Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Rita Hayworth
1918 - 1987

Holy Cross Cemetery

Auburn-haired bombshell actress Rita Hayworth was the daughter of Spanish dancer Eduardo Cansino and Volga Haworth, who met and married while both were performing in the Ziegfeld Follies. Hayworth made her first screen appearance when she was 8 years old, dancing with her parents in two short musicals titled "Anna Case with the Dancing Cancinos" and "La Fiesta," both released in 1926.

Hayworth became her father's dance partner when she was 14, performing at clubs in the Los Angeles area. Eduard Cansino owned a dancing school in Los Angeles, but the school was suffering during the Depression, and he hoped that a film producer would see him perform, and sign him to a contract. Winfield Sheehan, the head of production at Fox studios, saw their dance act, but only wanted Hayworth, not her father. Her first name was shortened to "Rita," and she appeared in a small role as a dancer on a gambling ship in "Dante's Inferno" (1935), starring Spencer Tracy and Claire Trevor.

Hayworth appeared as "Rita Cansino" in small roles in several more films for Fox, including "Under the Pampas Moon" (1935), "Charlie Chan in Egypt" (1935), "Paddy O'Day" (1935) and "Human Cargo" (1936), usually playing a Spanish dancer. But when Fox merged with 20th Century studios, Sheehan was replaced as head of production by Darryl Zanuck, and Hayworth was dropped by the studio.

Hayworth was hired by Columbia studios for a small role in "Meet Nero Wolfe" (1936), and she also appeared in several Westerns for smaller studios. In 1937, the 18-year-old Hayworth married 40-year-old Edward Judson, a car salesman who dedicated himself to promoting Hayworth's career. First, he brought her back to Columbia, where studio boss Harry Cohn suggested changing her last name from Cansino to Hayworth, a revised spelling of her mother's maiden name. Judson agreed, realizing that the new name might help Hayworth expand beyond her previous string of roles as Spanish dancers. The studio also suggested lightening Hayworth's hair from the natural black to an auburn color. Judson also hired a press agent, to make sure Hayworth's name appeared in gossip and society columns, and brought her to high-profile nightclubs and movie premieres.

After appearing in several supporting roles in the late 1930s, Hayworth started to attract attention with larger roles in films such as "Only Angels Have Wings" (1939) starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, "Blood and Sand" (1941) starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, and "The Strawberry Blonde" (1941) starring James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland. Hayworth returned to her dancing roots when she co-starred with Fred Astaire in "You'll Never Get Rich" (1941) and "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942), and "Cover Girl" (1944), with Gene Kelly. Hayworth had become a star, and her performance in the title role in "Gilda" (1946) made her a superstar. Hayworth plays a nightclub singer (although her singing in the film was dubbed) involved in a love triangle set in a gambling casino in Argentina. Hayworth smolders through her performance, doing a pseudo-striptease on stage while removing just one elbow-length glove.

Hayworth had a reputation for falling in love with her co-stars. After she co-starred with Victor Mature in "My Gal Sal" (1942), Hayworth and Judson separated, and she announced that she was engaged to Mature. Instead, four months after her divorce from Judson, she married director-actor Orson Welles. She followed her success in "Gilda" by co-starring with Welles in "The Lady from Shangai" (1948), but Welles decided to change Hayworth's look, cutting her hair and dying it blonde. This wasn't the Hayworth audiences wanted to see and, although the film showed flashes of Welles' creativity and brilliance, it was a failure at the box office. Six months after the film was released, Hayworth and Welles were divorced.

Before her divorce from Welles was final, Hayworth traveled to Europe, where she met and fell in love with Prince Aly Khan, the playboy son of Prince Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of millions of Moslems. Hayworth and Khan were married in 1949, and had a daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. Hayworth continued to appear in a handful of films, including "An Affair in Trinidad" (1952), and divided her time between the United States and Europe. In early 1953, Hayworth and Khan were divorced, and she returned to films, with starring roles in "Salome" (1953), "Miss Sadie Thompson" (1953) and "Pal Joey" (1957), co-starring with Frank Sinatra and the woman who would replace her as the queen of Columbia studios, Kim Novak. Hayworth also married again, to singer Dick Haymes in 1953, but they divorced two years later.

Hayworth played a supporting role in "Separate Tables" (1958), and married the film's co-producer, James Hill. They were divorced three years later. By the early 1960s, film roles were few and far between for Hayworth, who was also beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's disease. Her final screen appearance was in "The Wrath of God" (1972), a Western starring Robert Mitchum.

Hayworth attempted to revive her career in early 1972 with stage performances, but she was unable to remember her lines. In her final years, increasingly suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease, Hayworth was cared for by her daughter, Princess Yasmin Khan. Even before her mother's death in 1987, Princess Yasmin Khan has become an internationally known spokeswoman and active fund-raiser to increase awareness and finance research to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Hayworth's grave marker includes the inscription, "To yesterday's companionship and tomorrow's reunion."

Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on Oct. 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, NY. She died on May 14, 1987, in New York City, NY.

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