A Tribute to Rita Hayworth
The comparisons between Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe are inevitable. Both were considered sex symbols, though in different ways. Each suffered from a lack of self-confidence in her personal life that was not reflected in her on-screen persona. Both had several failed marriages, and were the subject of numerous inaccurate news stories and biographies, then and now. There is debate raging in critical circles over their acting talents.
But one important difference is that Rita survived past her 30s, when her career began to flounder. Marilyn died relatively young, under mysterious and tragic circumstances, her career in a tailspin. Though Hayworth died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, short of her 69th birthday, she went on to have a full life and career by comparison.
Born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918 in New York City, Rita was trained as a dancer by her father Eduardo, eventually appearing on stage with him. Mature-looking for her age, she was discovered by Hollywood while still a teenager, appearing in Dante’s Infernoin 1935 as Rita Cansino. It was during the making of this film that Fox signed her to a 7-year contract. After Fox merged with 20th Century, Darryl Zanuck dropped her contract, reportedly after she refused his advances.
Tired of playing stereotyped Latino roles, Rita made the decision to use her own savings to get a nose job. Columbia’s Harry Cohn signed her to a 7-year contract and changed her last name to Hayworth, her mother’s maiden name. A change in hair style and color was the final piece of the puzzle. Her popularity grew starting in 1941 with You’ll Never Get Rich (the first of her two films with Fred Astaire, who said she was his favorite dancing partner) and The Strawberry Blonde, and culminated with Gilda in 1946. It was during this time that she married and divorced Edward Judson and Orson Welles, with whom she made The Lady From Shanghai after their divorce. In 1949, she married Price Ali Khan after becoming pregnant with her daughter Yasmin. She made no films between 1948 and 1952.
In 1953 she was divorced from Prince Ali and began making films once again, including some of her best performances, such as Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and They Came to Cordura (1959). But her early-onset Alzheimers symptoms, along with the effects of excessive drinking (which was blamed for all her symptoms, due to the ignorance about Alzheimers at the time), had already begun to have an impact on her work by the early 60s. She had difficulty memorizing her lines, and was increasingly hostile and argumentative. By the time she made her last film, Wrath of God (1971), she had to be cued for every line. Rita was finally diagnosed with Alzheimers in 1981, and her daughter Yasmin cared for her until her death in 1987.
In the final analysis, even though classic film fans are usually interested in the lives of their favorite stars, it’s really the films that are the most important thing. So when it comes to little Margarita Cansino and the fictional person she became, we’ll always have Gilda.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Photos, Art, and Posters