August 16, 1976 12:00 PM

Dolores Del Rio was described in the Hollywood of the ’20s and ’30s as the most beautiful woman in the world. She made 34 pictures with male stars like Fred Astaire and George Sanders and was a friend to Ernest Hemingway and Somerset Maugham. Yet she says of her life today at 71, “I never believed I could be so happy.”

The reason is the Estancia Infantil, a day-and-night-care center in Mexico City for the children of Mexican actors and actresses. Two years ago Del Rio, who has never had children of her own, persuaded the government and an actors’ association to create the center. Working parents can leave their youngsters there for as long as necessary at no cost. The children, who range in age from six months to 6 years, are cared for by nurses, nannies, teachers and volunteers. “Our nursery is the first of its kind in the world,” Del Rio says proudly. “Not even the socialist countries have nurseries that are open 24 hours a day.”

Born in Durango, Del Rio is considered a national treasure. Streets and theaters have been named for her, and her movies still draw crowds. But to the 86 children of Estancia Infantil she is Mama Lolita (Lolita is a nickname for Dolores).

She and her third husband, Lewis Riley, an American producer, live in a 200-year-old house in Coyoacán, an elegant old section of Mexico City. As president of the center’s board, Del Rio is often at her desk until 9 p.m., going over bills and reviewing programs. “Beauty does not come with creams and lotions,” she says. “God can give us beauty, but whether that beauty remains or changes is determined by our thoughts and deeds.” Del Rio adds, “A woman who leads a lazy life will reflect it in her face.”

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