There never was and there never will be another movie star like Rita Hayworth.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to re-introduce Hollywood’s first real princess. Her looks sometimes overshadowed her acting talent. But in the pantheon of Hollywood sex goddesses she remains an idol.
The former Margarita Cansino came from a show business family. Her father Eduardo Cansino was from a long line of professional dancers from Seville, Spain. He and his sister had great success on Broadway and in nightclubs. He’d married a beautiful showgirl of Irish American background (Volga Haworth), and they had three children, Margarita, and two sons.
Margarita was given dance lessons from the moment she could walk. Eduardo pressed his daughter into service early, and by 14 Margarita was her demanding dad’s dancing partner, working hard to meet his professional expectations. It wasn’t Columbia Pictures 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.
By 1935, Margarita was dancing in a gambling-ship scene in Dante’s Inferno, and was subsequently offered a Fox contract paying her the tidy sum (at the time) of $200 per week demanded by her father. But then the star-to-be, Rita Cansino, then all of 17, learned a hard lesson in Hollywood politics. Her mentor Sheehan was fired, and all his projects were cancelled when a new production chief, one Darryl F. Zanuck, took over after the merger of Fox and Twentieth Century.
The connection with Columbia was secured by Margarita’s first of five husbands, Edward Judson, whom she married in 1937 when she was 18 and he 40 (her father was furious). Like most of her spouses, Judson managed and controlled her career. Columbia changed her surname Hayworth.
A new authority figure (and frequent adversary) 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, 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.
In the spring of 1948 — while still separated from Orson Welles, the second of her five husbands — Hayworth then 30 years old decided to take her first vacation trip to Europe, a winding trip via various means of transport that ended up in an oasis of Mediterranean calm, the Hotel La Reserve in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France.
That is where he first laid eyes on her — then 37-year-old Aly Khan, that is, 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.
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 their most famous teaming in the classic, 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.
Hollywood’s first princess died of Alzheimer’s disease in her New York City apartment on May 14, 1987. Her caretaker, daughter Yasmine, was there until the end.