Now, about that five-year-marriage of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, the second of her five trips to the altar, the second of his three.
Was it the inevitable result of his uncontrollable lust for then American’s favorite pinup? Was it a calculated career move on her part — a chance to step up in Hollywood respectability as the wife of the film colony’s newly declared wunderkind, just two years away from Citizen Kane?
It couldn’t have been a love match. Or, was it?
Rita, the former Margarita Cansino, came from a show business family and was given dance lessons from the moment she could walk. By 14 she was her demanding dad’s dancing partner, working hard to meet his professional expectations. It wasn’t Columbia Pictures (where she eventually flourished) that discovered her, it was rival studio Fox in the form of production head, Winfield Sheehan, who found her dancing at a casino-resort in Baja California.
The Columbia connection was secured by Margarita’s first husband, Edward Judson, whom she married in 1937 when she was 18 and he 40 (her father was furious). Columbia changed her surname to Hayworth.
A new authority figure in Rita’s life was the most notorious of the old studio bosses, Columbia’s Harry Cohn. He took little notice of his future star early on — except to repeatedly chase her around his office desk — even after she had her hair dyed from her natural black to auburn, and endured a painful uplifting of her hairline through electrolysis.
It wasn’t until Rita made the most of her small, wifely role in Howard Hawks’ 1939 Only Angels Have Wings that it began to dawn on the studio brass what they had in Hayworth.
Credit Hawks for his advice at the time to the Columbia supremo: If you’re smart, the director told Cohn, you won’t do anything with her until the picture comes out. No other movies, no publicity, nothing. Just wait until the public sees her. Then you’ll know what you’ve got…. Cohn quickly found out.
By the time she wed Welles, on Sept. 7, 1943, Hayworth was a young star in demand — getting top billing with Charles Boyer in Tales of Manhattan, and dancing with Fred Astaire in You’ll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier.
Welles was the boy genius from Kenosha, Wisconsin who skipped Harvard to graduate from success to success in New York theater and radio before directing at the age of 25 what is widely considered the best movie ever made anywhere.
But their marriage didn’t work. I fucked around on everyone. And that’s hard on a girl, very hard, Welles confessed in the remarkable recent book, the newly-published My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles (Henry Holt and Company, Metropolitan Books).
The conversations (from 1983 through 1985, the year Welles died) took place at the then popular Los Angeles restaurant Ma Maison, were recorded with Welles’ consent by his friend, actor-director-writer Jaglom, and edited decades later by Peter Biskind.
And she’d been so wonderful to me, absolutely wonderful. When I almost died of hepatitus, she spent five months with me while I recovered. And she never did anything except take care of me…
I loved her, yeah. Very much…I would have stayed with her till she died. There was nobody else who would have taken care of her like I would.
According to Welles, Rita left him about the time that the pair teamed up in Columbia’s The Lady of Shanghai because she was deeply suspicious of everybody. She had been so terribly hurt in her life, she wouldn’t believe that I would not do that to her. So she threw me out. I was devastated,
The picture at top is Errol Flynn and his then wife helping Rita and Orson celebrate her birthday.