Saturday, October 2, 2010

Monthly Muse: Rita Hayworth

It seems the first of the month snuck past me without me noticing so without further ado this months muse is Rita Hayworth!

Rita was born as Margarita Carmen Cansino on 17th October 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. her father was a flamenco dancer and her paternal grandfather was one of the foremost experts on the subject of Spain's classical dance, he made the Bolero famous. Rita took lessons from a young age. She didn't really like dancing but didn't have the heart to tell her father so.

By the time Rita was 8 her father had moved to Hollywood and opened his own dance studio. He had a few famous clients such as James Cagney and Jean Harlow. When the Depression hit people did not have the money to spend on dance lessons and Rita's fathers business was in jeopardy. But, when his nephew's dancing partner in a theater play broke a leg, her mother suggested her daughter could replace him. This gave Rita's father the idea of being his partner in a dancing team called "The Dancing Cansinos". Since Hayworth was not of legal age to work in nightclubs and bars according to California state law, she and her father traveled across the border to the city of Tijuana in Mexico, a popular tourist spot for Los Angeles citizens in the early 1930s. Hayworth performed in such spots as the Foreign Club and the Caliente Club.

It was while she was dancing int he Caliente Club that she was discovered by the head of the Fox Film Corporation, Winfield Sheehan. A week later he took Rita to Hollywood to do a screen test and was impressed by her persona. She was signed for 6 months to Fox.

During her time at Fox Rita made five movies but none were particularly memorable and when her contract was up Fox (who had merged to become 20th Century Fox) did not renew. By this time, Hayworth was eighteen years old and she married businessman Edward C. Judson, who was twice her age. He felt that Rita had screen potential and got her a screen test with Columbia pictures who signed her to a long term contract and slowly cast her in some small roles. The head of Columbia Harry Cohn felt that Rita was too Hispanic and type cast her in a few small Hispanic roles. This caused Rita to undergo painful electrolysis to broaden her forehead and accentuate her widow's peak. When Hayworth returned to Columbia, she had transformed into a redhead and changed her name to Rita Hayworth (Hayworth being her mothers maiden name).

In 1935 when Rita was 17 she was dropped from the movie Ramona and replaced by Loretta Young. She was devastated but did not give up. In 1937, she appeared in five minor Columbia pictures and three minor independent movies. In 1938, Hayworth appeared in five more Columbia B films. 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. A large box-office success, fan mail for Hayworth began pouring into Columbia's publicity department and Cohn began to see Hayworth as his first and official new star.

Cohn began to build Hayworth up the following year, in features such as Music in My Heart, The Lady in Question, and Angels Over Broadway. He even loaned Hayworth out to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to appear in Susan and God, opposite Joan Crawford.

On loan to Warner Brothers, Hayworth appeared as the second female lead in The Strawberry Blonde (1941), opposite James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland. A large box-office success, Hayworth's popularity rose and she immediately became one of Hollywood's hottest properties. So impressed was Warner Brothers that they tried to buy Hayworth's contract from Columbia, but Harry Cohn refused to release her.

Her success in that film led to an even more important supporting role in Blood and Sand (1941), opposite Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, ironically by Fox, the studio that had dropped her six years before. In one of her most notable screen roles, Hayworth played the first of many screen sirens as the temptress Dona Sol des Muire. This was another box-office smash, Hayworth receiving strong critical acclaim.

Hayworth 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. So successful was the picture that the following year, another Astaire-Hayworth picture was released You Were Never Lovelier. In 1942, Hayworth also appeared in two other pictures, Tales of Manhattan and My Gal Sal.

It was during this period that Rita posed for a famous pin-up in Life Magazine, which showed her in a negligee perched seductively over her bed. When the U.S. joined World War II in December 1941, Hayworth's image was admired by millions of servicemen, making her one of the top two pin-up girls of the war years, the other being Betty Grable.

The pinnacle of Rita's career came between the years 1944 to 1947. For these three consecutive year she 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. Her erotic appeal was most notable in Charles Vidor's black-and-white film noir Gilda (1946), with Glenn Ford, which encountered some difficulty with censors. This role–in which Hayworth in black satin performed a legendary one-glove striptease–made her into a cultural icon as the ultimate femme fatale.

Hayworth performed one of her best-remembered dance routines, the samba from Tonight and Every Night (1945), while pregnant with her first child, Rebecca Welles (daughter with Orson Welles). Hayworth was also the first dancer to partner with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on film–the others being Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen, and Leslie Caron.

Hayworth delivered one of her most acclaimed performances in Welles's The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Its failure at the box office was attributed in part to director/co-star Welles having had Hayworth's famous red locks cut off and the remainder of her hair dyed blonde for her role. This was done without Cohn's knowledge or approval and he was furious over the change. Her next film, The Loves of Carmen (1948), again with Glenn Ford, was the first film co-produced by Columbia and Hayworth's own production company, The Beckworth Corporation (named for her daughter Rebecca); it was Columbia's biggest moneymaker for that year. She received a percentage of the profits from this and all her subsequent films until 1955 when she dissolved Beckworth to pay off debts she owed to Columbia.

Rita's relationship with Columbia had been strained for many years. In 1939 she received a none week suspension without pay for refusing to appear in a movie. In 1947, Rita Hayworth's new contract with Columbia provided a salary of US$250,000 plus 50% of film profits. In 1951 Columbia alleged it had $800,000 invested in properties for her, including the film she walked out on when she left Hollywood and married Aly Khan. She was suspended again for failing to report for work, this time for Affair in Trinidad. In 1952 she refused to report for work because "she objected to the script." In 1955, she sued to get out of a contract with the studio, asking for her $150,000 salary, alleging filming failed to start work when agreed.
Rita felt exploited by Cohn and was still upset with him and Columbia for many years after her career ended and he was dead.

In 1951, Hayworth returned to America with great fanfare to star in a string of hit films: Affair in Trinidad (1952) with favorite co-star Glenn Ford, Salome (1953) with Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger, and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) with José Ferrer and Aldo Ray, for which her performance won critical acclaim. Then she was off the big screen for another four years, due mainly to a tumultuous marriage to singer Dick Haymes.

After making Fire Down Below (1957) with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, and her last musical Pal Joey (1957) with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, Hayworth finally left Columbia. She received good reviews for her acting in such films as Separate Tables (1958) with Burt Lancaster and David Niven, and The Story on Page One (1960) with Anthony Franciosa, and continued working throughout the 1960s. In 1962, her planned Broadway debut in Step on a Crack was cancelled for health reasons.

She continued to act in films until the early 1970s and made a well-publicized 1971 television appearance on The Carol Burnett Show.

Her last film was The Wrath of God (1972).

Rita Hayworth lapsed into a semicoma in February 1987. She died a few months later on May 14 at age 68 of Alzheimer's disease in her Manhattan apartment.

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