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Star of the Month: Rita Hayworth
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Rita Hayworth - Oct. 2, 9, 16 & 23

TCM sends out a centennial salute to Rita Hayworth--the ravishing star who captivated the world for decades with her beauty and talent and our October Star of the Month. Nicknamed the "Love Goddess," Hayworth's sex appeal was only part of her magic. She showcased an exceptional skill and sheer pleasure in movement that she exhibited when dancing, which made her one of the most electrifying musical performers of the time. The touching quality of her acting borne of an innately shy woman endeared her to female and male audiences alike.

Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918. The daughter of a former showgirl mother and a dancer father who immigrated to New York from Spain, Hayworth was taught to dance from the time she learned to walk. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, moved the family to Hollywood in the early 1930s and opened a dance studio. When it folded, he recruited his talented daughter to be his partner in the Dancing Cansinos. Their act appeared in nightclubs in Tijuana, Agua Caliente and a gambling ship called the Rex, anchored off the Mexican border. In her mid-teens, Margarita looked older than her years. In one of these shows she attracted the attention of Fox Film Corporation executive Winfield Sheehan, who invited her to make a screen test.

Shortly after, Margarita made her movie debut in the summer of 1935, starring in a string of films including Dante's Inferno, where she performs a dance choreographed by her father. Her name was shortened to Rita Cansino and early film roles capitalized on her Latin look, as Sheehan hoped to groom her into a new Dolores Del Rio. But in 1935, Fox merged with Twentieth Century Pictures and studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck dropped Rita from her contract. She then freelanced for a while at Poverty Row Studios and in 1937 married her first husband, Edward C. Judson, whose efforts to promote her led to a contract with Columbia Pictures. She would one day become Columbia's biggest star, but studio head Harry Cohn--whose reputation as a combative and tyrannical boss was legendary--loomed as a dark presence throughout her 20 years there.

In this period, Margarita Cansino began her makeover into a screen legend, starting with the adoption of her mother's maiden name, Hayworth. Her hair--jet black and usually slicked back into a bun--was lightened and loosened and her hairline broadened. This was par-for-the-course in "star-making" during the studio era to make a malleable and ambitious 19-year-old more "acceptable" to wider audiences. In spite of the transformation and rather than rebuking her heritage, Hayworth always remained proud and vocal of her roots, loved Spanish music and dancing above all, and preferred to be called Margarita in her private life.

Rita's first major break onscreen came when Howard Hawks cast her as Cary Grant's old flame in Only Angels Have Wings (1939), the earliest offering in TCM's Hayworth salute. She made such an impression that costar Jean Arthur didn't even want to take publicity shots with Hayworth, saying "that beautiful girl and me?"

Other studios began seeking Hayworth out. Warner Bros. borrowed her for The Strawberry Blonde (1941), in which she played the titular role and had her hair dyed to a shade of red for the first time. The black-and-white film failed to showcase her new look. Instead that distinction went to her first Technicolor film, Blood and Sand (1941), in which she danced a torrid flamenco with (then-boyfriend) Anthony Quinn. Warner Bros. had offered to buy out Hayworth's contract but Cohn refused. After three films on loan-out, she returned to Columbia a major star.

Rita next paired with Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942). A dancer at heart, Hayworth considered these two musicals to be the "jewels" of her career. About four minutes into You'll Never Get Rich, look for a mesmerizing short tap duet with Astaire, followed by shots of her in a chorus where she out-dances every other woman in the line-up. In You Were Never Lovelier, prepare to be spellbound by "The Shorty George" and "I'm Old Fashioned" musical numbers.

Cover Girl (1944) paired Hayworth with the screen's other great male dancer, Gene Kelly. Their heart-stopping "Put Me to the Test" number and the OscarĀ®-nominated "Long Ago (and Far Away)" highlight the film. Off screen she had become one of the top pin-up girls of the World War II era, with the famous shot of her kneeling on a bed in a negligee plastered in military barracks across the world. In her private life, Hayworth's heart belonged to her second husband, Orson Welles, who had swept her off her feet and married her during the making of Cover Girl. After filming Tonight and Every Night (1945), she gave birth to their daughter, Rebecca Welles.

Hayworth returned to the screen in her signature film, Gilda (1946), opposite her favorite costar, Glenn Ford. Draped in stunning Jean Louis creations, performing a "striptease" to "Put the Blame on Mame" and enacting the part of the misunderstood seductress, Hayworth created an indelible character. She once lamented to the film's producer, Virginia Van Upp, "Every man I've ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me."

The marriage to Welles ended soon after but was commemorated by The Lady from Shanghai (1947), which Welles both directed and starred in alongside Hayworth. Considered too stylized and confusing (and resented for featuring Hayworth as a close-cropped blonde), the film was a flop but today is embraced as a film noir classic.

Hayworth starred as the Spanish gypsy in one of her favorite roles in The Loves of Carmen (1948), before taking a four-year hiatus from Hollywood. She married Prince Aly Khan in July 1948 and gave birth to a second daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. But the roles of princess and international jet-setter were not comfortable for Hayworth and the couple separated in 1951. Though apprehensive about returning to films, Hayworth made her comeback in Affair in Trinidad (1952), which was an even bigger box-office hit than Gilda.

Re-established at Columbia, Hayworth next did her own rendition of the "Dance of the Seven Veils" in Salome (1953), followed by Miss Sadie Thompson (1953). As W. Somerset Maugham's famed siren of the South Seas, Hayworth gave what is perhaps her greatest dramatic performance, but she had grown weary both with Hollywood and her private life (a marriage to Dick Haymes in 1953 would shortly end in divorce in 1955). Another four years passed before Hayworth returned to the screen in Fire Down Below (1957).

She shined in her next film (and final musical), Pal Joey (1957). At the end of 20 years under contract to Columbia, Harry Cohn made it clear that costar Kim Novak was being groomed as the studio's new love goddess. Instead of rivals, the two women became friends and Hayworth departed on a high note.

Her first film as a free agent, Separate Tables (1958), was a great success and was nominated for seven OscarsĀ®, including Best Picture. Finally gaining recognition for her acting abilities, more dramatic roles followed, including The Story on Page One (1959, a TCM premiere), in which she plays a wife accused of killing her husband. Following her final divorce, from producer James Hill in 1961, Hayworth moved between America and Europe, making films at home and abroad.

Hayworth's last theatrical release was The Wrath of God (1972). The production was a struggle for Hayworth, whose failing memory required that she have lines fed to her by an assistant positioned off-camera. For an actress who took great pride in her work, was known for her professionalism and for being a quick-study, it was clear to friends and family that something was very wrong with Hayworth. Erratic episodes in the 1970s clued the public in as well, but it was years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Over time, she could no longer live independently and in 1981 Hayworth was placed in the care of daughter Yasmin. It was in her home that Hayworth died peacefully on May 14, 1987, at the age of 68. Since then, Yasmin has worked to promote awareness and secure funding for Alzheimer's research through benefits such as the Rita Hayworth Gala. An essential part of Hayworth's legacy is that she brought awareness and understanding to a debilitating disease that affects millions. But upon her 100th birthday, across 21 films featured on TCM this month, we can celebrate the movie icon who left behind a trove of films in which her talents can still be enjoyed. Hayworth once said, "All I wanted was just what everybody else be loved." To the many fans she has had and continues to have around the world, she more than met that wish.

by Cindy De La Hoz

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