Rita Hayworth (1918-1987)

rita hayworth
Rita Hayworth
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Rita Hayworth was a glamorous American film actress who rose to fame during the 1940's not only as a top movie star, but also as one of the great sex symbols of Hollywood's Golden Age, becoming known as "The Love Goddess".

As well as possessing great beauty, Rita Hayworth also had great dancing talent with enviable technique, as well as natural stamina and rhythm. Many felt that she was the best on-screen partner of Fred Astaire. Over her 37 year career Rita Hayworth appeared in 61 movies and is listed at number 19 in the American Film Institute's List of Greatest Stars of All Time.


She was born Margarita Carmen Dolores Cansino on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, and she was destined to be a dancer. Her father was Spanish flamenco dancer Eduardo Cansino and her grandfather was Antonio Cansino, whose dancing school in Madrid had been world-famous.

As soon as she could walk Margarita was given dancing lessons and it soon became obvious that she had great natural talent. When she was eight her family moved to Hollywood and opened a dancing school. Margarita attended Carthay Elementary School and Alexander Hamilton High School but her dancing always came first.

At thirteen but looking older she became a regular part of her parents' stage act 'The Dancing Cansinos', which performed in Tijuana and in offshore gambling ships. Her energy and burgeoning talent were apparent and after catching the eye of the vice-president of the Fox Film Corporation, she was offered a screen test and and at the age of 17 in 1935 signed a six month movie contract.

Hollywood 1935

She made her feature film debut, still under the name Rita Cansino in 'Dante's Inferno' starring Spencer Tracy in 1935 and made four other very average films with Fox. When she was 18 in 1937 Rita eloped with her first husband, businessman, Ed Judson and with his help Rita was able to sign a contract with Columbia Pictures when her Fox contract was not renewed.

Her name was changed at this time to her mother's family name of Hayworth and she began the process of transforming the alluring Latina girl into the glamorous Hollywood superstar. She followed the studio's suggestions regarding new makeup, hair color, nose reshaping and electrolysis treatment to raise her hairline.

After appearing in a number of minor 'B' movies in 1937 and 1938 Rita was offered a small but vital part in 1939 in 'Only Angels Have Wings', playing opposite major stars Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. The movie was a great success and the public clamoured for more of the beautiful redhead. Columbia continued grooming her in several minor movies in 1940 and then in 1941 loaned her out to Warner Brothers to appear in 'The Strawberry Blonde' with James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland. Again the movie was a success and Rita's stock rose even higher.

After another important supporting role in 'Blood and Sand' in 1941, Rita became a fully fledged Hollywood star later that year, with her appearance dancing with Fred Astaire in 'You'll Never Get Rich.' Her exceptional dancing was showcased again in a follow up with Astaire the following year, 'You Were Never Lovelier'. Astaire was to comment privately that Rita was his favorite dancing partner.

Hollywood Star

Rita was now one of the foremost actresses in Hollywood. She had her first leading role in 'My Gal Sal' in 1942, and co-starred with Ginger Rogers and Charles Boyer, in 'Tales of Manhattan' in the same year. With America in WWII after Pearl Harbor, Rita became one of the servicemen's most popular pin up girls, second only to Betty Grable. During the war years she made many appearances for servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen and she appeared in many of the USO troop revues.

Rita's marriage to Judson was ending and she started to date the young genius of Hollywood, the director and star of 'Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, whom she married in September, 1943.The following year she reached the peak of her fame with one of her best-known films, the musical 'Cover Girl', with Gene Kelly, in which an ordinary chorus girl is transformed before the audience's eyes into a beautiful actress and successful musical star.

Rita and Orson Welles separated in 1945 but her successes continued with 'Gilda' in 1946, the movie for which she is best remembered. She became famous as a sexual temptress by her rendition of "Put the Blame on Mame" whilst doing a "striptease". The scene was seductive enough to cause a problem with the censors although all she actually takes off is one glove. The film was a box office sensation and made Rita one of the best known stars in the world.

After another success in 1947 with 'Down To Earth', Rita starred opposite her husband, Orson Welles and gave one of her most polished performances, in the noir film 'The Lady from Shanghai' which came out in 1948. The movie is now considered a classic but it did not do well on its release, attributed in part to Rita appearing with short blonde hair instead of her trademark long auburn locks.

Her next movie was also in 1948 and was yet another success for Rita. 'The Loves of Carmen' with Glenn Ford, was the first film co-produced by Columbia together with Rita's own newly formed production company, The Beckworth Corporation and it became Columbia's biggest moneymaker for that year.

European Princess 1949

By this time Rita had become known as "The Love Goddess" and after her divorce from Welles, in 1948, her third marriage did nothing to dispel that image. In May 1949 she married Prince Ali Khan, one of the richest men in the world, and son of the Aga Khan. She settled with her new husband in Europe and in December 1949 she gave birth to Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. It appeared to be the ideal fairytale combination of Hollywood glamour and European royalty, but it did not last. The lifestyle of a royal wife did not appeal to Rita and she split from Khan in 1951 and they officially divorced in 1953.

