at the age of three was learning to dance as a member of The Dancing Cansinos. In 1935, she shortened her name to Rita Cansino and appeared as (what else) a dancer in Dante's Inferno. By 1937, she had taken her mother's maiden name, Haworth, and was appearing regularly in supporting roles. Her first husband promoted her tirelessly until breaks came in prominent roles in Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and Blood and Sand (1941); and the movies' Love Goddess was born.
When Margarita was born she and her family lived in a theatrical hotel near the Palace Theater where her father was appearing with his sister Elisa as "The Dancing Cansino's". Eduardo began teaching Margarita to dance from the time she learned to walk and she turned out to be wonderful at it. Her childhood was very different from that of the everyday little girl, she spent most of her time learning dances and practicing, but it served as a great training for her future career. Rita was very shy but she would come to life while dancing on stage whenever she was given the chance to dance for an audience, and later when her father made her a part of The Dancing Cansino's.
When Margarita was eight years old the Cansino's moved out west, near Hollywood, where Eduardo opened a dancing school on Sunset and Vine Streets and got a few jobs as choreographer in some movie musicals. The school did very well at first but as America sank deeper into The Great Depression his school began losing business and eventually closed (it later re-opened). So he started occasional appearances doing the prologues at the Carthay Circle Theater. Rita appeared in one these shows with her cousin, Gabriel Cansino. That night she impressed her father very much with her unique talent. In the early 30's Eduardo decided to go back to doing shows, but since his sister Elisa had moved back to Spain to raise her family he didn't have a partner. I've heard two different versions of how Margarita came to be Eduardo's dancing partner. One story says he was planning on dancing with the star pupil at his dancing school, a young girl named Margo. Margarita was very hurt by his decision- she wanted dance! When Eduardo realized this, he decided to make Rita his partner on stage. The other version of the story says that Eduardo chose Margarita to be his dancing partner and she simply went along with her father's decision. However it happened, they opened at The Foreign Club Cafe de Luxe in Tijuana, Mexico on Christmas Day in 1932.
Margarita and Eduardo, as "The Dancing Cansinos" did shows in Agua Caliente, Tijuana, and later on a gambling ship anchored past the Mexican border. They were headliners in places like The Foreign Club Cafe de Luxe, the Hotel Caliente and other places throughout the early 30's. Rita and Eduardo were the stars of these performances and from their dances and costumes most people assumed they were brother and sister, or even husband and wife, rather than father and daughter. These were busy times for Margarita, between four shows a day, and taking dancing lessons with her father she also had to fit in time to go to school. School obviously took a back seat to her new career but I'm sure sometimes she just wished she could be a normal kid, playing and going to school.
For a time she and Eduardo were appearing at The Caliente Club and it was here that while performing she caught the attention of the then vice-president of The Fox Film Corporation, Winfield Sheehan. Sheehan saw potential in her as a Fox star and after the show he invited Rita to join his table, which included columnist Louella Parsons. Louella remembers Rita being "painfully shy". She later said "She could not look at strangers when she spoke to them and her voice was so low it could hardly be heard..." Nevertheless, Sheehan must have seen something in her because he invited her over to Fox to make some screen tests. Rita took several screen tests and eventually Sheehan signed her to a contract with Fox, where she began taking acting and diction lessons along with the other starlets.
