Rita Hayworth (October 17, 1918 – May 14, 1987)
Born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn, New York, Hayworth began her career billed as Rita Cansino. Her father wanted her to become a professional dancer while her mother wanted her to become an actress. She spent much of her early career playing the exotic foreigner in and out of dance roles in film. Late in the 1930s, studio head Harry Cohn was interested in signing her to a 7-year contract but he felt her look was too Mediterranean and that her name was too Spanish. She then took on her mother’s maiden name and became Rita Hayworth. She achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era’s top stars, appearing in 61 films over 37 years. The press coined the term “The Love Goddess” to describe Hayworth after she had become the most glamorous screen idol of the 1940s. She was the top pin-up girl for GIs during World War II.
Hayworth is perhaps best known for her performance in the 1946 film noir Gilda, opposite Glenn Ford, in which she played the femme fatale in her first major dramatic role. She is also known for her performances in, Only Angels Have Wings (1939), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Pal Joey (1957), and Separate Tables (1958). Fred Astaire, with whom she made two films, You’ll Never Get Rich (1941), and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), once called her his favorite dance partner. She also starred in the Technicolor musical Cover Girl (1944), with Gene Kelly.
Hayworth was married and divorced five times. She had affairs with several of her leading men, most notably with Victor Mature in 1942, during the filming of My Gal Sal. Hayworth also had a long-term on-and-off 40-year affair with Glenn Ford, which they started during the filming of Gilda in 1945. In 1960 Ford moved next door to her in Beverly Hills so they could continue their relationship for many years until the early 1980s. In 1937, at age 18, Hayworth married Edward Judson, an oilman turned promoter who was more than twice her age. He had played a major role in launching her acting career. They divorced in 1942. Hayworth married actor Orson Welles in September 1943, during the run of The Mercury Wonder Show. They had a daughter, Rebecca, who was born in December 1944, and died at the age of 59 on October 17, 2004. They struggled in their marriage, with Hayworth saying that Welles did not want to be tied down. Despite this, Hayworth called Welles the “great love of her life”. They divorced in 1948. In 1948, Hayworth left her film career to marry Prince Aly Khan, a son of Sultan Mahommed Shah, Aga Khan III, the leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. They were married in May 1949. They had a daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan in December 1949. They divorced in January 1953. Hayworth married Argentinian singer Dick Haymes in September 1953. When they met, Haymes was still married nor did he have American citizenship. She assumed responsibility for his citizenship and ended up paying off most of his debts. They divorced in 1955 after a physical assault in public. Her final marriage began in February 1958 to film producer James Hill. In 1961, the couple divorced after their marriage collapsed amidst claims of extreme mental cruelty from Hayworth.
In 1980, Hayworth was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which contributed to her death at age 68. The public disclosure and discussion of her illness drew attention to Alzheimer’s, which was largely unknown by most people at the time, and helped to increase public and private funding for Alzheimer’s research.