Cristal’s son, Jordan Wexler, confirmed the screen and stage actress’ death to Fox News on Monday, saying that Cristal went peacefully in her sleep at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Saturday and describing his mother as “unlike anybody could have imagined."
Cristal began her life “from utter poverty” in tenement housing in Argentina, Wexler told us as he highlighted her storied life and career.
“Both her parents died when she was 13. She was orphaned,” Wexler said. “She was so poor, in fact, that her brother died in front of her because they didn't have money to give him medicine.”
Wexler said Cristal stowed away on a ship in order to find a better life for herself and when she made it to Hollywood, she was recognized by John Wayne, who would allegedly tell her, "You're going to be in my next movie.”
“And sure enough, a year later he called her, put her in 'The Alamo.' She starred in that and she continued working very hard and she starred in 'The High Chaparral' and did hundreds of TV and theater and movies and stuff like that,” said Wexler.
“It's like I told her, she was the humblest woman that you would ever know,” he said of Cristal, who as a Latin woman, landed her role in “Cleopatra” after pleading with her agent to get her an audition after the pilot had already been filmed and would impress so much that the original actress was killed off of the show.
“Anybody who knows her would say she's amazing because she treated everybody with respect," Wexler continued. “It doesn't matter who they were, it didn't matter what level or what religion or culture, education – she didn't care. Everybody got the utmost respect. And she was so humble.”
The proud son said he and his brother Gregory were “lucky to have her” and said Cristal “sacrificed everything” to provide her sons better lives than she endured.
“She saved every dollar. She wasn't a spender, she invested wisely,” said Wexler. “You know, you've got to remember – she went from nothing and her parents died so young that she only made a fifth-grade education, but she spoke five languages.”
Cristal’s language skills were no match for her determination, according to Wexler, who explained how his mother initially didn’t speak English, and instead, resorted to listening to her lines and repeating them to act out scenes.
“She didn’t have much education, so she had to learn when she came to this country,” he said. “In her first film, she had to mouth it. She had to listen to what it said, even if she didn’t understand it and memorize it in a different language.”
A few months before Cristal’s death, Wexler said he spoke with his mother – who endured glaucoma among other ailments that would prevent her from seeing or moving freely – and explained to her that her legacy was cemented in history forever because of her courage to fight for women and minorities in show business.
“I said, you realize you've changed the lives of millions of people,” Wexler said. “And she said, 'What do you mean?' I go, 'Mother – do you realize that when you were doing 'The High Chaparral,' there were no Latin women, especially no Latin women starring that played a woman as a strong role.'”
He continued: “'You've changed and given inspiration to millions of women out there, you know?' And that's the way my mom was. She’s an angel in heaven, no doubt.”