Rita Hayworth (1918-1987) was a well known Hollywood sex symbol, dancer, and actress, who starred most famously in Gilda (1946). She is often compared with Marilyn Monroe, her blonde counterpart, and captivated the imagination of American men during her varied film career. While on screen, Rita Hayworth projected a confident, secure woman who embodied the screen goddess ideal of the 1940s. Unfortunately, Rita Hayworth struggled with difficulties in her personal life, culminating in late diagnosed Alzheimer's, which took her life in 1987.
Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino, into a family of multiple generations of Spanish dancers. Her father, Eduardo, trained her from an early age, and she performed onstage as a dancer as young as eight years old. Rita Hayworth was said to look very mature and was picked up by Fox Pictures in 1935 for Dante's Inferno. She appeared in numerous films as a dancer, tempering her Latin looks with plastic surgery and electrolysis because she felt it would enhance her success in Hollywood.
Rita Hayworth appeared alongside Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich in 1941, and followed five years later with Gilda, her most successful film. Many regard Gilda as the pinnacle of Hayworth's career, and afterwards, her roles steadily declined in size and quality until 1960, when the early onset of Alzheimer's caused her to give up her screen career.
Rita Hayworth was quite striking, and she often appeared in films that emphasized her physical assets. Many critics feel that this was for the best, speaking harshly of her acting ability and personality. Indeed, most of the roles Hayworth played were shallow, simple characters who danced well and looked pretty. Some critics have argued that the brief zenith of Rita Hayworth's career was due to her lack of strength as an actress and as a person.
Rita Hayworth struggled with a series of failed marriages, beginning with Edward Judson in 1937. Until 1943, when they divorced, he aggressively promoted her for a variety of films, landing her many well known roles, including Judy in Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Hayworth followed this marriage with one to Orson Welles, from 1943 to 1948. This marriage resulted in one child, Rebbecca Welles. Hayworth remarried shortly thereafter to Prince Ali Khan, with whom she had her second daughter, Yasmin Khan. Yasmin later cared for Rita in the 1980s, when the ravages of Alzheimer's rendered her unable to function.
After her divorce from the playboy Prince in 1953, Rita Hayworth married Dick Haymes, although the marriage only lasted two years. In 1958, she married James Hill, whom she divorced in 1961. This divorce was probably linked to Hayworth's increasing mental disturbance as a result of Alzheimer's disease. Her series of marriages indicates, to many, a profound lack of self assurance and confidence, a great tragedy when contrasted with her stellar screen performances.
Rita Hayworth's final film was The Wrath of God, filmed in 1972, in which she performed as Senora De La Plata. Her daughter Yasmin continues to hold annual fundraisers for Alzheimer's in memory of her mother, raising millions of dollars a year for education, treatment, and research. Rita Hayworth stands out as a figure in Hollywood history for her somewhat tragic life and the early disintegration of her career. Her image as a famous pinup, combined with her sultry on-screen roles and sensual dancing, is perhaps how she is best remembered by historians and fans alike.