By Philip Berk
There never was a woman like Gilda!
Borrowing from that movie’s tagline, I'd say there never was a star like Rita Hayworth,the Hayworth before she deserted Hollywood (and Columbia studio head Harry Cohn) to become the Begum of the Prince Ali Khan.
Her career after that was never the same.
And somewhere along the way she lost that rare innocence that Howard Hawks was able to distill in Only Angels Have Wings. Sadly, even though she attended a number of Golden Globe ceremonies she never won a Globe herself.
Her only recognition was a nomination in 1965 for Circus World. Does anyone remember that?
Her career began as an RKO starlet during the time when her cousin Ginger Rogers was queen of the lot. Yes, Ginger was Rita’s first cousin.
But it was Harry Cohn who saw her potential.
She had been under contract to Fox as Rita Cansino, her given name, but Zanuck let her go, later having to borrow her for one of her most famous movies, Blood and Sand.
Cohn signed her to a seven year contract; her early roles were in B pictures, a staple of the studio.
But then Cohn persuaded Howard Hawks to let her play Cary Grant’s old flame in Only Angels Have Wings.
Jean Arthur won the guy in the movie, but it was Hayworth who stole the picture.
Beautiful beyond words, seductive enough to have had a past, but possessing a sweetness that was irresistible.
Soon other studios started to take notice.
MGM borrowed her for Susan and God, Warner Bros. for The Strawberry Blonde, but it was her costarring role in Blood and Sand that made her a star.
Suddenly Columbia remembered that she was a trained dancer and cast her opposite Fred Astaire in You’ll Never Get Rich (with a Cole Porter score.)
After that she was typecast as a singer even though her voice was always dubbed by Anita Ellis.
My Gal Sal again for Fox, You Were Never Lovelier, again with Fred Astaire.
Watch her musical numbers in the two Astaire musicals, she is grace personified, her body never moves above the waist; she is sublime.
She was now Columbia’s biggest star.
Cover Girl with Gene Kelly (borrowed from MGM) boasted a lovely score by Jerome Kern
And then came Gilda.
Who can forget her two numbers, Amado Mio and Put the Blame on Mame.
She is so magnetic in the film no wonder Humphrey Bogart turned down the costarring role.
"Who'd watch him with Hayworth on the screen."
By now she was married to Hollywood's boy wonder, Orson Welles.
He used her to sell the idea of The Lady from Shanghai to Harry Cohn.
The film was a box office failure but is now considered one of Welles's greatest movies.
After that Columbia didn't know what to do with her, relegating her to expensive overheated potboilers like The Loves of Carmen; no wonder she ran away from Hollywood into the arms of Ali Khan.
That marriage, one that shocked the world, lasted five years.
But when she returned to Hollywood the magic was gone. She continued to work for another twenty years, even marrying Burt Lancaster’s production partner at Hecht Hill Lancaster productions, James Hill, who produced her one prestige film of that period, Separate Tables in which she was outclassed by her costars David Niven, Deborah Kerr, and Wendy Hiller, all of whom were Golden Globe and Oscar nominated.
Her last years were marked by sadness.
She developed Alzeimers and died in 1987, cared for by her devoted daughter Yasmin, born of her marriage to Ali Kahn.
To appreciate Rita watch Only Angels Have Wings, her musicals with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and of course Gilda.
There never was a star like Rita!