Rita Hayworth

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Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth-publicity.JPG
Rita Hayworth in 1947
Born Margarita Carmen Cansino
(1918-10-17)October 17, 1918
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died May 14, 1987(1987-05-14) (aged 68)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Alzheimer's disease
Resting place
Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
Occupation Actress, dancer
Years active 1934–1972
  • Rebecca Welles Manning (1944–2004)
  • Yasmin Aga Khan
    (b. December 28, 1949)
Parents Eduardo Cansino, Sr.
Volga Hayworth
Relatives Eduardo Cansino, Jr. (brother)
Richard Cansino (nephew)
Angel Cansino (uncle)
Signature Rita Hayworth signature.svg

Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino; October 17, 1918 – May 14, 1987) was an American actress and dancer.[2] She achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era's top stars, and became known for her deep sultry voice and flaming red hair.[3]

Hayworth appeared in a total of 61 films over 37 years, but is perhaps best known for her performance in the 1946 film noir Gilda. She is one of six women who have the distinction of having danced on screen with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.[4] She is listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest Stars of All Time.

She died at the age of 68 from complications associated with Alzheimer's disease, which she was diagnosed with in 1980.


Hayworth was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1918 as Margarita Carmen Cansino, the oldest child of two dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, Sr., was from Castilleja de la Cuesta, a little town near Seville, Spain.[5] Her mother, Volga Hayworth, was an American of Irish-English descent who had performed with the Ziegfeld Follies.[6] The couple married in 1917. They also had two sons: Eduardo Cansino, Jr. and Vernon Cansino.[6][7]

Margarita's father wanted her to become a professional dancer, while her mother hoped she would become an actress.[8] Her paternal grandfather, Antonio Cansino, was renowned as a Spanish classical dancer. He popularized the bolero and his dancing school in Madrid was world famous.[9] Hayworth later recalled, "From the time I was three and a half... as soon as I could stand on my own feet, I was given dance lessons."[10] She noted "I didn't like it very much... but I didn't have the courage to tell my father, so I began taking the lessons. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, that was my girlhood".[11] She attended dance classes every day for a few years in a Carnegie Hall complex, where she was taught by her uncle Angel Cansino. She performed publicly from the age of six.[6] In 1926 at the age of eight, she was featured in La Fiesta, a short film for Warner Bros.[6]

In 1927, her father took the family to Hollywood. He believed that dancing could be featured in the movies and that his family could be part of it. He established his own dance studio,[6] where he taught such Hollywood luminaries as James Cagney and Jean Harlow.[12] During the Great Depression, he lost all his investments as commercial interest in his dancing classes waned. He partnered with his daughter to form "The Dancing Cansinos". Since under California law Margarita was too young to work in nightclubs and bars, her father took her with him to work across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. In the early 1930s, it was a popular tourist spot for people from Los Angeles.[6] Because she was working, Cansino never graduated from high school, but she had completed ninth grade at Hamilton High in Los Angeles.

Cansino (Hayworth) took a bit part in the film Cruz Diablo (1934) at age 16, which led to another in In Caliente (1935) with the Mexican actress, Dolores del Río.[6] She danced with her father in such nightspots as the Foreign and the Caliente clubs. Winfield Sheehan, the head of the Fox Film Corporation, saw her dancing at the Caliente Club and quickly arranged for Hayworth to do a screen test a week later. Impressed by her screen persona, Sheehan signed her for a short-term six-month contract at Fox, under the name Rita Cansino, the first of two name changes for her film career.


Early career[edit]

Publicity photo, 1940

During her time at Fox, Hayworth appeared in five pictures in non-notable roles. By the end of her six-month contract, Fox had merged into 20th Century Fox, with Darryl F. Zanuck serving as the executive producer. Dismissing Sheehan's interest in Hayworth, Zanuck did not renew her contract. Feeling that she had screen potential, the salesman and promoter, Edward C. Judson, whom she would marry in 1936, got her the lead roles in several independent films and arranged a screen test with Columbia Pictures. The studio head Harry Cohn signed Hayworth to a long-term contract, and cast her in small roles in Columbia features.

Often cast as the exotic foreigner, Hayworth (Cansino) appeared in several roles in 1935: in Dante's Inferno with Spencer Tracy; and Paddy O'Day, in which she played a Russian dancer. She was an Argentinian in Under the Pampas Moon and an Egyptian beauty in Charlie Chan in Egypt. In 1936, she took her first starring role as a "Latin type" in Human Cargo.[6]

Cohn argued that Hayworth's image was too Mediterranean, which reduced her opportunities to being cast in "exotic" roles, more limited in number. With Cohn and Judson's encouragement, Hayworth changed her hair color to dark red and her name to Rita Hayworth. She had electrolysis to raise her hairline and broaden the appearance of her forehead. By using her mother's maiden name, she led people to see her British-American ancestry and became a classic "American" pin-up.[6]

Hayworth appeared in five minor Columbia pictures and three minor independent movies in 1937. The following year she appeared in five Columbia B movies. 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.[6] With this film's box office success, fan mail for Hayworth began pouring into Columbia's publicity department. Cohn began to see Hayworth as his first and official new star. The studio never officially had stars under contract, except for Jean Arthur, who was trying to break with it.

