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the number 2 pin-up favorite of American GI's during World War II
Margarita Carmen Cansino was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 17, 1918. The daughter of Spanish dancer Eduardo Cansino, she trained as a dancer from early childhood. She joined her father on stage when she was 8, when her family was filmed in a movie called La Fiesta (1926). By age 16 she was dancing in Hollywood nightclubs, and it was during one such engagement that she was spotted by Fox studio head Winfield Sheehan, who signed her to a contract.
Rita made her "second" film debut at age 16, an uncredited extra part in Crazy Diablo (1934). Billed as Rita Cansino, she played exotic Latin dancers in Under the Pampas Moon (1935) and Dante's Inferno (1935), and even delivered some dialogue as an Egyptian servant in Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935). Although she was released by Fox following the departure of Sheehan in 1936, Rita determined to become a successful movie actress.
On May 29, 1937, Rita married Edward C. Judson, an older businessman who took her under his wing and helped her get a contract with Columbia.
It was at Columbia that Rita changed her last name to Hayworth. After several mainly minor roles in B pictures, Columbia president Harry Cohn secured a major role for her in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939). After a few more B pictures and "nervous A" pictures, Cohn began loaning her out to other studios.
The Strawberry Blonde (1941), made for Warner Brothers, would be Hayworth's first truly successful movie. The enthusiastic reviews Hayworth received for her work prompted Cohn to bring her back to Columbia and try her out in a big-budget film. Fred Astaire, recently departed from RKO and Ginger Rogers, chose her to co-star with him in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942). Her flawless dancing in these movies made Hayworth a star. (Rita's singing abilities were nowhere near the level of her dancing abilities, so her singing parts were always dubbed.)
On May 24, 1943, Hayworth obtained a divorce from Judson so she could marry Victor Mature, with whom she had co-starred in My Gal Sal (1942). The proposed marriage never came off, so Hayworth began dating Orson Welles, and married him on September 7, 1943. Hayworth and Welles had one daughter, Rebecca, before divorcing five years later.
Hayworth's dancing and acting made her star, but it was her sensual appearance and sexual charisma that made her a superstar. She became the number 2 pin-up favorite of American GI's thanks to a sultry negligee shot originally taken for Life magazine in 1941. That pin-up shot was attached to the atomic bomb dropped on Bikini Atoll in 1945. In 1946, Hayworth teamed with Glenn Ford for a steamy, corny, campy melodrama called Gilda. In that film she performed a genteel striptease while singing the torchy "Put the Blame on Mame." That number ultimately became one of the most frequently anthologized sequences in movie history. In 1948, she co-starred with Orson Welles (from whom she was already separated) in The Lady from Shanghai. For her role as a sultry seductress in this movie, Hayworth sheared off most of her red hair and dyed what was left platinum.
Hayworth's time at the top of her profession would prove to be short-lived, however. After divorcing Welles on December 1, 1948, she embarked on a whirlwind romance with millionaire Moslem playboy Aly Khan (aka Aga Khan), whom she married on May 27, 1949. The couple's worldwide travels and escapades kept Hayworth off the screen for a time and gained her more than a little unfavorable publicity. They had a daughter, Yasmin, before divorcing on January 26, 1953.
Returning to Hollywood, Hayworth attempted to pick up where she'd left off at Columbia, but failed to regain the heights she had once achieved. After repeated clashes with Cohn over story lines, budgets, and directors, she left Columbia again in 1953. That same year, on September 24, she married singer Dick Haymes. That union lasted barely two years, and the couple divorced on December 12, 1955.
Once again returning to Columbia, Hayworth gave creditable performances in several pictures, but it was quite obvious that her star was all but out. She tried her hand at romance one more time, marrying James Hill on February 2, 1958; the couple divorced in September 1961.
From 1960 (age 42), early onset of Alzheimer's (which remained undiagnosed until 1980) limited Rita's abilities, and the last few roles in her 60-film career were increasingly small. Almost helpless by 1981, she was cared for by daughter Yasmin until her death on May 14, 1987, in New York City. She is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
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This page was last updated on 05/16/2017.