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Rita Hayworth

May 7, 2010

The great silver screen siren Rita Hayworth is considered one of the most iconic women in American cinema's history. Known as The Love Goddess and/or The Great American Love Goddess, Hayworth enjoyed a long and illustrious career in Hollywood. Here are few random tidbits and highlights from that career and life:

Born Margarita Carmen Cansino in 1918, Hayworth's ethnicity was traced to Spanish and Irish roots. She got an incredibly early start in entertainment, performing by age six with the popular vaudeville act, the Cansinos, a troupe of Spanish dancers. She remained with the family group until she was discovered at sixteen and signed to Fox Studios in 1935.

It was at the Caliente Club where Hayworth was first discovered by the head of the Fox Film Corporation, Winfield Sheehan. A week later, Hayworth was brought to Hollywood to make a screen test for Fox. Impressed by her screen persona, Sheehan signed Hayworth (who was now being referred to as Rita Cansino) to a short-term six-month contract.

During her time at Fox, Hayworth appeared in five pictures, in which her roles were neither important nor memorable. By the end of her six-month contract, Fox had now merged into Twentieth Century-Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck was now credited as the executive producer. Taking little concern for Sheehan's interest in her, Zanuck decided not to renew her contract.

By this time, Hayworth was eighteen years old and she married businessman Edward C. Judson, who was twice her age. Feeling that Hayworth still had screen potential, despite just being dropped by Fox, Judson managed to get her the lead roles in several independent films and finally managed to arrange a screen test for her with Columbia Pictures. Studio head Harry Cohn soon signed her to a long-term contract and he slowly cast Hayworth in small roles in Columbia features.

Cohn argued that Hayworth's image was too much of a Latin style, which caused Hayworth to be cast into stereotypical Hispanic roles. She began to undergo a painful electrolysis to broaden her forehead and accentuate her widow's peak. When Hayworth returned to Columbia, she was a redhead and had changed her name to Rita Hayworth (Hayworth from her mother's maiden name).

An illustration of her appeared on the cover of the November 10, 1941 issue of Time magazine, in a thigh-revealing black ball gown, striking one of her famed dancerly poses.

Hayworth's most famed films include 1941's You'll Never Get Rich and 1942's You Were Never Lovelier, both with Fred Astaire; 1942's My Gal Sal; 1944's Cover Girl with Gene Kelly; and 1946's Gilda, which cemented her in the minds of American moviegoers as a bonafide bombshell.

Hayworth formed her own production company, The Beckworth Corporation (named for her daughter Rebecca), and in 1948 co-produced The Loves of Carmen with Columbia Pictures. It would be the latter company's largest grossing film of that year.

Hayworth married five times. Her husbands were Edward C. Judson (1937-1943), followed by Orson Welles (1943-1948, one daughter Rebecca Welles), to Prince Aly Khan (1949-1953, one daughter Princess Yasmin Aga Khan), then to actor-singer Dick Haymes (1953-1955), and finally to director James Hill (1958-1961).

She is said to have suffered from a significantly early onset of Alzheimer's (reports trace it back to 1960, when Hayworth was only 38). She continued to work into the 1970s before the illness became severe. She passed away in 1987 from complications related to Alzheimer's.

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