Her sexy, glamorous appeal was most noted in Charles Vidor’s film noir Gilda (1946) with Glenn Ford, which caused censors some consternation.
Under the Pampas Moon
Charlie Chan in Egypt
Piernas de seda
Meet Nero Wolfe
Hit the Saddle
Trouble in Texas
Criminals of the Air
Girls Can Play
The Game That Kills
Life Begins with Love
Paid to Dance
Who Killed Gail Preston?
There’s Always a Woman
The Renegade Ranger
The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt
Music in My Heart
Blondie on a Budget
Susan and God
The Lady in Question
Angels Over Broadway
You’ll Never Get Rich
My Gal Sal
You Were Never Lovelier
Tonight and Every Night
Down to Earth
The Loves of Carmen
Miss Sadie Thompson
Fire Down Below
They Came to Cordura
The Story on Page One
The Happy Thieves
The Money Trap
Road to Salina
The Naked Zoo
The Wrath of God
Rita Hayworth was never nominated for an Academy Award.
Rita Hayworth was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 17, 1918 as Margarita Carmen Cansino, the oldest child of two dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, Sr., was from Castilleja de la Cuesta, a little town near Seville, Spain. Her mother, Volga Hayworth, was an American of Irish-English descent who had performed with the Ziegfeld Follies. The couple married in 1917. They also had two sons: Eduardo Cansino, Jr. and Vernon Cansino.
Margarita’s father wanted her to become a professional dancer, while her mother hoped she would become an actress.
She attended dance classes every day for a few years in a Carnegie Hall complex, where she was taught by her uncle Angel Cansino. She performed publicly from the age of six. In 1926 at the age of eight, she was featured in La Fiesta, a short film for Warner Bros.
In 1927, her father took the family to Hollywood. He believed that dancing could be featured in the movies and that his family could be part of it. He established his own dance studio, where he taught such stars as James Cagney and Jean Harlow. During the Great Depression, he lost all his investments as commercial interest in his dancing classes waned.
In 1931, Eduardo Cansino partnered with his 12-year-old daughter to form an act called the Dancing Cansinos. Since under California law Margarita was too young to work in nightclubs and bars, her father took her with him to work across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. In the early 1930s, it was a popular tourist spot for people from Los Angeles. Because she was working, Cansino never graduated from high school, but she completed the ninth grade at Hamilton High in Los Angeles.
Cansino (Hayworth) took a bit part in the film Cruz Diablo (1934) at age 16, which led to another bit part in the film In Caliente (1935) with the Mexican actress Dolores del Río. She danced with her father in such nightspots as the Foreign and the Caliente clubs. Winfield Sheehan, the head of the Fox Film Corporation, saw her dancing at the Caliente Club and quickly arranged for Hayworth to do a screen test a week later. Impressed by her screen persona, Sheehan signed her for a short-term, six-month contract at Fox, under the name Rita Cansino, the first of two name changes during her film career.
In late 1934, aged 16, she performed a dance sequence in the Spencer Tracy film Dante’s Inferno (1935), and was put under contract in February 1935. She had her first speaking role as an Argentinian girl in Under the Pampas Moon (1935). She played an Egyptian girl in Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), and a Russian dancer in Paddy O’Day (1935). Sheehan was grooming her for the lead in the 1936 Technicolor film Ramona, hoping to establish her as Fox Film’s new Dolores del Río.
By the end of her six-month contract, Fox had merged into 20th Century Fox, with Darryl F. Zanuck serving as the executive producer. Dismissing Sheehan’s interest in her and giving Loretta Young the lead in Ramona, Zanuck did not renew Cansino’s contract. Sensing her screen potential, salesman and promoter Edward C. Judson, with whom she would elope in 1937, got freelance work for her in several small-studio films and a part in the Columbia Pictures feature Meet Nero Wolfe (1936). Studio head Harry Cohn signed her to a seven-year contract and tried her out in small roles.
