After her option was not renewed by Fox, Rita freelanced at minor film studios before signing with Columbia Pictures in 1937. Rita's metamorphosis began after a name change from Rita Cansino to Rita Hayworth and extensive painful electrolysis to raise her hairline. After two more years of minor roles she gave an impressive performance in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939) as part of an ensemble cast headed by Cary Grant. Her sensitive portrayal of a disillusioned wife sparked the interest of other studios. Between assignments at Columbia Pictures she was borrowed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer for George Cukor's Susan and God (1940) with Joan Crawford and Warner Brothers for Raoul Walsh's The Strawberry Blonde (1941) with James Cagney. While on loan to Fox Studios for Rouben Mamoulian's Blood and Sand (1941) starring Tyrone Power, Rita achieved stardom with her sizzling performance as the amoral and seductive Doña Sol des Muire.
This Technicolor film forever branded her as one of Hollywood's most beautiful redheads. Ironically, Carole Landis was the original choice for the role but was replaced by Rita Hayworth prior to filming because she refused to dye her blonde hair red. Fox then borrowed Rita from Columbia and dyed her raven hair auburn which soon became Hayworth's best remembered feature. Her stardom was solidified when she made the cover of Time Magazine as Fred Astaire's new dancing partner in You'll Never Get Rich (1941). The "love goddess" image was cemented with Bob Landry's 1941 Life magazine photograph of her (kneeling on a bed in a silk and lace nightgown), which caused a sensation and became (at over five million copies) one of the most requested wartime pinups.
During World War II she ranked with Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, Hedy Lamarr, and Lana Turner as the pinup girls most popular with servicemen. Rita would also become Columbia's biggest star of the 1940s, under the watchful eye of studio chief Harry Cohn, who recognized her value. After she made Tales of Manhattan (1942) at Twentieth Century Fox opposite Charles Boyer, Cohn would not allow Hayworth to be loaned out to other studios. Hayworth's well-known films include the musicals that made her famous: You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942) (both with Fred Astaire, who wrote in his autobiography that Rita "danced with trained perfection and individuality"), My Gal Sal (1942) with Victor Mature, and her best known musical, Cover Girl (1944) with Gene Kelly. Although her singing voice was dubbed in her movies, Rita was one of Hollywood's best dancers, imbued with power, precision, tremendous enthusiasm, and an unearthly grace.
Cohn continued to effectively showcase Hayworth's talents in Technicolor films: Tonight and Every Night (1945) with Lee Bowman, and Down to Earth (1947), with Larry Parks. Her erotic appeal was most notable in Gilda (1946), a black-and-white film noir directed by Charles Vidor, which encountered some difficulty with censors. This role — in which Hayworth in black satin performed a legendary one-glove striptease — made her into a cultural icon as the ultimate femme fatale. Alluding to her bombshell status, in 1946 her likeness was placed on the first nuclear bomb to be tested after World War II at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as part of Operation Crossroads. Hayworth performed one of her best remembered dance routines, the samba from 1945's Tonight and Every Night, while pregnant with her first child, Rebecca Welles.
Hayworth was also the first dancer to partner both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on film - the others being Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Vera Ellen, and Leslie Caron. Hayworth gave one of her most acclaimed performances in Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai (1948), though it failed at the box office. The failure was in part attributed to the fact that director/co-star Welles had Hayworth's famous red locks cut off and the rest dyed blonde for her role. This was done without Harry Cohn's knowledge or approval who was furious over the change. Her next film, The Loves of Carmen (1948) with Glenn Ford, was the first film co-produced by Columbia and Rita's own production company, The Beckworth Corporation (named for her daughter Rebecca).
It was Columbia's biggest moneymaker for that year. She received a percentage of the profits from this and all of her subsequent films until 1955, when Hayworth dissolved Beckworth to pay off debts she owed to Columbia. Rita left her film career in 1948 to marry Prince Aly Khan, the heir to the Aga Khan III, leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims. The couple moved to Europe, causing a media frenzy. Joseph L.
Mankiewicz, in writing and directing 1954's The Barefoot Contessa, was said to have based his title character, Maria Vargas (played on film by Ava Gardner), on Hayworth's life and her marriage to Khan. After the marriage collapsed in 1951, Hayworth returned to America with great fanfare to film a string of hit films: Affair in Trinidad (1952) with favorite costar Glenn Ford, Salome (1953) with Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger, and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) with Jose Ferrer and Aldo Ray, for which her performance won critical acclaim. Then she was off the big screen for another four years, due mainly to a tumultuous marriage to singer Dick Haymes. In 1957, after making Fire Down Below with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, and her last musical Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, Rita finally left Columbia. She got good reviews for her acting in such films as Separate Tables (1958) with Burt Lancaster and The Story on Page One (1960) with Anthony Franciosa, and continued working throughout the 1960s.
Hayworth made her last film, The Wrath of God , in 1972. After about 1960, Hayworth suffered from extremely early onset of Alzheimer's disease, which was not diagnosed until 1980. She continued to act in films until the early-1970s and made a well-publicized appearance on The Carol Burnett Show near the end of her career. In 1977, Hayworth was the recipient of the National Screen Heritage Award (see above photo). Lynda Carter starred in a 1983 biopic of her life.
She lived in an apartment at the San Remo in New York City. Following her death from Alzheimer's in 1987 at age 68, she was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California; location: Grotto, Lot 196, Grave 6 (right of main sidewalk, near the curb). Her marker includes the inscription ""To yesterday's companionship and tomorrow's reunion." One of the major fundraisers for the Alzheimer's Association is the annual Rita Hayworth Gala, which is held in New York City and Chicago. Hayworth’s daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, has been the hostess for these events, which since 1985 have raised more than $42 million for the Association. Read more on Last.fm.
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