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Who is Rita Hayworth?

Rita Hayworth was a silver screen icon, enchanting audiences with her radiant beauty and captivating performances. A star of Hollywood's Golden Age, she became a symbol of glamour and a powerful actress whose legacy endures. Her life story is a tapestry of fame, romance, and resilience. How did she capture a generation's imagination? Let's uncover her timeless allure together.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Rita Hayworth (1918-1987) was a well known Hollywood sex symbol, dancer, and actress, who starred most famously in Gilda (1946). She is often compared with Marilyn Monroe, her blonde counterpart, and captivated the imagination of American men during her varied film career. While on screen, Rita Hayworth projected a confident, secure woman who embodied the screen goddess ideal of the 1940s. Unfortunately, Rita Hayworth struggled with difficulties in her personal life, culminating in late diagnosed Alzheimer's, which took her life in 1987.

Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino, into a family of multiple generations of Spanish dancers. Her father, Eduardo, trained her from an early age, and she performed onstage as a dancer as young as eight years old. Rita Hayworth was said to look very mature and was picked up by Fox Pictures in 1935 for Dante's Inferno. She appeared in numerous films as a dancer, tempering her Latin looks with plastic surgery and electrolysis because she felt it would enhance her success in Hollywood.

After her film “Gilda” was released, Rita Hayworth became the quintessential Hollywood sex symbol.
After her film “Gilda” was released, Rita Hayworth became the quintessential Hollywood sex symbol.

Rita Hayworth appeared alongside Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich in 1941, and followed five years later with Gilda, her most successful film. Many regard Gilda as the pinnacle of Hayworth's career, and afterwards, her roles steadily declined in size and quality until 1960, when the early onset of Alzheimer's caused her to give up her screen career.

Rita Hayworth is often compared to Marilyn Monroe, another celebrity sex symbol of the mid-20th century.
Rita Hayworth is often compared to Marilyn Monroe, another celebrity sex symbol of the mid-20th century.

Rita Hayworth was quite striking, and she often appeared in films that emphasized her physical assets. Many critics feel that this was for the best, speaking harshly of her acting ability and personality. Indeed, most of the roles Hayworth played were shallow, simple characters who danced well and looked pretty. Some critics have argued that the brief zenith of Rita Hayworth's career was due to her lack of strength as an actress and as a person.

Rita Hayworth struggled with a series of failed marriages, beginning with Edward Judson in 1937. Until 1943, when they divorced, he aggressively promoted her for a variety of films, landing her many well known roles, including Judy in Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Hayworth followed this marriage with one to Orson Welles, from 1943 to 1948. This marriage resulted in one child, Rebbecca Welles. Hayworth remarried shortly thereafter to Prince Ali Khan, with whom she had her second daughter, Yasmin Khan. Yasmin later cared for Rita in the 1980s, when the ravages of Alzheimer's rendered her unable to function.

After her divorce from the playboy Prince in 1953, Rita Hayworth married Dick Haymes, although the marriage only lasted two years. In 1958, she married James Hill, whom she divorced in 1961. This divorce was probably linked to Hayworth's increasing mental disturbance as a result of Alzheimer's disease. Her series of marriages indicates, to many, a profound lack of self assurance and confidence, a great tragedy when contrasted with her stellar screen performances.

Rita Hayworth's final film was The Wrath of God, filmed in 1972, in which she performed as Senora De La Plata. Her daughter Yasmin continues to hold annual fundraisers for Alzheimer's in memory of her mother, raising millions of dollars a year for education, treatment, and research. Rita Hayworth stands out as a figure in Hollywood history for her somewhat tragic life and the early disintegration of her career. Her image as a famous pinup, combined with her sultry on-screen roles and sensual dancing, is perhaps how she is best remembered by historians and fans alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Rita Hayworth and why is she significant in film history?

Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918, was an iconic American actress and dancer who rose to fame during the 1940s. She became one of Hollywood's top stars, renowned for her captivating performances and striking beauty. Hayworth is best remembered for her role in the 1946 film noir "Gilda," which solidified her status as a sex symbol and a cinematic legend. Her significant impact on film history is marked by her ability to captivate audiences and her influence on the portrayal of strong female characters in cinema.

What were some of Rita Hayworth's most memorable performances?

Rita Hayworth's most memorable performances include her role as the title character in "Gilda" (1946), where her performance of "Put the Blame on Mame" became legendary. She also starred in "The Lady from Shanghai" (1947), directed by then-husband Orson Welles, and the musical "Cover Girl" (1944) alongside Gene Kelly. Her versatility as an actress and dancer was showcased across various genres, from film noir to musicals, making her a versatile and enduring figure in Hollywood.

How did Rita Hayworth's early life influence her career?

Rita Hayworth's early life as a dancer had a profound influence on her career. She began dancing professionally with her family's act, which helped her develop the skills that would later define her screen presence. Her Spanish heritage and natural talent for dance led to her first Hollywood roles, where she often played exotic characters. As she transitioned to leading roles, her dance background contributed to her electrifying performances and her reputation as one of cinema's great dancers.

What impact did Rita Hayworth have off-screen?

Off-screen, Rita Hayworth made a significant impact as a World War II pin-up and cultural icon. Her image was famously placed on the first nuclear bomb tested after the war, symbolizing her status as a "bombshell." Hayworth also brought attention to Alzheimer's disease, with which she was diagnosed in 1980. Her public struggle with the illness helped to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

How has Rita Hayworth's legacy endured over the years?

Rita Hayworth's legacy has endured through the timeless appeal of her films and her status as a Hollywood legend. She is remembered not only for her beauty and talent but also for breaking barriers for women in film and for her contributions to the art of cinema. The American Film Institute named her one of the greatest stars of classic American cinema. Her influence continues to be felt in the industry, and she remains a subject of fascination for film enthusiasts and historians alike.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon88901

rita hayworth was a friend of my mother's at the pasedena play house. She could have been a great actress, if she had not starred in the castigating roles that orsen welles gave her. she said about her marriages that they marry "Gilda" and they wake up with me.

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    • After her film “Gilda” was released, Rita Hayworth became the quintessential Hollywood sex symbol.
      By: Perseomedusa
      After her film “Gilda” was released, Rita Hayworth became the quintessential Hollywood sex symbol.
    • Rita Hayworth is often compared to Marilyn Monroe, another celebrity sex symbol of the mid-20th century.
      Rita Hayworth is often compared to Marilyn Monroe, another celebrity sex symbol of the mid-20th century.