Hollywood Return 1952

Rita returned to Hollywood with her two daughters and resumed her career. She had been away for 4 years and would never again reach those earlier dizzy heights of fame and adulation but she had not been forgotten.

She appeared in a string of movies which were all successful: 'Affair in Trinidad' in 1952 with Glenn Ford, her neighbour and favorite co-star, 'Salome' the following year with Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger, and 'Miss Sadie Thompson' also in 1953 with José Ferrer and Aldo Ray.

Rita then entered into a period of personal difficulties due mainly to her new husband, Argentine singer Dick Haymes, whom she married in September, 1953. Haymes was deeply in debt to the IRS and to his ex-wives, and Rita's world descended into a round of litigation, court appearances and physical violence from the troubled and unpredictable singer. After two stress-filled years she was granted a divorce from Haymes in December 1955.

After a break in Europe to recuperate Rita, who was still under contract to Columbia, returned to filmmaking in 1956 to star in 'Fire Down Below' with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon. In the same year she made what would be her last musical, 'Pal Joey' with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, after which she finally left Columbia after 20 years with the studio. For the fifth and final time she tried marriage again, marrying screenwriter and producer James Hill in 1958. She worked with Hill on 'Separate Tables' in 1958 with Burt Lancaster and David Niven. The movie was very successful and was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture. Rita also made 'The Happy Thieves' in 1962 with Hill but they divorced after only three years.

Career Downturn 1964

Hayworth went on to earn a Golden Globe nomination for her performance opposite John Wayne and Claudia Cardinale in "Circus World" in 1964 and in 1966 she appeared in 'The Money Trap' and 'The Poppy Is Also a Flower' but, although she made some low budget films in Europe and appeared on a number of television shows, her days as a number one star were behind her. Her appetite for filming had gone and she had serious health issues to consider.


In Hollywood Rita was known as "The Love Goddess" but she was unsuccessful in finding lasting love in her own life. She married five times, firstly in 1937 to Edward Judson, the marriage ending in divorce in 1942. The following year she married Orson Welles. They divorced in 1947, were briefly reconciled the following year when they made 'The Lady From Shanghai' together, and then separated again. They had one daughter, Rebecca Welles, born in 1944.

Rita's third marriage was in 1949, to Prince Aly Khan. She became a fairy tale princess a full seven years before Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. She and Khan had one daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan who was born in 1949. Rita and Aly divorced in 1953. In the same year Rita married singer Dick Haymes. After a troubled two years, the couple divorced in 1955.

Her fifth and final marriage was in 1958 to producer, James Hill with their divorce coming three years later.

In 1972 Rita made her last film, 'The Wrath of God'. After that her appearances in public became less frequent and it became known that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. It is likely that she had been suffering with the early stages for many years but it had been thought that her erratic behaviour and difficulty in remembering her lines was due to her acknowledged drinking problem and not disease.

In 1981 her daughter, Princess Yasmin, moved Rita into her home in New York and looked after her as the dementia took hold. Princess Yasmin has since become an active promoter of Alzheimer's awareness.

Rita Hayworth died peacefully in her daughter's apartment in Manhattan on May 14, 1987, aged 68 years.

Rita Hayworth Academy Awards

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Rita Hayworth Filmography

La fiesta (uncredited)
Cruz Diablo (uncredited)
Under the Pampas Moon (as Rita Cansino)
Charlie Chan in Egypt (as Rita Cansino)
Dante's Inferno (as Rita Cansino)
Piernas de seda (uncredited)
Hi, Gaucho! (uncredited)
Paddy O'Day (as Rita Cansino)
Professional Soldier (uncredited)
Human Cargo
Dancing Pirate (uncredited)
Meet Nero Wolfe (as Rita Cansino)
Treason (as Rita Cansino)
Old Louisiana
Hit the Saddle (as Rita Cansino)
Trouble in Texas (as Rita Cansino)
Criminals of the Air
Girls Can Play
The Game That Kills
Life Begins with Love (uncredited)
Hard to Hold
The Circus Shadow
Who Killed Gail Preston?
Special Inspector
There's Always a Woman
Juvenile Court
The Renegade Ranger
Homicide Bureau
The Lone Wolf's Daughter
Only Angels Have Wings
Music in My Heart
Blondie on a Budget
The Gay Mrs. Trexel
The Lady in Question
Angels Over Broadway
The Strawberry Blonde
Affectionately Yours
Blood and Sand
You'll Never Get Rich
My Gal Sal
Tales of Manhattan
You Were Never Lovelier
Tonight and Every Night
Down to Earth
The Lady from Shanghai
The Loves of Carmen