With Fred Astaire in You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

Cohn began to build Hayworth up in 1940 in features such as Music in My Heart, The Lady in Question and Angels Over Broadway. That year, she was first featured in a Life magazine photo.[3] He loaned Hayworth to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to appear in Susan and God opposite Joan Crawford. While on loan to Warner Bros., Hayworth appeared as the second female lead in The Strawberry Blonde (1941) opposite James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.[6] Because the film was a big box office success, Hayworth's popularity rose and she immediately became one of Hollywood's hottest properties. So impressed was Warner Bros. that they tried to buy Hayworth's contract from Columbia, but Cohn refused to release her.

Her success led to a supporting role in Blood and Sand (1941) opposite Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell with Fox, the studio that had dropped her six years before. In one of her most notable screen roles, Hayworth played Doña Sol des Muire, the first of many screen sirens.

She 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.[6] The picture was so successful that the following year the studio produced and released another Astaire-Hayworth picture, You Were Never Lovelier.[6] In 1942, Hayworth also appeared in two other pictures, Tales of Manhattan and My Gal Sal.

During this period, Hayworth was featured in an August 1941 Life magazine photo in which she lounged seductively in a black lace negligee.[3] When the United States joined World War II in December 1941, the photo made Hayworth one of the top two "pin-up girls" of the war years; the other was the blonde Betty Grable. In 2002, the satin nightgown Hayworth wore for the photo sold for $26,888.[13]

Peak years at Columbia[edit]

In 1944, Hayworth made one of her best-known films, the Technicolor musical Cover Girl (1944) with Gene Kelly.[6] The film established her as Columbia's top star of the 1940s. For three consecutive years, starting in 1944, Hayworth was named one of the top movie box office attractions in the world. She was adept in ballet, tap, ballroom, and Spanish routines.

Cohn continued to showcase Hayworth's dance talents; she was the first dancer featured on film to partner with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Columbia featured her in the Technicolor films: Tonight and Every Night (1945) with Lee Bowman; and Down to Earth (1947) with Larry Parks.

Hayworth as Gilda in the film trailer
Hayworth in the strip scene from Gilda (1946).

Her erotic appeal was most noted in Charles Vidor's black and white film noir Gilda (1946) with Glenn Ford, which caused censors some consternation. The role, in which Hayworth wore black satin and performed a legendary one-glove striptease, made her into a cultural icon as a femme fatale.[6] While her film was still in release, extensive publicity linked her to a widely covered nuclear bomb test in the South Pacific.

Numerous reporters from hundreds of papers across the country were covering preparations in 1946 at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean's Marshall Islands for testing of the first nuclear bomb after World War II. The United States had been the first nation to use nuclear bombs, against the civilian population of Japan. Reporters publicized that young scientists had put the name of "Gilda" and Hayworth's image on the bomb, alluding to her bombshell status as a film star. Coverage varied widely at the time, but the story stuck that her image had been put on the bomb, and was repeated in her 1987 obituary in The New York Times, which readers relied on as fact.[3] Her husband at the time, Orson Welles, issued a public statement, saying they would be pleased only if this were the last bomb test ever.[3] Hayworth was furious to be used in this way.

Her biographer Barbara Leaming had a later interview with Welles in which he recalled,

...the angriest was when she found out that they'd put her on the atom bomb. Rita almost went insane, she was so angry. She was so shocked by it! Rita was the kind of person that kind of thing would hurt more than anybody. She wanted to go to Washington to hold a press conference, but Harry Cohn (president of Columbia Pictures) wouldn't let her because it would be unpatriotic.[14]

Recent research documents that only the name "Gilda" was put on the bomb; no image of Hayworth was used.[3][6]

From the trailer for Lady from Shanghai (1947)

A year later, Hayworth's performance in The Lady from Shanghai (1947) directed by Orson Welles was critically acclaimed.[6] The film's failure at the box office was attributed in part to Welles' having had Hayworth's famous red hair cut short and bleached platinum blonde for the role. Cohn had not been consulted and was furious that Hayworth's image was changed.

Also in 1947, Hayworth was featured in a Life cover story by Winthrop Sargeant, which led to her nickname as "The Love Goddess".[15] This term was adopted and used later as the title of a biopic and of a biography about her. In a 1980s interview Hayworth said, "Everybody else does nude scenes, 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."[16]

Her next film, The Loves of Carmen (1948) with Glenn Ford, was the first film co-produced by Columbia and Hayworth's production company, The Beckworth Corporation (named for Rebecca, her daughter with Welles). It was Columbia's biggest moneymaker that year. She received a percentage of the profits from this and all her subsequent films until 1954, when she dissolved Beckworth to pay off debts.[17]

The Hollywood princess[edit]

In 1948, at the height of her fame, Hayworth traveled to Cannes and was introduced to Prince Aly Khan. They began a year-long courtship, and were married on May 27, 1949. Hayworth left Hollywood and sailed for France, breaking her contract with Columbia.