It was during this time that Rita made her official screen debut in Fox's 1935 film, Dante's Inferno, starring Spencer Tracy. Rita's part was a dance sequence to a cuban song partnered by Gary Leon and staged by her father. Unfortunately, the number gets cut short by a fire onboard a ship. Also during this time she made a few other films for Fox including Under the Pampas Moon and Charlie Chan In Egypt. Unlike Columbia Pictures two years later, Fox retained Rita's Latin looks. Rita was Spanish and she looked it (although it was emphasized by having her hair, which was naturally dark brown, darkened to jet black). Sheehan capitalized on it, thinking he had found the new Dolores Del Rio, who was an enormously popular Hispanic actress at the time. Plans began on a remake of a 1928 Del Rio film, Ramona. Rita was to play the lead. Ramona, was to be shot in Technicolor, with Gilbert Roland as her co-star, but by mid 1935 The Fox Film Corporation had become Twentieth Century-Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck took over. Now with Zanuck in charge he decided he would give Rita's part to Fox's resident star, Loretta Young. Soon after, Zanuck, who obviously didn't see any potential in Rita as a star, decided to drop her from her contract. It was a major set back for her but a few years later Zanuck had to borrow her from Columbia Pictures so she could appear in the movie that made her a major star, Blood and Sand.
During this time, not under contract to any studio, Rita freelanced and got roles in movies at Grand National, Republic and other "Poverty Row" studios in a string of "B" westerns including Rebellion, Trouble in Texas and Old Louisiana. During this time, Rita married Edward Judson. Soon after their marriage Columbia studio head, Harry Cohn signed Rita to a contract (Reportedly at the behest of Judson). At Columbia, they started making changes to Rita's Latin appearance. One of the first things they did was change Rita's last name to her mother's maiden name, "Hayworth". As is the case with many Hollywood legends, there are several stories as to how things happened in the star's life. In some stories they allege Rita's mother's maiden name was "Haworth" instead of "Hayworth" and that Columbia Pictures added the "y" to avoid confusion between Rita and her actor uncle, Vinton Haworth. The more likely case is that her mother's maiden name was indeed Hayworth with a y. So they just gave Rita her mother's maiden name without changing the spelling. Either way, she was then signed to a seven-year contract with a starting salary of $200 dollars a week.
During her early time at Columbia her Spanish image began to fade. They changed her hair color from jet black to a shade of dark brown (her trademark auburn color would come later), then moved back her hairline to give her a broader forehead and emphasize a widow's peak. With all these changes going on, Rita began to emerge as one of Hollywood's most promising new starlets.
Rita began her career at Columbia Pictures with the movie Criminals of the Air. By the time it was released she was known as Rita Hayworth. During this early time at Columbia she was rushed into one "B" picture after another, often with the same co-stars, her most frequent being Charles Quigley. Films such as Girls Can Play, Paid to Dance and Who Killed Gail Preston were some of these "quickie" productions in which she starred. Filmed at lightning speed, at least they were a source of steady work for her. Most of the first two years at her new studio Rita spent making "B" pictures in the Irving Briskin unit of the Columbia lot and in the portrait gallery having countless publicity shots taken of her.
Then in late 1938, director Howard Hawks was looking for someone to cast as Judy MacPherson in his upcoming film starring Cary Grant and the reigning queen of Columbia Pictures, Jean Arthur. This is another story in Rita's life that has at least a dozen variations, but the most likely version is that after a meeting with Hawks, Rita got the part. The movie was Only Angels Have Wings and was a major box office hit and Rita's best film to date. It gave a huge boost to her career. This movie made her a lot better known and convinced Columbia studio head, Harry Cohn to begin building up the publicity on her. She started getting better roles and began to be sought after by other studios for supporting roles in some major films.
Columbia Pictures experimented with different hairdo's on Rita. First opting for a side part, then giving her the split-in-the-middle "Hedy Lamarr look" for a while, only to revert back to the parted on the left side hairdo which she maintained for the better part of her career.
