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Rita Hayworth, Hollywood Goddess

Updated on September 18, 2014

The Love Goddess

Rita Hayworth was one of the most glamorous actresses in cinema history, but as well as having a beautiful face and body she was extremely talented. She was an exceptional dancer, and her film performances showed an artistic sensitivity and strength of character that set her apart from other actresses, and made her just as popular with female audiences as with male.

She was a major movie star for nearly four decades and is one of the unforgettable Hollywood legends. She is Actress #19 on the American Film Institute's Greatest Screen Legends List. Her career brought her fame and wealth but little personal happiness and beneath the showbusiness veneer she was emotionally very insecure. She said of herself, "Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me."

The unfortunate truth was that the Hollywood Love Goddess searched all her life for love, but never truly found it.

Early Life

Rita was born Margarita Carmen Dolores Cansino on October 17, 1918, in New York, the daughter of Spanish flamenco dancer Eduardo Cansino and ex-showgirl Volga Hayworth.


Her father spent much time teaching Margarita traditional Spanish dances and she took to it instantly. She was a naturally gifted dancer and in her early teens she became part of the family act "The Dancing Cansinos."

When dancing with her father in a nightclub she was spotted by a Fox Studios executive and she signed for them in 1935, aged just 17.

She married her first husband, Ed Judson in 1937 and he campaigned to help her budding career. Expert promotion by Judson soon brought Rita a contract at Columbia Pictures, where her name was changed to Hayworth (from her mother). She also accepted the studio's advice to have her hairline raised by electrolysis and to have her nose reshaped.

After several minor roles in undistinguished B movies, Columbia lent her to Warner Bros. where she had her first taste of success in The Strawberry Blonde (1941); she quickly became star material after her astounding dancing with Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich (1941). This was the first of two films with Astaire who said she was his favourite dancing partner.

Hollywood Stardom

Rita's star was now very much in the ascendant and during World War II she ranked alongside Betty Grable and Lana Turner as one of the most popular pinup girls with servicemen. She worked extremely hard for the war effort, boosting morale by making many appearances at the servicemen's Hollywood Canteen where she danced, and helped wash dishes, make sandwiches and serve coffee. She also appeared in many USO troop shows.

During the 1940s Rita became Columbia's biggest star. After she made Tales of Manhattan in 1942 at Twentieth Century Fox opposite Charles Boyer, Columbia's chief Harry Cohn would not allow Hayworth to be lent to other studios.

Rita's most successful decade continued with two of the best remembered films of the war years : the musical Cover Girl, in which she co-starred with Gene Kelly, and the covertly sexual Gilda, opposite her long-time friend and neughbour, Glenn Ford. In Cover Girl an ordinary dancer is 'made over' before the audience's eyes into a stunning model and successful musical star. Gilda is the movie that has become synonymous with Rita Hayworth, and production began on it in September, 1945. She had given birth to her first daughter, Rebecca, in December, 1944 and she was to recall this period, during the early part of her marriage to Orson Welles, as the happiest of her life. She inadvertently got into trouble with the censors who called her rendition of "Put the Blame on Mame" a "striptease" when all she actually takes off is one glove but when the film was released in 1946, it set box office records and made Rita the best known star in the world.

Rita and Welles had separated during the filming of Gilda but continued to work together professionally and Welles made clever use of Hayworth's image as a temptress in her next film The Lady from Shanghai which came out in 1948.

It was at this time that Life magazine dubbed her "The Love Goddess," a tag which she would never lose. It was re-inforced by the next man to enter her life, one of the richest, most famous and eligible men in the world, Prince Ali Khan, son of the Aga Khan. They married in May, 1949 after one of the most highly publicized courtships in history and as the publicity bonanza got into full stride with her every move being recorded,, Rita became a major international celebrity. She moved with her new husband to Europe and in December, 1949, in Switzerland Rita became the mother of Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. Later she and her husband made a 'grand tour' of Europe and Africa, but the lifestyle change did not appeal to Rita. She could not come to terms with the responsibilities that came with being the wife of Aly Khan so in March, 1951, she and her two daughters, set sail back to America. After a brief reconciliation, Rita and Aly Khan were officially divorced in January, 1953. Rita had to go back to being a Hollywood star. She would never again reach the same dizzy heights of fame.

Later Career

Despite her 4 year absence, the public had not forgotten Rita Hayworth. Her first movie in four years, Affair in Trinidad (1952) with long-time co-star Glenn Ford, became an even bigger box office hit than Gilda. She then had a numberof hit films in the early 1950s including 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. She then entered into another disastrous marriage, this time to singer Dick Haymes whom she married in September, 1953. Numerous court battles were to be fought during this time, stemming from Haymes's problems with the immigration department, the taxman and his ex-wives, and Rita received a bad press for her connection with him. She was granted a divorce from Haymes in December of 1955 and she was off the big screen for a total of four years.

In 1957, after making Fire Down Below with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, and what proved to be her last musical, Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, Rita finally left Columbia after 20 years.

She made Separate Tables in 1958 with Burt Lancaster and David Niven, and this film gave her an opportunity, which she took with both hands, to play more dramatic parts, and she began to be recognized as a talented actress, not just a Hollywood beauty. Separate Tables was a great success, and nominated for several Academy Awards, including "Best Picture".

Rita continued to work successfully during the 1960s, making Circus World in 1964 with John Wayne and Claudia Cardinale. Then in 1966 she was in The Money Trap and The Poppy Is Also a Flower, the first of which reunited her with her favorite co-star and close friend, Glenn Ford for their final film together. In the following years, Rita made a few low budget films in Europe and appeared on a number of television shows and in 1972 she made her last film, The Wrath of God.

Last Years

From 1972, her public appearances became less frequent, and it was made public knowledge that Rita had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. It was a little known disease at the time and it was Rita who first brought public awareness of it. It was causing her increasing trouble remembering her lines and her career had to come to an end.

In 1981 she was placed in the care of her daughter, Princess Yasmin, who moved Rita in with her in New York City and cared for her in her remaining years. Yasmin has since become an active spokesperson in promoting Alzheimer's awareness.

On May 14, 1987, Rita Hayworth died peacefully in her daughter's apartment in Manhattan. She was 68.

Her name lives on in the annual Rita Hayworth Galas in New York and Chicago and in many other charity events which continue to raise millions of dollars for Alzheimer's research.

She was a symbol of youth and beauty and her glamorous legend lives on.

The Beautiful Rita

Reader Feedback

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    • aaxiaa lm profile image

      aaxiaa lm 

      4 years ago

      She's really gorgeous!

    • Rankography profile image

      Rankography 

      6 years ago

      Nice lens. She was quite amazing. I also thought Grace Kelly was over the top beautiful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Thumbs up!

      Great lens... very informative. Thanks for the good read.

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    • profile image

      bruinbb 

      9 years ago

      Beautiful lady

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