Rita Hayworth born May 14, 1919 as Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn New York. From the age of 3 and on she trained as a dancer and eventually under her uncle Angel Cansino at Carnegie Hall where other famous Hollywood luminaries, including James Cagney and Jean Harlow, received specialized training from Cansino himself. Hayworth’s rise to fame was a silver lining of the Great Depression. Hayworth had an awkward transition from teen nightclub dancer to major movie star. She was a dancer first and foremost; acting was an afterthought seen as a way to earn a living.
At 17 she was dropped from the movie Ramona 1935 which was a big disappointment but did not give up so by 1941 she was one of the hottest pinup girls admired by millions of servicemen. Rita Hayworth was called the “Love Goddess”. (One biopic and one biography used the moniker in reference to her.) Despite being a sex symbol, due to her Spanish heritage of female decency she showed discretion. “Everybody else does nude scenes,” Hayworth said, “but I don’t. I never made nude movies. I didn’t have to do that. I danced. I was provocative, I guess, in some things. But I was not completely exposed.
For three consecutive years, starting in 1944, Rita Hayworth was named one of the top movie box office attractions in the world. In 1944, she made one of her best-known films, the Technicolor musical Cover Girl (1944), with Gene Kelly. The film established her as Columbia’s top star of the 1940s. Hayworth was adept in ballet, tap, ballroom, and Spanish routines. Cohn continued to effectively showcase Hayworth’s talents in Technicolor films: Tonight and Every Night (1945), with Lee Bowman, and Down to Earth (1947), with Larry Parks.
Although she was an enormous box office draw she also had some ups and downs with Columbia Pictures and Harry Cohn. Riat was suspended several times for refusing to appear in some movies. During this period in Hollywood actors did not get to choose their films as they do today; they also had salaries instead of a fixed amount per picture.) In 1945, Hayworth received notice of her suspension by her employers, Columbia Pictures, “on the day she entered the maternity hospital in Hollywood.
Hayworth was still upset with Columbia and its head Harry Cohn many years after her film career had ended and he was dead. “I used to have to punch a time clock at Columbia,” lamented Hayworth. “Every day of my life. That’s what it was like. I was under exclusive contract – like they owned me… He felt that he owned me… I think he had my dressing room bugged… He was very possessive of me as a person – he didn’t want me to go out with anybody, have any friends. No one can live that way. So I fought him … You want to know what I think of Harry Cohn? He was a monster.
Rita has great success on the big screen however her personal life was not so blazing. Married and divorced 5 times and having 2 daughters she struggled with alcohol throughout her life. “I remember as a child”, said her daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan, “that she had a drinking problem. She had difficulty coping with the ups and downs of the business…. As a child, I thought, ‘She has a drinking problem and she’s an alcoholic.’ That was very clear and I thought, ‘Well, there’s not much I can do. I can just, sort of, stand by and watch.’ It’s very difficult, seeing your mother, going through her emotional problems and drinking and then behaving in that manner. . . . Her condition became quite bad. It worsened and she did have an alcoholic breakdown and landed in the hospital. Rita Hayworth was an amazingly beautiful women who was loved by millions until she died on May 14, 1987, aged 68 from Alzheimer’s disease in her Manhattan apartment. A funeral service for Hayworth was held on May 19, 1987 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Pallbearers included actors Ricardo Montalbán, Glenn Ford, Don Ameche and choreographer Hermes Pan. She was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City (location: Grotto, Lot 196, Grave 6 (right of main sidewalk, near the curb)). Her headstone includes the inscription: “To yesterday’s companionship and tomorrow’s reunion.” “Rita Hayworth was one of our country’s most beloved stars”, said President Ronald Reagan, who had been an actor at the same time as Hayworth and would himself fall victim to Alzheimer’s. “Glamorous and talented, she gave us many wonderful moments on stage and screen and delighted audiences from the time she was a young girl. In her later years, Rita became known for her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Her courage and candor, and that of her family, were a great public service in bringing worldwide attention to a disease which we all hope will soon be cured. Nancy and I are saddened by Rita’s death. She was a friend who we will miss. We extend our deep sympathy to her family.
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