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Rita Hayworth Biography


Home > Actresses > H > Hayworth, Rita > Biography


Birth Name: Rita Hayworth
Born: 10/17/1918
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Death Place: New York City, New York, USA
Died: 05/14/1987


Born Margarita Carmen Cansino on Oct. 17, 1918 in Brooklyn, NY to parents Eduardo Cansino, a Spanish dancer and vaudeville performer, and Volga Hayworth, a dancer of Irish descent who performed in the Ziegfeld Follies, Hayworth grew up in New York surrounded by the glitzy world of showbiz. Raised as a dancer from an early age, Hayworth was performing on stage with her family by the age of six and, as a child, appeared alongside her parents in the 1926 short films, "La Fiesta" and "Anna Case with the Dancing Cansinos." Moving west to Hollywood when Hayworth was 8, the Cansinos opened a dance school near the corner of Sunset and Vine and Eduardo found work as a choreographer for Hollywood films. Joining her parents' stage act, the Dancing Cansinos, at the age of 13, Hayworth performed with the Spanish dancing troupe in numerous productions, including shows across the border in Mexico and on gambling boats parked off the shore. Beneath the surface of the Cansino's show business family, however, there were dark secrets playing out. As a teenager, Hayworth often appeared in public as her father's dance partner. Reports later surfaced that Hayworth had been subject to sexual and physical abuse by her father throughout her childhood - information divulged by Hayworth's second husband, Orson Welles, during interviews for a Hayworth book. It was this betrayal by her father which would ultimately set in stone Hayworth's inability to find love with a man who truly loved her; instead, moving often from one controlling tyrant to the next.

Despite any personal troubles, it was Hayworth's vibrant dancing that would soon catch the eye of Fox studio executives. Offered a contract at the age of 16, Hayworth made her feature film debut under the name Rita Cansino as a dancer in the Fox film, "Dante's Inferno" (1935), which her father also choreographed. As the dark, ethnic-looking Rita Cansino, she went on to appear in a number of forgettable films including, "Under the Pampas Moon" (1935) and "Human Cargo" (1936).

Perhaps in some effort to escape from her father's stifling clutches, Hayworth eloped at the age of 18, marrying the much older - and just as controlling - Texas oil-man, Edward Judson in 1937. Acting as Hayworth's manager, Judson took over where Eduardo had left off and began to groom Hayworth for stardom. When his young wife's contract with Fox was not renewed, Judson negotiated a new contract for her with Columbia Pictures in 1937. While under contract with the then second tier studio, Hayworth began to go through a transformation from simple Spanish dancer to breathtaking Hollywood beauty. Now credited as Rita Hayworth, a decision made by Columbia studio head Harry Cohn, Hayworth went through a painful electrolysis procedure in order to raise her hairline and agreed to stylists turning her raven-black hair to a natural brunette hue. Appearing in her first Columbia picture, "Criminals of the Air" (1937), she went on to appear in 12 more B-films for the studio over the next two years. By 1939, she had paid enough dues that she was given a showy role in the high profile Howard Hawks film, "Only Angels Have Wings" (1939), starring Cary Grant.

As her appeal grew and Columbia execs smelled a possible star on their hands, Hayworth was cast being in more significant roles, starring alongside Glenn Ford for the first of many times in Charles Vidor's "The Lady in Question" (1940) and alongside James Cagney in the Warner Brothers film, "The Strawberry Blonde" (1941) - the first film in which a brunette Hayworth sported her trademark auburn locks. Because "The Strawberry Blonde" was shot in black and white, no one took notice of the change, but they did after the release of her next film - the Technicolor adventure, "Blood and Sand" (1941), co-starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Playing the hot-blooded temptress Dona Sol, Hayworth literally sizzled onscreen, playing mock-bull-and-matador with the philandering Powers - a man so dazzled by her charms, audiences understood why he would leave his good wife (Darnell). The role was defining for Hayworth, who moved to A-list immediately. Having loaned out Hayworth to Fox for the "Blood," Columbia snatched their girl back and held on tight.

Wanting to make their newest star all the buzz, they put her back in her element - movie musicals - and not just with anyone; with the master dancer, Fred Astaire as co-star. Hayworth's considerable dancing skills took center stage in "You'll Never Get Rich" (1941). With the success of this film, Hayworth quickly became the hottest commodity in Hollywood, landing on the cover of Time magazine, which declared her Astaire's new leading lady. Privately, the dance icon would later confess that Hayworth was his favorite dancing partner - regardless of the Ginger Rogers legend. Fresh off the success of "Rich," she was cast in her first starring role in "My Gal Sal" (1942), went on to star alongside Ginger Rogers, in "Tales of Manhattan" (1942), and re-team with Astaire in "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942). At this same time, WWII had broken out, leaving lonely GIs to plaster pictures of Hayworth and her fellow pin-up queens, Lana Turner, Veronica Lake and Betty Grable on any available surface - from their B-17 cockpits to their bunker walls. In fact, Hayworth reclining on a bed in a satin and lace negligee became the second most popular pin-up picture, behind only Betty Grable's iconic over-the-shoulder white swimsuit shot.