Cohn argued that her image was too Mediterranean, which reduced her opportunities to being cast in “exotic” roles that were fewer in number. He was heard to say her last name sounded too Spanish. Judson acted on Cohn’s advice: Rita Cansino became Rita Hayworth when she adopted her mother’s maiden name, to the consternation of her father. With a name that emphasized her British-American ancestry, people were more likely to regard her as a classic “American”.
Hayworth appeared in five minor Columbia pictures and three minor independent movies in 1937. The following year, she appeared in five Columbia B movies. In 1939, Cohn pressured director Howard Hawks to use Hayworth for a small but important role as a man-trap in the aviation drama Only Angels Have Wings, in which she played opposite Cary Grant and Jean Arthur.
With this film’s box-office success, fan mail for Hayworth began pouring into Columbia’s publicity department. Cohn began to see Hayworth as his first and official new star. The studio never officially had stars under contract, except for Jean Arthur, who was trying to break with it.
Cohn began to build up Hayworth in 1940 in features such as Music in My Heart, The Lady in Question, and Angels Over Broadway. That year, she was first featured in a Life magazine cover story. Cohn loaned Hayworth to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to appear in Susan and God opposite Joan Crawford. While on loan to Warner Bros., Hayworth appeared as the second female lead in The Strawberry Blonde (1941), opposite James Cagney. Because the film was a big box-office success, Hayworth’s popularity rose and she immediately became one of Hollywood’s hottest actresses. So impressed was Warner Bros., they tried to buy Hayworth’s contract from Columbia, but Cohn refused to release her.
Her success led to a supporting role in Blood and Sand (1941) opposite Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell with Fox, the studio that had dropped her six years before. In one of her most notable screen roles, Hayworth played Doña Sol des Muire, the first of many screen sirens.
She returned in triumph to Columbia Pictures and was cast in the musical You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) opposite Fred Astaire in one of the highest-budgeted films Columbia had ever made. The picture was so successful, the studio produced and released another Astaire-Hayworth picture the following year, You Were Never Lovelier. Although Astaire made 10 films with Ginger Rogers, his other main dancing partner, Hayworth’s sensuality surpassed Rogers’s cool technical expertise.
In August 1941, Hayworth was featured in an iconic Life photo in which she posed in a negligee with a black lace bodice. Bob Landry’s photo made Hayworth one of the top two pin-up girls of the World War II years; the other was Betty Grable, in a 1943 photograph. For two years, Hayworth’s photograph was the most requested pin-up photograph in circulation. In 2002, the satin nightgown Hayworth wore for the photo sold for $26,888.
Hayworth had top billing in one of her best-known films, the Technicolor musical Cover Girl, released in 1944. The film established her as Columbia’s top star of the 1940s, and it gave her the distinction of being the first of only six women to dance on screen with both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.
For three consecutive years, starting in 1944, Hayworth was named one of the top movie box-office attractions in the world. She was adept in ballet, tap, ballroom, and Spanish routines. Cohn continued to showcase Hayworth’s dance talents. Columbia featured her in the Technicolor films Tonight and Every Night (1945) with Lee Bowman and Down to Earth (1947) with Larry Parks.
Her sexy, glamorous appeal was most noted in Charles Vidor’s film noir Gilda (1946) with Glenn Ford, which caused censors some consternation. The role, in which Hayworth wore black satin and performed a legendary one-glove striptease, “Put The Blame On Mame”, made her into a cultural icon as a femme fatale.
Hayworth’s performance in Welles’s 1947 film The Lady from Shanghai was critically acclaimed. The film’s failure at the box office was attributed in part to Hayworth’s famous red hair being cut short and bleached platinum blonde for the role. Cohn had not been consulted and was furious that Hayworth’s image was changed.
Also in 1947, Hayworth was featured in a Life cover story by Winthrop Sargeant that resulted in her being nicknamed “The Love Goddess”. The term was adopted and used later as the title of a biopic and of a biography about her.
Her next film, The Loves of Carmen (1948) with Glenn Ford, was the first film co-produced by Columbia and Hayworth’s production company, The Beckworth Corporation (named for Rebecca, her daughter with Welles). It was Columbia’s biggest moneymaker that year. She received a percentage of the profits from this and all her subsequent films until 1954, when she dissolved Beckworth to pay off debts.