She starred in Music In My Heart, appeared in one of the installments of Columbia's popular Blondie series, Blondie on a Budget, and then was loaned out to MGM for a featured role in Susan and God, starring Joan Crawford. After Susan and God however, it was back to Columbia where she made her first movie with Glenn Ford, The Lady in Question. She would go on to make four more films with Ford in which they would become one of America's favorite screen couples. This film also was her first directed by her favorite director, who later directed her in Gilda, Charles Vidor. After that she starred in Angels Over Broadway with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Her next two movies were for Warner Brothers. The first of the two, The Strawberry Blonde, was a big success and gave Rita another boost toward becoming a major star. The next one however, Affectionately Yours was unfortunately not nearly as successful. In the first of these two films for Warner, The Strawberry Blonde, her hair was dyed to that ravashing red color for the first time. Unfortunately, the film was made in black and white. Because of her success in The Strawberry Blonde, Warner Brothers tried to buy her contract from Columbia Pictures. The fact that Warner Bros. wanted her and that Columbia would not sell her contract to them shows that Rita was beginning to be seen as a hot commodity in the industry.
Not long after that she beat out dozens of other actresses for the prize role of Doña Sol in Twentieth Century Fox's Blood and Sand. Reportedly, Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck's original choice for the role was Carole Landis, but she supposedly turned down to role, saying she had spent too much time working on her "blonde bombshell" image to have it reversed by appearing as a red-head in the Technicolor production. Others thought of for the role included Gene Tierney, Hedy Lamarr and Maria Montez. The director, Rouben Mamoulian later said, "...the moment I saw Rita Hayworth walk I knew I had my Doña Sol". So, Rita got the starmaking role of the temptress in Blood and Sand. The picture, her first in Technicolor, co-starred her with Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Anthony Quinn. The film's success made Rita Hayworth Hollywood's hottest new star.
So with her new status as a star came a new contract, new dressing room and a starring role opposite Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich. She became, as Hollywood called her, "The Love Goddess". She had begun her reign as the queen of Columbia Pictures.
Nevertheless, for her next two films she was again loaned to Fox. First to replace the overworked Betty Grable in My Gal Sal, then to be one of the stars in the all-star cast movie, Tales of Manhattan. It was in connection with the latter of the two that on July 24, 1942 Rita immortalized her hand and footprints in cement in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater. Then it was back to Columbia where she was reunited with Fred Astaire for the classic musical, You Were Never Lovelier. She and Astaire made a dazzling screen duo. Their two dance numbers in this picture, "I'm Old Fashioned" and "The Shorty George" are a sight to be seen. Fred had known Rita's father, Eduardo Cansino, even before Rita was born, when they were both dancers in New York. Although his onscreen partnership with Ginger Rogers was his most famous collaboration, Astaire said that Rita was his favorite dance partner.
Her two films opposite Fred Astaire, You'll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier are said to have been her favorites.
Around this time, about the time she was making My Gal Sal, Rita was seeking a divorce from Edward Judson. Unfortunately, the proceedings got nasty when Judson demanded money to get out of her life, for helping to boost Rita's career. He got a reported 30,000 dollars from Columbia Pictures!
Also by this time The United States had entered World War II and the GI's at home and abroad had made Rita one of their favorite pin-up girls. She showed her appreciation to them in many ways including her many appearances at the Hollywood Canteen where she danced with them until dawn, washed dishes, made sandwiches and served them their coffee. She also appeared in countless USO shows put on for them. Not to mention how much her movies helped to boost troop morale.
Rita's relationship with Orson Welles began at a party given at their mutual friend Joseph Cotton's house, but even before that it was already well known around Hollywood that Welles was infatuated with Rita (Supposedly ever since he'd seen her in Blood and Sand). Reportedly, Welles, who was in South America at the time, told a friend "I'm going back to America to marry Rita Hayworth." (He hadn't even met her yet!). After seeing each other at Joseph Cotten's party, it wasn't long before he won her over. The two began dating. On May 27, 1943 shooting began on Rita's next film, Cover Girl. During the filming of this movie, on the afternoon of September 7, 1943, Welles picked Rita up at the studio and the two were married. Their close friends Joseph Cotten and Jackson Leighter served as witnesses. The marriage plans were kept secret, back at Columbia Pictures people didn't know about it until they read it in the papers. The next day Rita returned to work on Cover Girl. It was a wonderful musical and became a huge success. She was by this time one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and happy with her new husband. Following production of Tonight and Every Night Rita gave birth to her first child, daughter Rebecca Welles, on December 17, 1944. From what I've heard and read from Rita's friends and people she worked with, I'm certain this period in Rita's life, when she was being courted by Orson, through the early days of their marriage and of course Rebecca's birth, was one of her happiest. Some even say it was the happiest time of her life.