As Hayworth was already one of the most well-known celebrities in the world, the courtship and the wedding received enormous press coverage around the world. Because she was still legally married to second husband Orson Welles, Hayworth also received some negative backlash for her courtship with the prince, causing some American fans to boycott her pictures. The wedding marked the first time a Hollywood actress became a princess. On December 28, 1949, Hayworth gave birth to the couple's only daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.

Though Hayworth was anxious to start a new life abroad away from Hollywood, Aly Khan's flamboyant lifestyle and duties proved too difficult for Hayworth. She did not get along with his friends, and she struggled to learn French. Aly Khan was also known in circles as a playboy, and it was suspected that he had been unfaithful to Hayworth during the marriage.

In 1951, Hayworth set sail with her two daughters back to New York. Although the couple did reconcile for a short time, they officially divorced by 1953.

Returning to Columbia[edit]

After the collapse of her marriage to Aly Khan, Hayworth was forced to return to Hollywood to star in her "comeback" picture, Affair in Trinidad (1952) with Glenn Ford. Director Vincent Sherman recalled that Hayworth seemed "rather frightened at the approach of doing another picture". She continued to clash with Columbia boss Harry Cohn, and was placed on suspension during filming. Nevertheless, the picture was highly publicized. The picture ended up grossing $1 million more than her previous blockbuster, Gilda (1946).

She continued to star in a string of successful pictures. In 1953, she had two films released: Salome with Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger; and Miss Sadie Thompson with José Ferrer and Aldo Ray. Her performance in the latter film won critical acclaim.

She was off the big screen for another four years, mainly because of a tumultuous marriage to the singer Dick Haymes. During her marriage to Haymes, she was involved in much negative publicity, which significantly lessened her appeal. By the time she returned to the screen for Fire Down Below (1957) with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak had become Columbia's top female star. Her last musical was Pal Joey (1957) with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. After this film, Hayworth left Columbia for good.

She received good reviews for her acting in Separate Tables (1958), with Burt Lancaster and David Niven, and The Story on Page One (1960) with Anthony Franciosa. She continued working throughout the 1960s. In 1962, her planned Broadway debut in Step on a Crack was cancelled for undisclosed health reasons.[18] She continued to act in films until the early 1970s. She made a well-publicized 1971 television appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. Her last film was The Wrath of God (1972).

Struggles with Columbia Pictures[edit]

Hayworth had a strained relationship with Columbia Pictures for many years. In 1943, she was suspended without pay for nine weeks because she refused to appear in Once Upon a Time.[19] (During this period in Hollywood, actors did not get to choose their films; they were on salary rather than receiving a fixed amount per picture.)

In 1947, Hayworth's new contract with Columbia provided a salary of US$250,000 plus 50% of film profits.[20] In 1951 Columbia alleged it had $800,000 invested in properties for her, including the film she walked out on that year. She left Hollywood to marry Prince Aly Khan. She was suspended for failing to report to work on the film Affair in Trinidad.

In 1952, she refused to report for work because "she objected to the script."[21] In 1955, she sued to get out of a contract with the studio, but asked for her $150,000 salary, alleging filming failed to start when agreed.[22] She said,

I was in Switzerland when they sent me the script for Affair in Trinidad and I threw it across the room. But I did the picture, and Pal Joey too. I came back to Columbia because I wanted to work and first, see, I had to finish that goddamn contract, which is how Harry Cohn owned me![23] "Harry Cohn thought of me as one of the people he could exploit," said Hayworth, "and make a lot of money. And I did make a lot of money for him, but not much for me.[24]

Years after her film career had ended and Cohn was dead, Hayworth still resented her treatment by him and Columbia.

I used to have to punch a time clock at Columbia ... Every day of my life. That's what it was like. I was under exclusive contract, like they 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.[25]

Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in Gilda (1946)

Hayworth resented that the studio failed to train her to sing or to encourage her to learn how to sing.[26] Although she appeared to sing in many of her films, she was usually dubbed. As the public did not know the secret, she was embarrassed to be asked to sing by troops at USO shows.[27] She complained that:

I wanted to study singing, but Harry Cohn kept saying, 'Who needs it?' and the studio wouldn't pay for it. They had me so intimidated that I couldn't have done it anyway. They always said, 'Oh, no, we can't let you do it. There's no time for that; it has to be done right now!' I was under contract, and that was it.[28]

Cohn had a reputation as a taskmaster, but he had his own criticisms of Hayworth. He had invested heavily in her before she began a reckless affair with the married Aly Khan, and it could have caused a backlash against her career and Columbia's success. For instance, an article in the British periodical The People called for a boycott of Hayworth's films. It said, "Hollywood must be told its already tarnished reputation will sink to rock bottom if it restores this reckless woman to a place among its stars."[29] Cohn expressed his frustration with Hayworth's judgment in an interview with Time magazine.