With her first marriage ending in divorce, Hayworth began to date hot-shot "Citizen Kane" (1941) director and actor, Orson Welles. After a short courtship, the Hollywood pair wed in September of 1943 while Hayworth was on hiatus from work. The following year Hayworth gave birth to her first child, Rebecca Welles. Returning to the screen soon after, Hayworth starred opposite Gene Kelly in "Cover Girl" (1944) - another wartime Technicolor musical - and went on to star in "Tonight and Every Night" (1945).

Re-teaming with favorite co-star Ford once again in 1946, Hayworth took on the role for which she would be most remembered - the femme fatale with a penchant for sexy double entendres and driving her men crazy with desire, Gilda. Starring in Charles Vidor's "Gilda" (1946), Hayworth lit up the screen as the sultry nightclub singer, capturing moviegoers with the first coy toss of her wavy red hair. Featuring the sexy song and dance sequence "Put the Blame on Mame," "Gilda" became a silver screen legend, cementing Hayworth's status as the ultimate Hollywood bombshell.

At the top of her game, Hayworth went on to star opposite husband Welles as possible murderess Elsa Bannister in the noir film, "The Lady from Shanghai" (1948). Prior to filming, Welles had ordered Hayworth's famous locks cut off and dyed platinum blonde - a move which infuriated Cohn. The studio head knew Hayworth's hair was her beauty calling card. Though Hayworth's performance was applauded, the film received mixed reviews and some attributed its box office failure to Hayworth's new look. The film also marked a shift in Hayworth's personal life; though she and Welles shared an on-screen chemistry in "Shanghai" - which Welles also directed - they had already separated in real life. Hayworth filed for divorced shortly after the film was shot.

After growing her hair out again by studio orders, Hayworth went on to star in the vivid Technicolor film, "The Loves of Carmen" (1948), a loose adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera. Co-produced by Hayworth's own Beckworth Corporation, the actress took on the role of producer, hiring her father to help choreograph the film's dance sequences. Audiences expecting the sizzle of "Gilda" were sadly disappointed. Unnerved by her recent film failure, Hayworth took time off from Hollywood to travel overseas and get away from it all. While in Europe, Hayworth met the charming playboy, Prince Aly Khan. After a very public courtship, Hayworth remarried for the third time - making her the first official Hollywood star-turned-real-life-princess, despite the Grace Kelly legend. The newlyweds settled in Europe, where Hayworth gave birth to her second daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, in 1949. Unfortunately, no matter how much she loved her husband, the royal lifestyle did not suit the very shy and private Hayworth. Disappointed, the actress returned to the U.S. after her split from Khan in 1951 (after a brief reconciliation they officially divorced in 1953).

Unfortunately, by the time she returned to Hollywood, her time had passed. Starring in her fourth film with Glenn Ford, Hayworth portrayed a sexy nightclub singer in the thriller, "Affair in Trinidad" (1952) - a critical bomb and more "Gilda" rehash. She followed this up with a scantily clad role in the Roman-set "Salome" (1953) and as the title role in the South Pacific-set musical, "Miss Sadie Thompson" (1953), which was originally released in 3D. Hayworth disappeared from the Hollywood screen for another three years in 1953 after another short-lived marriage, this time to Argentinean singer Dick Haymes.

Starring as a woman who comes between sailors Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, Hayworth returned to the screen in "Fire Down Below" (1957). Filming what would be her last musical - as well as her last picture under contract with Columbia - Hayworth starred in "Pal Joey" (1957) opposite Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. Knowing the studio was grooming Novak as her heir-apparent, Hayworth quietly left the studio she had put on the map and tried to find semblance of happiness in her real life. Unfortunately, like many sex symbols both before and after, true love was ever elusive. She tried her hand at marriage for the fifth and final time, marrying producer James Hill in 1958. Actively working during the marriage in order to support them both, Hayworth teamed up with Hill on the Oscar-nominated "Separate Tables" (1958) and "The Happy Thieves" (1962), though the pair later split after only three years. Hayworth went on to earn a Golden Globe nomination for her performance opposite John Wayne in "Circus World" (1964).

Though Hayworth appeared in a handful of films during the 1960's, her starring roles were long behind her. Suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease - though not officially diagnosed until 1980 - Hayworth made her final film, "The Wrath of God," in 1972. She had problems remember lines and concentrating for many years. Retiring to a secluded life away from Hollywood, Hayworth remained in the company of her youngest daughter, Yasmin, while battling her - at that time - largely misunderstood illness. Succumbing to Alzheimer's at age 68, Hayworth died on May 14, 1987.