Rita was pregnant with Rebecca during production of Tonight and Every Night. The dance numbers were filmed early on, before the pregnancy began to show.
The next year Rita was back at work, in September 1945 production began on the movie that has become synonymous with Rita Hayworth, Gilda. Rita's rendition of "Put the Blame on Mame" in the film caused a problem with the censors who called Rita's dance a "striptease". Actually, all she takes off during the dance is one glove. Her performance in Gilda made such an impact that, depending on which sources you read, either the name "Gilda", or Rita's picture was put on the side of the atomic bomb that was tested on Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946. Rita later said, "...I hate war...that whole bomb thing made me sick to my stomach..." After the release of Gilda in 1946 it began setting box office records and made Rita the most well known star in the world. Since then Rita has always been associated with her character in Gilda, despite the fact that her friends and co-workers say she was nothing like her in real life. Rita was never able to escape that image. There's a famous quote from Rita about all the men in her life falling in love with Gilda and waking up with the real person the next day. Gilda represents the indelible image of Rita Hayworth that the public continues to have today.
Her next picture was Down To Earth, a musical which showcased a never more beautiful Rita as Terpsichore, the goddess of song and dance. Rita was at the height of her fame and it was exactly how the public wanted to see her, so of course it was a box-office smash. Next she starred in the movie Orson Welles had produced, written, directed and co-starred with her in, The Lady from Shanghai. Unfortunately, there were problems in the marriage and Rita and Orson were separated long before production began on this film (They had separated during the making of Gilda). They got along well during the making of the movie, which was partially filmed on location in Acapulco. Rita had complete confidence in Orson's film-making abilities. Like most people, she regarded him as a genius. Nevertheless, just weeks after the film was completed Rita filed for divorce. The Lady from Shanghai, filmed in 1946 and early 1947 introduced the world to a partially re-designed Rita. The short blond coif that she sported during the film in favor of her famous auburn tresses didn't fare too well with audiences. In actuality, although not what the movie-going public wanted to see from Rita, the new blond hair-do and the role of Elsa Bannister in the picture offered Rita a bit of a departure from her trademark Gilda image that she spent her life trying to escape. What's unfortunate is that once production wrapped Orson left town and didn't stick around during the editing process. He sent notes on how the film was to be edited but they were basically all thrown out of the window, making the finished product not what it might have been. Not released until 1948, the film did not do so well at the box office. However, nowadays, it's considered a classic and a film which most Hayworth fans these days, including myself, love. Not surprisingly, it is also said to have been one of Rita's favorites.
By this time Rita had discussed a new contract with Harry Cohn in which she would receive a portion of the profits any of her future films made. Through the new contract she also formed her own production company, Beckworth (a combination of her daughter's name and her own last name) and her next film, The Loves of Carmen was produced by it. Having the film produced by her own production company allowed Rita to have some of her family in on the action. Her father was brought in to help choreograph some of the numbers, her uncle José was one of the gypsy dancers in a scene and her brother Vernon was given a small part as one of the dragoons. Her performance as Carmen is said to have been one she was particularly proud of.