Hayworth might be worth ten million dollars today easily! She owned 25% of the profits with her own company and had hit after hit and she had to get married and had to get out of the business and took a suspension because she fell in love again! In five years, at two pictures a year, at 25%! Think of what she could have made! But she didn't make pictures! She took two or three suspensions! She got mixed up with different characters! Unpredictable![30]

Personal life[edit]

Marriages and family[edit]

In 1941, Hayworth said she was the antithesis of the characters she played. "I naturally am very shy ... and I suffer from an inferiority complex."[31] She once lamented, "Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me." In 1970, she remarked that the only films she could watch without laughing were the dance musicals she made with Fred Astaire. "I guess the only jewels of my life," Hayworth said, "were the pictures I made with Fred Astaire."[32]

Hayworth's two younger brothers, Vernon and Eduardo Cansino, Jr., both served in World War II. Vernon left the United States Army in 1946 with several medals, including the Purple Heart, and later married Susan Vail, a dancer. Eduardo Cansino, Jr. followed Hayworth into acting; he was also under contract with Columbia Pictures. In 1950, he made his screen debut in Magic Carpet.

Hayworth was married and divorced five times. She said, "Basically, I am a good, gentle person, but I am attracted to mean personalities."[33]

Edward Charles Judson[edit]

In 1937, when Hayworth was 18, she married Edward Judson, an oilman turned promoter who was more than twice her age. They married in Las Vegas. He had played a major role in launching her acting career. A shrewd businessman, he was domineering and became her manager for months before he proposed. "He helped me with my career," Hayworth conceded after they divorced, "and helped himself to my money." She alleged Judson compelled her to transfer considerable property to him and promise to pay him $12,000 under threats that he would do her "great bodily harm."[34] She filed for divorce from him on February 24, 1942, with the complaint of cruelty. She noted to the press his work took him to Oklahoma and Texas while she lived and worked in Hollywood. Judson was as old as her father, who was enraged by the marriage, which caused a rift between Hayworth and her parents until the divorce. Judson had failed to tell Hayworth before they married he had previously been twice married.[35] When she left him, she literally had no money—she asked her friend Hermes Pan if she could eat at his home.

Orson Welles[edit]

Wedding of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, with best man Joseph Cotten (September 7, 1943)

Hayworth married Orson Welles on September 7, 1943, during the run of The Mercury Wonder Show. None of her colleagues knew about the planned wedding (before a judge) until she announced it the day before. For the civil ceremony, she wore a beige suit, ruffled white blouse, and a veil. A few hours after they got married, they returned to work at the studio. They had a daughter, Rebecca, who was born on December 17, 1944, and died at the age of 59 on October 17, 2004. They struggled in their marriage. Hayworth said that Welles did not want to be tied down:

During the entire period of our marriage, he showed no interest in establishing a home. When I suggested purchasing a home, he told me he didn't want the responsibility. Mr. Welles told me he never should have married in the first place; that it interfered with his freedom in his way of life.[36]

Hayworth was granted a divorce November 10, 1947.[37]

Prince Aly Khan[edit]

In 1948, Hayworth left her film career to marry Prince Aly Khan, a son of Sultan Mahommed Shah, Aga Khan III, the leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. They were married on May 27, 1949. Her bridal trousseau had been influenced by Dior's "New Look", launched in 1947.

Aly Khan and his family were heavily involved in horse racing, owning and racing horses. Hayworth had no interest in the sport, but became a member of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club anyway. Her filly, Double Rose, won several races in France and finished second in the 1949 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.[38]

In 1951, while still married to Hayworth, Khan was spotted dancing with the actress Joan Fontaine in the nightclub where he and his wife had met. Hayworth threatened to divorce him in Reno, Nevada. In early May, Hayworth moved to Nevada to establish legal residence to qualify for a divorce. She stayed at Lake Tahoe with their daughter, saying there was a threat the child would be kidnapped. Hayworth filed for divorce from Khan on September 2, 1951, on the grounds of "extreme cruelty, entirely mental in nature."[39]

Hayworth once said she might convert to Islam, but did not. During the custody fight over their daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, born (1949-12-28)December 28, 1949, the Prince said he wanted her raised as a Muslim; Hayworth (who had been raised a Roman Catholic) wanted the child to be a Christian.[40]

Hayworth rejected his offer of $1,000,000 if she would rear Yasmin as a Muslim from age seven and allow her to go to Europe to visit with him for two or three months each year, stating:

Nothing will make me give up Yasmin's chance to live here in America among our precious freedoms and habits. While I respect the Muslim faith and all other faiths it is my earnest wish that my daughter be raised as a normal, healthy American girl in the Christian faith. There isn't any amount of money in the entire world for which it is worth sacrificing this child's privilege of living as a normal Christian girl here in the United States. There just isn't anything else in the world that can compare with her sacred chance to do that. And I'm going to give it to Yasmin regardless of what it costs.[41]

Dick Haymes[edit]

When Hayworth and Dick Haymes first met, he was still married and his singing career was waning. When she showed up at the clubs, he got a larger audience. Haymes was desperate for money, as two of his former wives were taking legal action against him for unpaid child support. His financial problems were so bad he could not return to California without being arrested.[42] On July 7, 1954, his ex-wife Nora Haymes got a bench warrant for his arrest, because he owed her $3,800 in alimony. Less than a week prior, his other ex-wife, Joanne Dru, also got a bench warrant because she said he owed $4,800 in support payments for their three children.[43] Hayworth ended up paying most of Haymes's debts.

