Rita Hayworth's life might serve as the prototype for that of the glamorous movie queen, the classic story of the beautiful young woman trapped in a profession that took over her life in ways she found difficult to understand, much less control. Born into a show-business family, Hayworth went to work early as a dancing partner for her father, Eduardo Cansino of The Dancing Cansinos. Her grace and beauty soon attracted Hollywood , and, after a lackluster beginning playing bit parts as a Latin type in B pictures, she was remade from an ethnic beauty into an all-American glamour girl through new makeup, hair color, and an electrolysis treatment that lifted her hairline. The careful exploitation of her as the ultimate in Hollywood 1940s desirability brought her fame and wealth, but little happiness.

The Hayworth image was always sexy and alluring, but she didn't play in only one type of film. She was the dancing star of 1940s escapist musicals, and at the same time she played femmes fatales in a series of films noir. Her first real success as a leading lady came in 1941, and her films that year reflect these differences: Rouben Mamoulian's Blood and Sand, in which she was the temptress Doña Sol, and You'll Never Get Rich, in which she was Fred Astaire's dancing partner. She made another film with Astaire, You Were Never Lovelier, and many felt that Hayworth, a natural dancer with great stamina and rhythm, was Astaire's best on-screen partner. Although her singing had to be dubbed, she found great success in the musicals of the 1940s.

Two of the most financially successful and best remembered films of the war years starred Hayworth: the musical Cover Girl, in which she co-starred with Gene Kelly, and the sexually suggestive Gilda, opposite Glenn Ford. Cover Girl presented Hayworth in a Technicolor version of her own story. An ordinary dancer is transformed before the audience's eyes via clothing and makeup into a dazzling face on a magazine cover. She becomes a famous model as well as a successful musical comedy star, descending, as it seems, from the very heavens as she dances down a gigantic ramp in flowing chiffon. (Needless to say, none of it brings her happiness.) In Gilda she is used and abused by more than one man, and her apparent passivity allows her to be victimized and degraded, culminating in her famous striptease "Put the Blame on Mame, Boys." Hayworth's image as a destructive but pliable woman seemed to stick with her after Gilda. "Every man I've known has fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me," she allegedly told a friend. One of her ex-husbands, Orson Welles, used Hayworth's image as a passive yet destructive temptress in his film The Lady from Shanghai . Whether Hayworth played in musicals or dramas, she was always the ultimate in desirability. When in 1948 Life magazine dubbed her "The Love Goddess," she was officially marked with the tagline that would plague her the rest of her life. The issue coincided with the release of her film Down to Earth, in which she played the Greek goddess of dance, Terpsichore. Her image as a woman men could not resist was further enhanced by her five unhappy marriages, in particular her wedding to Prince Ali Khan in 1949. This publicity bonanza, fully exploited by the tabloids, made Hayworth into an international celebrity. She soon returned to Hollywood , however, and resumed her career, although she would never regain the fame she had in the 1940s.

Hayworth continued to perform during the 1960s and 1970s, occasionally trying her hand at television or a serious drama, such as her role in Rattigan's Separate Tables, for which she received good reviews. Hayworth's most famous and successful films, musical or dramatic, tend to deal with her as a woman whose image does not truthfully reflect her personality, and for whom success, riches, and beauty bring no real and lasting personal satisfaction. Sadly enough, it seemed to be the story of her own life. – gale.com


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