Available from Movies Unlimited
The Invisible Woman (1941) VHS
Arabian Nights (1942) VHS
The Mystery Of Marie Roget (1942) VHS
Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves (1944) VHS
Follow The Boys (1944) VHS
The Exile (1947) VHS
Portrait Of An Assassin (1949) VHS
Valdez Is Coming (1971) VHS
With Maria Montez II (Niece of Maria Montez)
Information courtesy of Vivian Perez.
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