For one shining moment in the fabric of time, the very lovely Rita Hayworth came the closest anyone in America had ever come to truly living the Cinderella dream that thrived within every little girl’s heart of hearts.
Her Latino Origins
The world knew her by her stage name–a quite common practice for the Hollywood times, but her family first knew her as Margarita Carmen Cansino. Born and raised in Brooklyn till 8 years of age when her family relocated to Hollywood, her parents were both career dancers, and her grandfather, a celebrated Spanish dancer began teaching her to dance when she was 3 years old. With the depression, Hayworth’s father could no longer exist on providing dance instruction to Hollywood stars, and he came up with a father-daughter act that would become a stellar success. As “The Dancing Cansinos,” they performed in nightclubs, and at a Tijuana nightclub, a Fox Studios talent scout was prompted to sign her–as Rita Consuelo–to a six-month contract. The arrangement proved to be nothing beyond a flash in the pan, and at the end of the six months, she was let go.
Marriage, and the “Rita-Rebirth”
At 18 years of age, she eloped with Edward Judson, an older man who became her agent, finding a succession of bit parts eventually leading to a 1937 screen test with Columbia Pictures, where she was typecast in a succession of small roles as an exotic, Latina dancer. Someone at Columbia saw potential that, with some strategic de-Latinization, gave Hayworth-then-Cansino an entirely new image. Her widow’s peak was removed by electrolysis and her black Latino hair was dyed flaming red. Thus, Rita Hayworth was born. And in a totally unprecedented and “un-Hollywood style” move, Columbia–rather than attempting to cover up the transformation–actually made sure the world knew about it. Columbia Pictures collaborated with a variety of publicity sources and periodicals, sharing details of her metamorphosis, including dieting, receiving voice lessons, her hair color change, acting instruction and from that point on, she was never seen in public again without being glamorously dressed, made up and hair perfectly done, from head to toe.
kate gabrielle/ flickr.com
Hayworth became the one and only all-glamor girl of the age, appearing on the covers of Time and Life magazines, and as the top WWII pinup girl. She left her abusive husband who had spent all of her money and married (the then, more average-sized and tolerable) Orson Welles, with whom she had a daughter. It seemed to the public that the couple was doing the whole “happily ever after” bit until 1947, when Welles directed and costarred with wife Hayworth in The Lady of Shanghai, in a move he seemed to make with no other intent but to “shanghai” Hayworth of everything contributing to her success. He cut off her gorgeously curled auburn hair, had it dyed stale blonde and ensured that the film removed her most lauded skills–dancing diva with bounce and fluid movement. These qualities were the very reasons compelling audiences to flock in huge droves to everything Rita Hayworth, whether in motion pictures or print. He tried to ruin her.
She left the cad, citing that she could not live any longer with his genius, and next came Prince Aly Khan (reputed to be “one of the world’s greatest lovers,”) whose father ruled the “world’s Ismaili Muslims” and was enmeshed in opulence in every direction. Still legally married to the mother of his two sons, but separated, he and Hayworth instantly began a tumultuous love affair. This was a time when Hayworth’s involvement with a still-married man–while she was still married herself was scandalous behavior, but before the love affair was able to pick up ruinous steam, the two became legally divorced, free to remarry and were consequently wed. Now Princess by marriage, the baby girl Yasmin, born to the new couple–7 months after the wedding–hmmm–was a born royal. Prince Aly did it with her, and he eventually did it to her, this time with American actress Joan Fontaine, prompting Hayworth to divorce him.
Hayworth went on to marry two more times, to men who were parasitic failures, forcing her to live a life of abject poverty and regret. It began to become obvious that Alzheimer’s had claimed the beloved Hayworth, who was relegated to the care of her Princess daughter and lived out the rest of her days across from Central Park West. She was once asked how it felt to have everything, to which she replied, “I haven’t had everything from life–I’ve had too much.” We loved ya, Margarita-Rita.