Margarita Carmen Cansino, or more popularly known as Rita Hayworth, was an American actress, dancer, and producer. She was one of the most popular stars in the 1940s and has appeared in 61 films over 37 years. Rita Hayworth was referred to as “The Love Goddess” after she became the most glamorous screen idol of the 1940s. During the Second World War, she was the top pin-up girl for GIs.
Rita Hayworth is best known for her performance in Gilda, a 1946 film noir, where she played the femme fatale. It was also her very first major dramatic role. In addition to that, she also became popular with her performances in Only Angels Have Wings in 1939, The Lady from Shanghai in 1947, Pal Joey in 1957, and more. She was also among the top 25 female motion picture stars of all time in the survey done by the American Film Institute.
Rita Hayworth was born in Brooklyn, New York. She was the oldest child of two dancers. Her father was from Castilleja de la Cuesta in Spain. Her mother, on the other hand, was an American of Irish and English descent who performed with the Ziegfeld Follies. She also had two brothers named Eduardo and Vernon.
Hayworth’s father wanted her to become a professional dancer, while her mother hoped that she would become an actress. Her paternal grandfather was also a popular classical Spanish dancer who popularized the bolero. He also had a world-famous dancing school in Madrid. According to Hayworth, when she turned three and a half, she was given dance lessons which she did not like very much. However, she did not have the courage to tell her father. That’s why she began taking the lessons.
She attended dance classes daily for a few years. Before she turned five, she was among the Four Cansinos introduced in the Broadway production of The Greenwich Village. At the age of eight, in 1926, she was featured in a short film for Warner Bros. called La Fiesta.
In 1947, their whole family went to Hollywood as her father believed that dancing could be featured in the movies. He established a dance studio where he taught stars like Jean Harlow and James Cagney. In 1931, Rita Hayworth and her dad partnered to form an act called the Dancing Cansinos. Based on California law during that time, she was too young to work at bars and nightclubs. With this, her father took her to Tijuana, Mexico. Due to her work, she was not able to finish her studies.
At the age of 16, Rita took a big part in the 1934 film Cruz Diablo, which lead to another part in the 1935 film In Caliente. She also danced with her father in nightspots like the Foreign and the Caliente Club, where the head of the Fox Film Corporation watched her. He arranged for her to do a screen test the following week. Due to her impressing screen personal, the head of Fox Film Corporation signed her for a six-month contract at Fox, using the name Rita Cansino, which was the first of two-name changes during her film career.
During Rita’s time at Fox, she appeared in unremarkable roles and was often cast as the exotic foreigner. In 1935, she had her first speaking role as an Argentinian girl in the film Under the Pampas Moon. She also played as an Egyptian girl in Charlie Chan in Egypt and a Russian dancer in Paddy O’Day in the same year.
By the end of her contract, Fox had merged into 20th Century Fox, with Darryl F. Zanuck as the executive producer. Her contract was not renewed. But her screen potential was sensed by Edward C. Judson, salesman, and promoter. He got freelance work for her in some small-studio films and got her a part in the Columbia Pictures in the film Meet Nero Wolfe in 1936. The studio head named Harry Cohn signed her to a seven-year contract where she got small roles.
Peak Years at Columbia
Rita Hayworth had top billing in one of her popular films released in 1944, the Technicolor musical called Cover Girl. It was the film that established her as one of the top stars of Columbia in the 1940s. In addition to that, it also gave her the distinction of being the first of only six women to dance on screen with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
From 1944 to 1947, Hayworth was named one of the top movie box-office attractions in the world. Her dance talents were also showcased continuously in her filmography. She was also featured in the Technicolor films Tonight and Every Night in 1945 and Down to Earth in 1947.
It was in the film noir Gilda in 1946 where her sexy, glamorous appeal was most noted. While the film was in release, it was broadly reported that an atomic bomb, which was planned to be tested at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands, would bear an image of Rita, a reference to her bombshell status. Even though the gesture was certainly meant as praise, she was extremely offended.
Rita Hayworth’s performance in the 1947 film The Lady from Shanghai was critically acclaimed. In the same year, she was featured in a Life cover story where she was nicknamed “The Love Goddess.” The term was later on used as the title of a biopic and of a biography about her.
Rita Hayworth had a long-term relationship with Glenn Ford, which began during the filming of Gilda in 1945. Their relationship was documented in Glenn Ford: a Life, which is a biography published in 2011 by Ford’s son, Peter Ford. Based on that book, his father got Hayworth pregnant during the filming of The Loves of Carmen, and she traveled to France to get an abortion. In 1960, Ford moved next door to her in Beverly Hills, and they continued their relationship until the early 1980s.
When Rita Hayworth was 18, she married Edward C. Judson in Las Vegas. They got divorced in 1945, which was filed by Rita with a complaint of cruelty.
In 1943, she married Orson Welles. None of her social group knew about the planned wedding until she announced it the day before. However, their relationship also did not work, and they got divorced in 1947.
Rita Hayworth left her film career in 1948 to marry Prince Aly Khan, which was the son of Sultan Mahommed Shah, Agan Khan III, who is the leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. They got married in 1949. However, in 1951, she filed for divorce from Khan on the grounds of extreme mental cruelty. The divorce was granted in 1953.’
After her marriage with Khan ended, she got married twice. One was with Dick Haymes, who was desperate for money, and Rita ended up paying most of his debts. The other one was James Hill, a film producer, who she married in 1958. However, they also got divorced in 1961.
When she was married to Orson Welles, Rita confided that her father began to sexually abuse her as a child. The abuse she experienced as a child contributed a lot to her difficulty in relationships as an adult.
Health and Death
At the age of 52, Hayworth wanted to retire from acting. However, she can’t as she needed money. With this, she agreed to film The Wrath of God. The experience in filming the movie exposed her poor health and her worsening mental state. She could not remember her lines. With this, her scenes were shot one line at a time. After that, she did one more movie, which was The Tales That Witnessed Madness, but she left the set and never returned to acting.
Based on a biographer, Rita Hayworth aged prematurely due to her dependence on alcohol and also because of the many problems in her life. In February 1987, Rita Hayworth lapsed into a semi-coma. She died from complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 68 on May 14, 1987, in Manhattan.
Glamorous Facts About Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth was indeed one of the most popular stars in the 1940s. She was a very talented star and a really good actress. Here are some of the interesting facts about her:
- Rita Hayworth was well-known for her red hair. However, her natural hair color was dark brown.
- She was the very first Hollywood actress to become a princess when she married Prince Aly Khan.
- Rita shortly attempted a stage career in 1971. However, she gave the idea away when it became apparent that she can’t memorize her lines.
- Rita Hayworth’s real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. She was born on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York. Early on in her acting career, she changed her last name to Hayworth on the advice of her first husband and manager, Edward Judson.
- Princess Yasmin, Rita’s daughter, took care of her after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She used her mother’s condition as a catalyst for growing awareness of the disease. In 1985, she helped organize Alzheimer’s Disease International and eventually directed the group as its president.