In 1948, at the height of her fame, Hayworth traveled to Cannes and was introduced to Prince Aly Khan. They began a year-long courtship, and were married on May 27, 1949. Hayworth left Hollywood and sailed for France, breaking her contract with Columbia.
Because Hayworth was already one of the most well-known celebrities in the world, the courtship and the wedding received enormous press coverage around the world. Because she was still legally married to second husband Orson Welles, Hayworth also received some negative backlash for her courtship with the prince, causing some American fans to boycott her pictures. The wedding marked the first time a Hollywood actress became a princess. On December 28, 1949, Hayworth gave birth to the couple’s only daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.
Though Hayworth was anxious to start a new life abroad, away from Hollywood, Aly Khan’s flamboyant lifestyle and duties proved too difficult for Hayworth. She struggled to fit in with his friends, and found it difficult to learn French. Aly Khan was also known in circles as a playboy, and it was suspected that he had been unfaithful to Hayworth during the marriage.
In 1951, Hayworth set sail with her two daughters for New York. Although the couple did reconcile for a short time, they officially divorced in 1953.
After the collapse of her marriage to Khan, Rita Hayworth was forced to return to Hollywood to star in her “comeback” picture, Affair in Trinidad (1952) which again paired her with Glenn Ford. Director Vincent Sherman recalled that Hayworth seemed “rather frightened at the approach of doing another picture”. She continued to clash with Columbia boss Harry Cohn, and was placed on suspension during filming. Nevertheless, the picture was highly publicized. The picture ended up grossing $1 million more than her previous blockbuster, Gilda.
She continued to star in a string of successful pictures. In 1953, she had two films released: Salome with Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger, and Miss Sadie Thompson with José Ferrer and Aldo Ray. Her performance in the latter film won critical acclaim.
She was off the big screen for another four years, mainly because of a tumultuous marriage to the singer Dick Haymes. During her marriage to Haymes, she was involved in much negative publicity, which significantly lessened her appeal. By the time she returned to the screen for Fire Down Below (1957) with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak had become Columbia’s top female star. Her last musical was Pal Joey (1957) with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. After this film, Hayworth left Columbia for good.
She received good reviews for her performance in Separate Tables (1958), with Burt Lancaster and David Niven, and The Story on Page One (1960) with Anthony Franciosa. She continued working throughout the 1960s. In 1962, her planned Broadway debut in Step on a Crack was cancelled for undisclosed health reasons. The Money Trap (1964) paired her, for the last time, with good friend Glenn Ford. She continued to act in films until the early 1970s. She made a well-publicized 1971 television appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. Her last film was The Wrath of God (1972).
In March 1974, both of her brothers died within a week of each other, which caused her great sadness and led to heavy drinking. In January 1976 at London’s Heathrow Airport, Hayworth was removed from a TWA flight after having an angry outburst while traveling with her agent. The event attracted much negative publicity; a disturbing photograph was published in newspapers the next day. Hayworth’s alcoholism hid symptoms of what was eventually understood to be Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease had been largely forgotten by the medical community since its discovery in 1906. Medical historian Barron H. Lerner wrote that when Hayworth’s diagnosis was made public in 1981, she became “the first public face of Alzheimer’s, helping to ensure that future patients did not go undiagnosed…Unbeknownst to her, Hayworth helped to destigmatize a condition that can still embarrass victims and their families.”
In July 1981, Hayworth’s health had deteriorated to the point that a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that she should be placed under the care of her daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan of New York City. Hayworth lived in an apartment at The San Remo on Central Park West adjoining that of her daughter, who arranged for her mother’s care during her final years.
Rita Hayworth lapsed into a semi-coma in February 1987. She died at age 68 from complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease three months later on May 14, 1987, at her home in Manhattan.
A funeral service was held on May 18, 1987, at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Pallbearers included actors Ricardo Montalbán, Glenn Ford, Don Ameche, agent Budd Burton Moss, and the choreographer Hermes Pan. She was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.