Despite having formed Beckworth, once production of The Loves of Carmen was completed, Rita set sail for Europe, not saying when she would return. At a party in Cannes, France hosted by Elsa Maxwell, Rita met Prince Aly Khan. It was July 3, 1948. After one of the most highly publicized courtships in history, on the 27th of May, 1949 Rita Hayworth became princess to Prince Aly Khan. She put her movie career behind her, left Hollywood in the past and took up residence with her new husband in Europe. The press covered every move the royal couple made. It seemed to be a match made in heaven. On December 28, 1949, in Lausanne, Switzerland Rita became the mother of Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. After that Rita and the prince toured Europe and Africa. A movie was even made about their trips called Champagne Safari. Unfortunately, everything wasn't as great as it appeared to be. Among other things, Rita and Prince Aly's lifestyles were so different. He was a prince. His world was luxury and lavish parties. Those things didn't mean much to Rita, she couldn't accustom herself to the life of a princess. On March 25, 1951, Rita along with her two daughters set sail back to America on the luxury liner De Grasse. In August, 1952, Prince Aly Khan made a brief trip back to Hollywood to try for a reconciliation, it didn't last long though and by January, 1953 Rita and Aly Khan were divorced.
After her separation from Aly Khan, Rita reluctantly went back to Hollywood. She needed money, so she had to go back to work. When she had married him she didn't plan on being Rita Hayworth...movie queen anymore. When she was away from the screen she just wanted to be Margarita, not Rita. I think she even liked to be called Margarita instead of Rita, and would often let her hair grow in its natural color. Anyway, it was 1951 and there she was, back at Columbia Pictures, where she went into production of Affair in Trinidad. The director, Vincent Sherman remembers Rita seeming rather frightened at the approach of doing another movie. On film of course, it didn't register, she was every bit "The Love Goddess" on the screen. It became apparent that during Rita's absence from films she hadn't lost any of her appeal to the movie-going public when her first movie in four years became a bigger box office hit than Gilda. The film co-starred Rita for the fourth time in her career with her favorite leading man, Glenn Ford. Her next movie was one of her least favorite, Salome, in which she played the biblical siren of the film's title. It co-starred her with Stewart Granger and Charles Laughton.
Before production began in Hawaii on her next picture, Miss Sadie Thompson, Rita had begun dating actor/singer Dick Haymes. Among other things, he was having legal trouble about his not being a U.S. citizen and possible deportation. Through it all, Rita remained loyal to him and they were married in Las Vegas on September 24, 1953. Unfortunately, although she didn't make any movies for a couple of years after Miss Sadie Thompson, Rita would have plenty of unpleasant obstacles to face during her marriage to Dick Haymes that kept her in the headlines, and the target of a lot of bad publicity. Numerous court battles were to be fought during this time. There were the Haymes' financial woes, stemming from problems with the IRS and Haymes' ex-wives, among other things that made this a very unpleasant time in Rita's life to say the least. Rita was granted a divorce from Haymes in December of 1955.
Rita took a much needed break after her divorce from Haymes. She stayed in Europe for a while, but she had to go back to Hollywood. She was still under contract to Columbia Pictures. Therefore, in 1956 she went back to work to begin production on Fire Down Below. Shot mostly on location in Trinidad, it starred Rita opposite Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum.
Rita had one more film to make for Columbia Pictures to fulfill her contractual obligations with the studio. The picture was, Pal Joey. In it, they starred her opposite Frank Sinatra and the woman Columbia was planning to use as the replacement as Hollywood's "love goddess" for Rita, Kim Novak. If you watch the movie you'll see that at thirty-eight Rita still looks and dances great. She sparkles in the film, especially in her "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" number. Nevertheless, Pal Joey turned out to be Rita's last musical. After that she left the studio that had been her home for twenty years.
The first movie Rita chose to star in after getting out of her Columbia Pictures contract was Separate Tables, co-starring her with Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr and her old friend David Niven. The picture pretty much marked the end of Rita's glamour girl movie career, beginning with this film she was being given the chance to play more dramatic parts and she began getting more recognition as a talented actress rather then as a great beauty. In Separate Tables she plays Ann Shankland, which she called "...the kind of role I've been waiting all my life to play." Her performance received excellent reviews. The movie was a great success, it was nominated for several Academy Awards, including "Best Picture". It was produced by the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Production Company. During production, on February 2, 1958 Rita was married to James Hill, one of the founders of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, whom she had been living with since before Pal Joey.
