Born of a Gibraltarian father and a mother from Malaga, this actress left her mark in the region where she spent the later years of her intense and fascinating life.
Her name was Magdalena Nile del Río, but everyone knew her as ‘Imperio Argentina’. She was born in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1906 and died in Benalmádenain 2003, at age 92.
Magdalena was an actress, singer and an iconic figure for several generations. She was beautiful and a true diva of the traditional Spanish ‘Copla’ singing style as well as the cinema. She reached stardom between the 1930s and the 1960s, starred in many films and performed on some of the biggest stages.
She was one of the great women of the Copla world, who had art encoded in her DNA. Her father, Antonio Nile, was a Gibraltarian guitarist and her mother, Rosario del Río, an actress from Málaga.
Magdalena Nile’s performing life began very early on. She appeared on stage for the first time when she was only six years old and she remained in showbusiness into old age.
Although her career saw her in the limelight, her life also had a dark side. She was said to have been involved with the Franco regime – Franco did not hide his admiration for her – as well as the Nazi regime in Germany. Adolf Hitler also worshipped the ground she walked on, as did Fidel Castro years later.
The life of Imperio Argentina is also forever linked to the Campo de Gibraltar, where she spent part of her childhood and where she returned to during the height of her stardom.
Antonio Pérez Girón, San Roque’s official archivist, was lucky enough to meet and talk to her years ago, when she visited the San Roque Copla Festival. “She told me that she felt very attached to the area and that her time here was a memory she had never forgotten – despite all the time that had passed since – and she really enjoyed coming back.”
Gibraltar and Campamento
Imperio Argentina’s father, Tony Nile, left his job as a mechanic to fulfil his dream of becoming a musician and emigrated to the United States. It was there that he would meet his future wife, Rosario del Río, from Málaga. The couple settled in Buenos Aires, where their first daughter Magdalena – or Malena, as they called her – was born.
The family returned to Spain years later and established their home in the main street of Campamento, where Imperio Argentina spent part of her childhood.
According to Antonio Pérez Girón – both on www.noticiasgibraltar.es and in his conversations with Reach-Alcance – Tony Nile frequented a hostel run by a Gibraltarian, Fernando Barbara, also known as El Chuti, where they religiously maintained the British tradition of high tea.
Pérez Girón also explained that Tony Nile was an essential part in helping his close friend and writer Ángel María de Lera escape from La Línea. Nile hid him and facilitated his escape on a boat to Gibraltar:
“Ángel María de Lera belonged to the ‘Partido Sincialista’, for which he was condemned. Tony Nile saved him from being shot by a firing squad by hiding him and taking him to Gibraltar by boat.”
Nile was closely linked to the world of flamenco and the Campo de Gibraltar’s night life, the epicentre of which was La Línea with its many showrooms. “He was well accepted by all the social classes of the time, from the highest classes to the working class, to the extent that he was well linked to left-wing characters such as Ángel María de Lera”, the official archivist of San Roque explains.
Imperio Argentina and her father maintained a close relationship with an influential group of Gibraltarians and English people who were established in Campamento in the 19th century, some of their mansions remain today.
“Antonio Bernal told me that she frequented high-class social dinners and parties, along with her father. They danced between the ‘English community’ in Campamento and the nightlife of La Línea and Gibraltar”, says Pérez Girón.
During her stardom, the artist returned to Campamento on several occasions and visited people she knew from childhood. She wanted to know more about her roots.
Imperio Argentina also had a special connection with La Línea de la Concepción, the home of many famous songs of the Copla world. The artist established a great friendship with local composer José Muñoz Molleda.
As a matter of fact, the musician composed the score for the film ‘Carmen la de Triana’, in which the artist starred. This was not the only collaboration between the two; there were more.
The actress bought a chalet on Avenida de España, La Línea, where she would spend long summers, according to Alberto Velasco, author of ‘La Línea a través del tiempo’. She also performed there on numerous occasions.
La Línea paid tribute to her years ago, naming a square in the city after her.