Rita Hayworth was the epitome of Hollywood glitz and one of the most glamorous women of all time.
Margarita Carmen Cansino, an actress and dancer, was born on October 17, 1918, and rose to fame during Hollywood’s golden age, starring in movies such as “Strawberry Blonde” in 1941) and “Tales of Manhattan” in 1942.
The actress, a Spanish-born performer whose mother was an American dancer, was considered “too exotic” for mainstream roles in her early career. She began using Hayworth (her mother’s maiden name) as her last name on the advice of her manager and first husband, Edward Judson. Hayworth’s naturally dark hair was suggested to be dyed a lighter auburn brown by Judson.
Hayworth’s first film role was in 1935’s “Under the Pampas Moon,” but it wasn’t until 1939’s “Only Angels Have Wings” that she became a household name. After a photograph of her garbed in lingerie was disclosed in Life magazine in 1941, Hayworth became one of the country’s most famous pinups; the publication soon dubbed Hayworth “The Love Goddess.”
The star is best remembered for her role in the film “Gilda,” where she played one of cinema’s most famous femme fatales. Hayworth appeared in more than 60 films throughout her long career, the last of which was 1972’s “The Wrath of God.” The actress died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1987, at the age of 68.
Hayworth exhibited timeless beauty and glamour in every role she played, and her legacy lives on today.
The Making of Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth had to overcome her waistline and hairline and her ethnicity to become a Hollywood icon and star.
Hayworth was born Margarita Cansino, but when she arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s, she underwent a complete makeover that isolated all traces of her ethnicity. While it appeared that Hayworth had strayed from her true identity, this was far from the case.
Rather than abandoning her past, Hayworth remained Margarita Cansino throughout her career, and her ethnicity helped her achieve stardom by allowing her to combine sex appeal and wholesomeness.
It wasn’t easy to become Rita Hayworth. Cansino had to stick to a strict diet and follow a strenuous exercise regimen. Sadly, she was persuaded to abandon her birth name and undergo painful electrolysis for two years to change her dark, low hairline.
However, the new star’s contemporary stories about Rita Hayworth did not obscure the woman behind the star. Rather, they juxtaposed photographs of Cansino, the Hispanic “before,” with photographs of Hayworth, the immaculately groomed star.
As a result, Hayworth’s appeal was always based on her ability to transform. She was cast as someone deserving of years of hard work and investment, whose ambition catapulted her past what Hollywood deemed her “flaws,” and who still had genuine appeal despite being completely fabricated. This paradox still exists today: we want to know that celebrities are just like us despite their wealth and fame.
Hayworth had to transcend not only her hairline and waistline but also her ethnicity, even though her ethnicity was used to indicate that she was a genuine star worth discovering through years of meticulous production. One of her most perplexing characteristics is that she can be perused as ethnic or American, and also ethnic and thus American.
Hayworth was idolized as both an “ethnic” and a “white” body capable of playing a variety of interchangeably “foreign” film roles. Similarly, Hayworth acted in roles that were both wholesome and sexy, presumably as a result of Hollywood’s tolerance for her ethnicity and her new identity as a virtuous white woman to be cherished and protected.
The Hayworth paradox provides an opportunity to explore what ethnicity means for movie stars, whether ignored or created by Hollywood. Perhaps Hayworth/Cansino made it because of who she was, rather than despite who she was.
Rita Hayworth in Films
Many of the star’s major works are currently available for rental or streaming on the internet. There are channels dedicated to a fantastic collection of Hayworth films from the 1930s to the late 1950s.
One of her first significant roles following the transformation was in Howard Hawks’ 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings, in which she plays a wonderful supporting role. It was a hit at the time, and it helped Rita establish herself as one of Columbia’s brilliant new stars. She was already fronting star vehicles established around her magnetic presence a year later.
Rita was particularly talented in musicals, even though her singing has always been dubbed. Her pairings with Fred Astaire in You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942) are delightful forms of musical romcoms at their best.
Many years later, Astaire would namedrop Hayworth as his favorite on-screen dance partner. You only need to look at a few minutes of their performances to see why, because she is magnificent. At the same time, Hayworth was also thrown in more dramatic roles, often as seductive temptresses.
Her breathy line deliveries sound like a real intro to the archetype Marilyn Monroe would perfect a decade later in the bleak 1940s proto-noir Angels Over Broadway.
Hayworth’s best decade was the 1940s, even though the shy actress resented the attention. One of the biggest surprises is how different this starlet seems to be from her vixen public persona. Hayworth’s on-screen preternatural sexual confidence was a masterful piece of acting that always looked effortless.
The filmmakers who collaborated with her noticed the contrast between the celebrity and the woman. On the one hand, comedies like Down to Earth and Cover Girl, in which Hayworth plays a Greek goddess, capture the impossible attractive force of her screen presence. It was as if the sun split through deep grey clouds when she smiled in those cinematic trinkets, warming the very soul.
On the other hand, Hayworth was capable of finding depths of unease beneath the surface-level sensuality when playing apparent Femme Fatales like Chris Emery of Affair in Trinidad or Gilda. Her temptresses are always more complicated than they appear, resenting or weaponizing their desirability on the inside.
The Lady of Shanghai, directed by Orson Welles, is particularly ruthless in its dissection of her star persona, giving the actress one of the juiciest roles of her career. Hayworth’s talents became especially useful when noirs gave rise to moralistic tales of castigated libertines like Salomé or Miss Sadie Thompson in the 1950s. She’s frequently the only aspect of those films that can be tolerated.