Shortly afterward, Rita starred in They Came to Cordura, and The Story on Page One, which was released in 1960. Rita's next film, The Happy Thieves, was produced by she and her husband's newly formed production company, Hillworth (Rita's old production company, Beckworth, had long since been dissolved). At this point in her life, Rita wanted to retire from films. When she married Hill, she would have been content to spend the rest of her life with him writing and her painting, she loved to paint. But Hill wanted her to continue working, he saw great potential in her as a comedic actress and wanted to turn her into the world's greatest comedienne. She had made They Came to Cordura so that the Hill's could buy a house, then The Story on Page One, and then she agreed to do The Happy Thieves to please her husband who wanted her to do a comedy. He thought it would be a great vehicle for her to display her flare for comedy. Unfortunately, The Happy Thieves turned out to be a major disappointment and shortly after that, in late 1961, Rita's last marriage ended in divorce.
After her final divorce Rita moved to Europe for a little while. Back in America in 1962 she was slated to appear in a Broadway comedy called Step on a Crack starring her boyfriend at the time, Gary Merrill, but after a few weeks of rehearsals she dropped out of the show. In Europe again in 1964, Rita made Circus World with John Wayne and Claudia Cardinale. Then in 1966 she was in The Money Trap and The Poppy Is Also a Flower, the first of which reunited her with her Gilda co-star and close friend, Glenn Ford for their final film together. In the following years Rita did a few European films, The Rover (L'Avventuriero), Sons of Satan (I Bastardi) and The Road to Salina (Sur la route de Salina), that had limited theatrical release in the United States. She also did a few television appearances, including a hilarious guest spot on a 1971 episode of The Carol Burnett Show.
Not long after, Rita made her last feature film, The Wrath of God, which was released in 1972. In the early 70's her public appearances became less and less frequent and in the early 80's the world learned that Rita Hayworth, the one time screen love goddess had a disease not many had heard of at the time, Alzheimer's. Other films were planned after The Wrath of God, but among other things, the disease (which she still did not know she had) was causing Rita to have increasing trouble remembering her lines. Her co-star in The Wrath of God, Frank Langella, later said that all her lines had to be written on cue cards and in one of their scenes together a man had to be off camera telling her her lines, and then she would say them. She couldn't retain the lines. Before the world learned that Rita had Alzheimer's, when strange things would happen the press would call her a drunk, when in reality it was the disease. In retrospect, friends and relatives say Rita began to show the first symptoms of Alzheimer's as early as the mid 50's, when she was in her 30's. It was Rita who first brought awareness to this debilitating disease. In 1981 she was placed in the care of her daughter, Princess Yasmin, who moved Rita in with her in New York City and took care of her for her remaining years. Yasmin has since made countless efforts to promote awareness of this disease. She organizes many many charity events and benefits, including the annual Rita Hayworth Gala's in New York and Chicago, which continue to raise millions of dollars for Alzheimer's research. Rita left behind not only a legacy of dozens of films in which her dazzling beauty, extraordinary talent and legendary glamour are showcased, she brought awareness and understanding to the world about a heartbreaking disease that affects millions of people all over the world.
In her final years none of her glamorous past or the heartache she'd been through were even a distant memory in her mind. On Thursday, May 14, 1987 Rita Hayworth died peacefully in her daughter's apartment in Manhattan. Since then she has become a symbol of eternal youth, beauty and glamour. She remains one of Hollywood's brightest and most beloved stars of all time. Her legend continues to live on thanks to the impact she continues to have on millions of fans throughout the world. Her dream may have been a simple, happy life with kids and a husband she could spend the rest of her life with, but it was not to be. A simple life was never in the cards for Margarita.