With all the hubub surrounding actress Grace Kelly’s fairy-tale marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 — thus ending her 11-picture movie career — classic movie fans may be forgiven for assuming that Kelly was Hollywood’s first genuine princess.
She wasn’t. Rita Hayworth was.
Hello, everybody. Mr. Joe Morella and Mr. Frank Segers here with another blog in our Rita Hayworth series. (Mrs. Norman Maine is out lunching with Prince Harry.)
In the spring of 1948 — while still separated from Orson Welles, the second of her five husbands; the divorce was final by the following December — Hayworth then 30 years old decided to take her first vacation trip to Europe.
Her super-controlling Columbia Pictures boss appreciated the publicity value of the jaunt, and gave his blessing — a miscalculation that Harry Cohn would later regret, wrote the mogul’s biographer, Bob Thomas. Rita turned to her friend, British actor David Niven, for advice on a travel schedule.
In his 1975 memoir Bring On The Empty Horses, Niven wrote: Knowing how genuinely shy and gentle she was and respecting her longing to avoid the goldfish bowl of publicity, I worked out a complicated itinerary for her starting with a small Swedish liner to Gothenburg, quiet country hotels and mountain villages all the way south and ending up in an oasis of Mediterranean calm, the Hotel La Reserve in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
Everything went beautifully according to plan and after three leisurely and peaceful weeks, she arrived radiantly relaxed at La Reserve. The champion charmer of Europe, Prince Ali Khan, saw her walk in and a new chapter was added to Hollywood history.
By the time he first laid eyes on her, Aly Khan was 37, one of the world’s most famous horsemen and jockeys, an avid socialite and a dedicated playboy. He was the son of Aga Khan III, a Persian spiritual leader who headed a worldwide branch of the Shia Muslim faith. His mother was an Italian ballet dancer, and he was raised in opulent royal style in Europe.
His romance with Rita took off quickly, and by the time they married in May of 1949, Hayworth was pregnant with the couple’s only daughter, Yasmine. Khan very much wanted the wedding ceremony to be held at L’Horizon, his pink villa in Vallauris near Cannes, and adamantly refused a Hollywood-style affair, open to the press.
Niven again: An embittered Parisian newshawk broke the deadlock. He unearthed a Provencal law from Napoleonic times which stated that no wedding could be held in private if one citizen objected. Dozens of citizens — reporters from all over France — signed the objection and the local Mayor announced that the wedding must be held in public at the Mairie (town hall).
So it was, followed by athe private reception at L’Horizon with at least 500 guests from the U.S. and Europe attending, gorging themselves on pound after pound of caviar, hundreds of bottles of champagne and a wealth of gourmet delights. The swimming pool was reportedly scented with gallons of eau de Cologne.
Columbia’s boss was furious. He had plans for Rita, and they did not include marriage to a Moslem (sic) prince, wrote Thomas in King Cohn: The Life And Times of Hollywood Mogul Harry Cohn.
Rita did not return to the screen until 1952 when she costarred with Glenn Ford in Columbia’s Affair In Trinidad, a noirish attempt to re-create the magic generated six years before in Gilda. Cohn was right. Her marriage to Aly Khan (they divorced in January 1953) did nothing to advance her movie career.
Rita’s 1953 marriage to her fourth husband, singer Dick Haymes, came about because she felt sorry for him when he came to visit her in Hawaii during the filming of ‘Miss Sadie Thompson,’ wrote Cohn biographer Bob Thomas. The trip brought him under the threat of deportation since he was an Argentine citizen (Haymes was born in 1918 in Buenos Aires) and had not notified authorities that he was traveling to an American territory. Rita married him to eliminate the possibility that he would be deported.
Soon Dick Haymes was dictating the style of Rita’s hair, her costumes in films, the kinds of roles she should play. Haymes also volunteered to produce Rita’s pictures and to costar opposite her. It was more than …Cohn could bear…
As the decade of the Fifties moved forward, Rita’s career moved in the opposite direction. Her star was fading. Her pictures were not the box office successes that earlier ones had been. It was then that the fed-up Cohn determined that “we will make a star” at Columbia.
Her name was Marilyn (aka Kim) Novak. To finish out her contract at Columbia Rita agreed to star with Frank Sinatra and Novak in Pal Joey. Hayworth still received top billing.