Haymes was born in Argentina, and did not have solid proof of American citizenship. Not long after he met Hayworth, U.S. officials initiated proceedings to have him deported to Argentina for being an illegal alien. He hoped Hayworth could influence the government and keep him in the United States. When she assumed responsibility for his citizenship, a bond was formed that led to marriage. The two were married on September 24, 1953 at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, and their wedding procession went through the casino.

From the start of their marriage, Haymes was deeply indebted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). When Hayworth took time off from attending his comeback performances in Philadelphia, the audiences sharply declined. Haymes's $5000 weekly salary was attached by the IRS to pay a $100,000 bill, and he was unable to pay his pianist. Haymes' ex-wives demanded money while Hayworth publicly bemoaned her own lack of alimony from Aly Khan. At one point, the couple was effectively imprisoned in a hotel room for 24 hours in Manhattan at the Hotel Madison as sheriff's deputies waited outside threatening to arrest Haymes for outstanding debts. At the same time, Hayworth was fighting a severe custody battle with Khan, during which she reported death threats against their children. While living in New York, Hayworth sent the children to live with their nanny in Westchester County. They were found and photographed by a reporter from Confidential magazine.

After a tumultuous two years together, Haymes struck Hayworth in the face in 1955 in public at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles. Hayworth packed her bags, walked out, and never returned. The assault and crisis shook her, and her doctor ordered her to remain in bed for several days.[44]

Hayworth was short of money after her marriage to Haymes. She had failed to gain child support from Aly Khan. She sued Orson Welles for back payment of child support which she claimed had never been paid. This effort was unsuccessful and added to her stress.

James Hill[edit]

Hayworth began a relationship with film producer James Hill, whom she went on to marry on February 2, 1958. He put her in one of her last major films, Separate Tables. On September 1, 1961, Hayworth filed for divorce, alleging extreme mental cruelty. He later wrote Rita Hayworth: A Memoir, in which he suggested their marriage collapsed because he wanted Hayworth to continue making movies, while she wanted them both to retire from Hollywood.

In his book, In the Arena, Charlton Heston writes about Hayworth's brief marriage to Hill. One night Heston and his wife Lydia joined the couple for dinner at a restaurant in Spain with the director George Marshall and the actor Rex Harrison, Hayworth's co-star in The Happy Thieves. Heston wrote the occasion "Turned into the single most embarrassing evening of my life," describing how Hill heaped "Obscene abuse" on Hayworth until she was "Reduced to a helpless flood of tears, her face buried in her hands." Heston writes how the others sat stunned, witnesses to a "Marital massacre" and, though he was "strongly tempted to slug him" (Hill), he left with his wife Lydia after she stood up, almost in tears. Heston wrote, "I'm ashamed of walking away from Miss Hayworth's humiliation. I never saw her again." [45]


Hayworth was a top glamour girl in the 1940s, a pin-up girl for military servicemen and a beauty icon for women. At 5'6" (168 cm) and 120 lb (55 kg),[46] she was tall enough to be a concern for dancing partners such as Fred Astaire. She reportedly changed her hair color eight times in eight movies.[47]

In 1949, Hayworth's lips were voted best in the world by the Artists League of America.[48] She had a modeling contract with Max Factor to promote its Tru-Color lipsticks and Pan-Stik make-up.

Barbara Leaming writes in her biography of Hayworth, If This Was Happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth (1989) that because of her addiction to alcohol and the stresses of her life, she aged before her time. Reappearing in New York in 1956 to begin work on her first film in three years, Hayworth was described by the following: "Despite the artfully applied make-up and shoulder-length red hair, there was no concealing the ravages of drink and stress. Deep lines had crept around her eyes and mouth, and she appeared worn, exhausted, older than her thirty-eight years."[49] Leaming wrote that during the filming of Fire Down Below, Hayworth heard a comment that she should hurry up as, "No amount of time was going to make her look any younger."[50] In San Francisco the following year filming Pal Joey, she was signing autographs when she heard a fan say, "She looks so old."[51]

Health problems[edit]

Rita Hayworth's daughter Yasmin Aga Khan spoke of her mother's long struggle with alcohol:

I remember as a child 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.[52]

In 1972, Hayworth was 54 years old and wanted to retire from acting, but she needed money and so signed up for The Wrath of God. The experience exposed her poor health and worsening mental state. As she could not remember lines, they filmed her scenes one line at a time.

