Rita Hayworth, Hollywood Love Goddess

She became known to the world as Rita Hayworth, one of the most glamorous actresses in cinema history, but she was much more than a beautiful face. Rita was an exceptionally talented dancer, and her performances showed a strength and sensitivity that set her apart from other actresses, and made her just as popular with female audiences as with male. Starring in movies for nearly four decades, she became one of the all-time great Hollywood legends but the careful exploitation of her as the ultimate in Hollywood 1940s desirability brought her fame and wealth, but little happiness.

With her father and grandfather
With her father and grandfather

Early Years

She was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Spanish flamenco dancer Eduardo Cansino and English/Irish-American Ziegfeld girl Volga Hayworth.

Mature-looking for her age, at age sixteen, she attracted the attention of film producers as part of her family act "The Dancing Cansinos" and was signed by Fox Studios in 1935. After Fox merged with 20th Century, Darryl Zanuck dropped her contract, reportedly after she refused his advances.

Expert promotion by first husband Edward Judson soon brought Rita a new contract at Columbia Pictures, where studio head Harry Cohn changed her name to Hayworth (her mother's maiden name) and approved raising her hairline by electrolysis. Rita also used her own savings to have her nose altered.

After 13 mainly minor roles, Columbia lent her to Warner Bros. for her first big success, The Strawberry Blonde (1941); her astounding dancing with Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) made her a star. This was the first of two films with Astaire who said she was his favourite dancing partner.

With Fred Astaire

Rita in 1941
Rita in 1941

With Gene Kelly in Cover Girl

Gilda - Put the Blame on Mame

Hollywood Stardom

During World War II she ranked with Betty Grable and Lana Turner as one of the most popular pinup girls with servicemen. Rita would also become Columbia's biggest star of the 1940s, under the watchful eye of studio chief Harry Cohn, who recognized her value. After she made Tales of Manhattan (1942) at Twentieth Century Fox opposite Charles Boyer, Cohn would not allow Hayworth to be lent to other studios.

Rita starred in two of the most successful and best remembered films of the war years : the musical Cover Girl, in which she co-starred with Gene Kelly, and the sexually suggestive Gilda, opposite her friend and neughbour, Glenn Ford. In Cover Girl an ordinary dancer is transformed before the audience's eyes via clothing and makeup into a dazzling magazine model as well as a successful musical comedy star. In Gilda she is used and victimised by several men, culminating in her famous striptease "Put the Blame on Mame, Boys."

One of her ex-husbands, Orson Welles, used Hayworth's image as a passive yet destructive temptress in his film The Lady from Shanghai . Whether Hayworth played in musicals or dramas, she was always the ultimate in desirability. When in 1948 Life magazine dubbed her "The Love Goddess," she was officially marked with the tagline that would follow her the rest of her life. Her image as a woman men could not resist was further enhanced by her five unhappy marriages, in particular her wedding to Prince Ali Khan in 1949. This publicity bonanza, fully exploited by the tabloids, made Hayworth into an international celebrity. She soon returned to Hollywood , however, and resumed her career, although she would never regain the fame she had in the 1940s.

Beautiful Rita

Source

Later Career

After the collapse of her marriage to Prince Aly Khan in 1951, Hayworth returned to America with great fanfare to film a string of hit films: Affair in Trinidad (1952) with favorite co-star Glenn Ford, Salome (1953) with Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger, and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) with Jose Ferrer and Aldo Ray, for which her performance won critical acclaim. Then she was off the big screen for another four years, due mainly to her tumultuous marriage to singer Dick Haymes. In 1957, after making Fire Down Below with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, and her last musical Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth finally left Columbia. She got good reviews for her acting in such films as Separate Tables (1958) with Burt Lancaster and David Niven, and The Story on Page One (1960) with Anthony Franciosa, and continued working throughout the 1960s. In 1964 she appeared with John Wayne in Circus World (UK title Magnificent Showman) and in 1972 she made her last film, The Wrath of God.

Rita continued to perform during the 1960s and 1970s, occasionally trying her hand at television or a serious drama, such as her role in Rattigan's Separate Tables, for which she received good reviews. Her most famous and successful films, musical or dramatic, tend to deal with her as a woman whose image does not truthfully reflect her personality, and for whom success, riches, and beauty bring no real and lasting personal satisfaction. Sadly enough, it seemed to be the story of her own life

Men and Marriages

Ed Judson

His exact profession is something of a mystery but he was an excellent promoter. They married in May 1937 and he campaigned extensively on Rita's behalf helping to advance her budding career. They eventually divorce in 1942, Judson receiving a reported $30,000 payoff from Columbia Pictures.

With Orson and baby Rebecca
With Orson and baby Rebecca

Orson Welles

They met at a party given by actor Joseph Cotton and a romance immediately blossomed. Whilst they were dating Rita did guest spots on Welles' Mercury Theater radio show. They also worked together in troop entertainment during WW11.

They married on September 7, 1943 and her marriage to Welles was probably the happiest time of her life. They were dubbed 'The Beauty and The Brain'. Their daughter, Rebecca, was born in December, 1944. Unfortunately, their happiness couldn't last and they were divorced in the Fall of 1945.

Prince Aly Khan

Rita and Prince Aly Khan met in Cannes at a party hosted by Elsa Maxwell. After a highly publicised courtship they married on 27th May, 1949 and Rita moved to Europe. Their daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, was born in December, 1949 and later The happy couple toured Europe and Africa. Cracks began to appear, however, due to the completely contrasting responsibilities and way of the life each was used to and in 1951 Rita and her two daughters returned to America. There was a brief recociliation the following year but in 1953 Rita and Aly Khan were officially divorced.

Dick Haymes

Rita began seeing the actor/singerbefore she started making Miss Sadie Thompson and the couple were married on September 24, 1953. Haymes brought numerous legal problems to the marriage, and he had seemingly constant battles with the immigration department, the IRS and his ex-wives. They divorced in December, 1955.

James Hill

Rita's fifth and final marriage was to James Hill, a screenwriter and one of the partners in the production company which made Separate Tables. After living together they married in 1958 but Rita's wish for retirement from films conflicted with Hill who wanted her to keep working. The marriage didn't work out and they divorced in 1961.

Final years

After about 1960, Hayworth suffered from extremely early onset of Alzheimer's disease, which was not diagnosed until 1980. She continued to act in films until the early 1970s and made a well-publicized 1971 appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. Both of her brothers died within a week of each other in March 1974, saddening her greatly, and causing her to drink even more heavily than before. In 1976 in London, Hayworth was removed from a flight during which she had an angry outburst while traveling with her agent, an event which attracted much negative publicity. She lived the final years of her life in an apartment at the San Remo in New York City.

Following her death from Alzheimer's disease in 1987 at age 68, she was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California;

Rita in "They Came to Cordura" (1959).

Rita in 1977 receiving the National Film Heritage Award
Rita in 1977 receiving the National Film Heritage Award

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