The following year, Hayworth agreed to do one more movie, the British Tales That Witness Madness (1973). Because of her worsening health, she abandoned the movie set and returned to the United States. She never returned to acting.[53]

In March 1974, both her brothers died within a week of each other, which caused her great sadness and led to heavy drinking. In 1976 at London's Heathrow Airport, Hayworth was removed from a TWA flight after having an angry outburst while traveling with her agent. "Miss Hayworth had been drinking when she boarded the plane," revealed a TWA flight attendant, "and had several free drinks during the flight." The event attracted much negative publicity; a disturbing photograph was published in newspapers.[54]

Hayworth's alcoholism hid symptoms of what was eventually understood to be Alzheimer's disease.[55] "It was the outbursts," said her daughter. "She'd fly into a rage. I can't tell you. I thought it was alcoholism-alcoholic dementia. We all thought that. The papers picked that up, of course. You can't imagine the relief just in getting a diagnosis. We had a name at last, Alzheimer's! Of course, that didn't really come until the last seven or eight years. She wasn't diagnosed as having Alzheimer's until 1980. There were two decades of hell before that."[56]

In July 1981, Hayworth's health had deteriorated to the point where a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that she should be placed under the care of her daughter, Princess Yasmin Khan of New York City.[57] Hayworth lived in an apartment at The San Remo on Central Park West next to her daughter, who arranged for care for her mother through her final years.


Hayworth's grave at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California

Rita Hayworth lapsed into a semicoma in February 1987. She died at age 68 from complications associated with Alzheimer's disease a few months later on May 14, 1987. A funeral service was held on May 19, 1987, at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.[58] Pallbearers included actors Ricardo Montalbán, Glenn Ford, Don Ameche, agent Budd Burton Moss, and the choreographer Hermes Pan. She was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.[59] Her headstone includes the inscription: "To yesterday's companionship and tomorrow's reunion."

President Ronald Reagan, who had been an actor at the same time as Hayworth, said:

Rita Hayworth was one of our country's most beloved stars. 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.[2]


Hayworth receives National Screen Heritage Award in 1977


  • A fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association is named in her honor by her daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan, who has been the hostess for these events and a major sponsor of Alzheimer's Disease charities and awareness programs.

References in popular culture[edit]

  • The film I Remember Better When I Paint (2009) describes how Hayworth took up painting while struggling with Alzheimer's and produced art.[60]
  • Lynda Carter portrayed Hayworth in the television movie Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess (1983).
  • In the movie Beat the Devil (1953), starring Humphrey Bogart, he tells the Sheik that he knows Rita Hayworth very well, and that he would introduce him to her. The Sheik has pictures of Rita Hayworth all over the wall behind him and Humphrey Bogart, and she is the Sheik's idol.
  • Actress Veronica Watt portrayed her in the film Hollywoodland (2006).
  • "Rita Hayworth as Gilda" written in 112,000,000 year old cave paintings by time travelers in the 2008 movie 100 Million BC.
  • Hayworth's pin-up poster is portrayed in Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982), and was later brought to the screen in the film The Shawshank Redemption (1994) directed by Frank Darabont (which itself features a video clip of Hayworth in Gilda, shown as a film the prisoners are watching).
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra co-creator Bryan Konietzko has said that his design for Asami Sato, a character from the latter of the two series, was partially inspired by Hayworth.[61]
  • Tom Waits mentions Hayworth in his song Invitation to the Blues from the 1976 album, Small Change.[62]
  • Musician Jack White makes reference to Hayworth in two of his songs, "White Moon" and "Take, Take, Take" from the White Stripes' album Get Behind Me Satan. White confessed to Rolling Stone Magazine:

    Rita Hayworth became an all-encompassing metaphor for everything I was thinking about while making the album. There was an autograph of hers -- she had kissed a piece of paper, left a lip print on it, and underneath it said, "My heart is in my mouth." I loved that statement and wondered why she wrote that. There was also the fact that she was Latino and had changed her name. She had become something different, morphed herself and was trying to put something behind her. And there was the shallowness of celebrity when it's thrown upon you. All of that was going around in these songs; what had been thrown on me, things I'd never asked for. Every song on that album is about truth.[63]


Year Title Role Notes
1926 La Fiesta[6] Short subject
Credited as Rita Cansino
1934 Cruz Diablo[6] Extra Uncredited
1935 In Caliente[6] Credited as Rita Cansino
1935 Under the Pampas Moon Carmen Credited as Rita Cansino
1935 Charlie Chan in Egypt Nayda Credited as Rita Cansino
1935 Dante's Inferno Dancer Credited as Rita Cansino
1935 Piernas de seda Ballerina Uncredited
1935 Hi, Gaucho! Dolores Uncredited
1935 Paddy O'Day Tamara Petrovitch
1935 Professional Soldier Gypsy Dancer Uncredited
1936 Human Cargo Carmen Zoro Credited as Rita Cansino
1936 Dancing Pirate Specialty Dancer Uncredited
1936 Meet Nero Wolfe Maria Maringola Credited as Rita Cansino
1936 Rebellion Paula Castillo Alternative title: Lady from Frisco
Credited as Rita Cansino
1937 Old Louisiana Angela Gonzales Alternative title: Louisiana Gal
Credited as Rita Cansino
1937 Hit the Saddle Rita Credited as Rita Cansino
1937 Trouble in Texas Carmen Serano Credited as Rita Cansino
1937 Criminals of the Air Rita Owens
1937 Girls Can Play Sue Collins
1937 The Game That Kills Betty Holland
1937 Life Begins with Love Dinner Guest's Girl Friend Uncredited
1937 Paid to Dance Betty Morgan Alternative title: Hard to Hold
1937 The Shadow Mary Gillespie
1938 Who Killed Gail Preston? Gail Preston
1938 Special Inspector Patricia Lane Alternative title: Across the Border
1938 There's Always a Woman Mary – Ketterling's Secretary Uncredited
1938 Convicted Jerry Wheeler
1938 Juvenile Court Marcia Adams
1938 The Renegade Ranger Judith Alvarez
1939 Homicide Bureau J.G. Bliss
1939 The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt Karen
1939 Only Angels Have Wings Judy MacPherson
1940 Music in My Heart Patricia O'Malley
1940 Blondie on a Budget Joan Forrester
1940 Susan and God Leonora Stubbs
1940 The Lady in Question Natalie Roguin
1940 Angels Over Broadway Nina Barona
1941 The Strawberry Blonde Virginia Brush
1941 Affectionately Yours Irene Malcolm
1941 Blood and Sand Dona Sol
1941 You'll Never Get Rich Sheila Winthrop
1942 My Gal Sal Sally Elliott
1942 Tales of Manhattan Ethel Halloway
1942 You Were Never Lovelier Maria Acuña
1944 Cover Girl Rusty Parker/Maribelle Hicks
1945 Tonight and Every Night Rosalind Bruce
1946 Gilda Gilda Mundson Farrell
1947 Down to Earth Terpsichore/Kitty Pendleton
1947 The Lady from Shanghai Elsa Bannister
1948 The Loves of Carmen Carmen Producer (uncredited)
1952 Affair in Trinidad Chris Emery Producer (uncredited)
1953 Salome Princess Salome Alternative title: Salome: The Dance of the Seven Veils
Producer (uncredited)
1953 Miss Sadie Thompson Sadie Thompson
1957 Fire Down Below Irena
1957 Pal Joey Vera Prentice-Simpson
1958 Separate Tables Ann Shankland
1959 They Came to Cordura Adelaide Geary
1959 The Story on Page One Josephine Brown/Jo Morris
1961 The Happy Thieves Eve Lewis Producer (uncredited)
1964 Circus World Lili Alfredo
1965 The Money Trap Rosalie Kenny
1967 The Rover Aunt Caterina Alternative title: L'avventuriero
1968 The Bastard Martha Alternative title: I bastardi
1970 Road to Salina Mara Alternative title: La route de Salina
1971 The Naked Zoo Mrs. Golden
1972 The Wrath of God Señora De La Plata
Year Title Role Notes
1966 The Poppy Is Also a Flower Monique Marko Television film
1971 The Carol Burnett Show Herself Episode #4.20
1971 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Herself Episode #5.3


  1. ^ Associated Press (September 8, 1943). "Actor Orson Welles Weds Rita Hayworth. Couple Married In Superior Court At Santa Monica". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-12-09. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth were married today by Superior Court Judge Orlando Rhodes. ... 
  2. ^ a b Albin Krebs (May 16, 1987). "Rita Hayworth, Movie Legend, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-12-09. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bill Geerhart "Atomic Goddess, Part I", Knol, accessed March 21, 2012[dead link]
  4. ^ Faris, Gerald (May 18, 1987). "A Screen Goddess and Hollywood Rebel Loses The Battle Against Disease". The Age. Retrieved June 7, 2009. 
  5. ^ Márquez Reviriego, Víctor (March 24, 1984). "Del firmamento al limbo". ABC. Retrieved April 5, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t (Ware 2005, p. 281)
  7. ^ "Princess Born to Rita After Pre-dawn Dash to Clinic", Associated Press, December 28, 1949. Accessed June 13, 2009.
  8. ^ "Rita Hayworth Delights Papa and Mama Cansino." Ellensburg Daily Record, July 13, 1944. Accessed June 7, 2009.
  9. ^ "Actress Rita Hayworth's Grandfather Dies at 89." Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1954
  10. ^ (Agan 1979, p. 67)
  11. ^ (Morella 1983, p. 16)
  12. ^ (Burroughs Hannsberry 2009, p. 253)
  13. ^ "Lot 37 Rita Hayworth Nightgown From Her Famous World War II Publicity Photos". Sotheby's. Retrieved February 7, 2010. [dead link]
  14. ^ (Leaming 1989, pp. 129–130)
  15. ^ Sargeant, Winthrop. "The Cult of the Love Goddess in America", Life November 10, 1947.
  16. ^ (Morella 1983, p. 234)
  17. ^ (Dick 1993, p. 140)
  18. ^ "Rita Hayworth Replaced in Play", AP, August 24, 1962.
  19. ^ "Screen News Here and in Hollywood," New York Times, March 22, 1943.
  20. ^ Hopper, Hedda. "Looking at Hollywood," AP, October 22, 1947. Accessed June 4, 2009
  21. ^ "Hayworth, Studio Agree Once Again," New York Times, January 9, 1952
  22. ^ "Rita Hayworth Files Suit to End Film Contract", Los Angeles Times, April 9, 1955
  23. ^ Hallowell, John. "Rita Hayworth: Don't Put the Blame on Me, Boys", New York Times, October 25, 1970
  24. ^ Anderson, Nancy."Rita Hayworth Still Ranks as Beauty," Copley News Service, 11 February 1972. Accessed June 2, 2009.
  25. ^ Hallowell, John. "Rita: Hollywood Still Is Her Town But No One Knows She's There", St. Petersburg Times, 23 June 1968. Accessed June 4, 2009. [1]
  26. ^ (Kobal 1982, p. 103)
  27. ^ (Kobal 1982, p. 124)
  28. ^ (Kobal 1982, p. 104)
  29. ^ "Call For Boycott Of Rita Hayworth", AP, April 30, 1951
  30. ^ (Kobal 1982, p. 163)
  31. ^ Parsons, Louella O. "Rita, Shy Off Set, Now Groomed for Vamp Role," St. Petersburg Times, May 25, 1941.[2] Accessed June 2, 2009.
  32. ^ Hallowell, John. "Rita Hayworth, "Don't Put the Blame on Me, Boys," New York Times, October 25, 1970
  33. ^ "Chatter", People, July 15, 1974. Accessed June 6, 2009.
  34. ^ "Rita Hayworth Tells of Threats by Ex-Mate", Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1943, A16
  35. ^ (Kobal 1982, p. 62)
  36. ^ "Rita Hayworth Wins Divorce From Orson Welles", Spokane Daily Chronicle, Associated Press, November 10, 1947, retrieved June 6, 2009
  37. ^ (Leaming 1989, p. 142)
  38. ^ Staff writer, "Love's Long Shot", Time October 17, 1949. Accessed May 29, 2009.
  39. ^ "Rita Hayworth Files Divorce Action in Reno," Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1951
  40. ^ "Prince Wants Yasmin Back", Associated Press, October 31, 1953. Accessed June 13, 2009.
  41. ^ "Rita Says No to Million", Sydney Morning Herald, September 13, 1953. Accessed June 13, 2009.
  42. ^ "Dick Haymes Faces Arrest Over Alimony", Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1956
  43. ^ "Haymes Hears Sour Music," AP, July 7, 1954.
  44. ^ "Marriage Falls Down and So Does Rita", UP, August 30, 1955.
  45. ^ (Heston 1997, p. 253)
  46. ^ Mason, Jerry. "Meet Rita Hayworth." The Spokesman-Review. January 3, 1942.
  47. ^ Chapman, John. "Red Heads", Chicago Daily Tribune, May 25, 1941
  48. ^ "Presenting: Ten Most Perfect Features in the World," AP, February 17, 1949. Accessed June 13, 2009.
  49. ^ (Leaming 1989, p. 322)
  50. ^ (Leaming 1989, p. 323)
  51. ^ (Leaming 1989, p. 325)
  52. ^ Lindström, Pia. "Alzheimer's Fight in Her Mother's Name", New York Times, February 23, 1997. [3] Accessed June 6, 2009.
  53. ^ Thames, Stephanie. "The Wrath of God," TCM.com. Accessed June 14, 2009
  54. ^ "Actress Helped from Jet", St. Petersburg Times, January 21, 1976.
  55. ^ "'Love Goddess' Rita Hayworth is Dead at 68", AP, May 16, 1987. "For several years in the 1970s, she had been misdiagnosed as an alcoholic."
  56. ^ Hendrickson, Paul, "Alzheimer's: A Daughter's Nightmare", Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1989
  57. ^ "Rita Hayworth Placed in Conservatorship" AP, July 23, 1981
  58. ^ Krebs, Albin (May 16, 1987). "Rita Hayworth, Movie Legend, Dies". nytimes.com. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  59. ^ Rita Hayworth at Find a Grave
  60. ^ Gitau, Rosalia (March 11, 2010). "Art Therapy for Alzheimer's". The Huffington Post. 
  61. ^ "Sorry guys, I wish I had something more". Bryan Konietzko. 2012-06-18. Retrieved 2012-06-19. 
  62. ^ "Invitation to the Blues". tomwaits.com. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  63. ^ Fricke, David (Sep 8, 2005). Rolling Stone Magazine.  Missing or empty |title= (help)


  • Agan, Patrick (1979). The Decline of the Love Goddess (1 ed.) Pinnacle Books Inc.,N.Y. ISBN 0-523-40669-X
  • Burroughs Hannsberry, Karen (2009). Femme Noir: Bad Girls Of Film. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-44682-X
  • Dick, Bernard F (1993). The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813118413
  • Heston, Charlton (1997). In the Arena: An Autobiography (1 ed.) Berkley Trade. ISBN 1-57297-267-X
  • Leaming, Barbara (1989). If This Was Happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth (1 ed.) Viking Adult. ISBN 0-670-81978-6
  • Kobal, John (1982). Rita Hayworth: Portrait of a Love Goddess. Berkley. ISBN 0-425-05634-1
  • Morella, Joe and Epstein, Edward Z. (1983). Rita: The Life of Rita Hayworth. Delacorte Press. ISBN 0-385-29265-1
  • Ware, Susan; Braukman, Stacy (2005). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 5. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01488-X

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]