Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Celebrating Rita

The legend of Rita Hayworth has it that her mother, formerly of the Ziegfeld Follies, wanted her daughter to be an actress, but her father, a professional dancer, wanted his little girl to be a dancer, too. Eduardo Cansino, the dad, won out and little Margarita Carmen Cansino would begin dancing at age three.

She was born on October 17, 1918 – one hundred years ago – in Brooklyn. At age four, as a member of the family act, the Four Cansinos, she was on stage dancing at the Winter Garden Theatre in a Broadway production of The Greenwich Village Follies. Eduardo Cansino would come to believe that the movies needed more professional dancers and so, in 1926, the Cansinos moved to Hollywood.

Cary and Rita in Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
By the late ‘30s, Margarita, first known as Rita Cansino, then Rita Consuelo and finally Rita Hayworth, had gone solo and was now an up and coming young actress. Under contract to Columbia Pictures, she would climb the Hollywood ladder and, along the way, undergo a dramatic transformation.

In 1939 she began to break out with a supporting role, that of “Judy, Judy, Judy,” in Columbia’s Only Angels Have Wings starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Though the calculated makeover of her appearance, style and voice had just begun, she was on her way to becoming the studio's first top-tier glamour girl.

In 1940, on loan to Warner Bros., she appeared alongside James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland in The Strawberry Blonde. But it was her performance, again on loan, for 20th Century Fox’s Blood and Sand (1941) opposite Tyrone Power that established her as a bona fide sex symbol. It is Rita’s character in that film, Doña Sol, whose callous treatment of Spain’s top matador (Power) is the catalyst for his downfall. Confirming her credibility as an irresistible siren were reports from the set that Tyrone Power, a formidable sex symbol in his own right, was so fascinated by Miss Hayworth that he could barely take his eyes from her during filming.

Rita and Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand (1941)
Rita Hayworth’s metamorphosis was just about complete, she was a certified movie star and a #1 pin-up girl of World War II. But it wouldn’t be until the war’s end that she would step into the role that would forever define her and signal the very peak of her career. 

Gilda (1946), a product of Rita's home studio, is a polished-looking noir with a bitter under-taste. The film’s high contrast gloss, mostly thanks to Rita’s glamorous turn as Gilda and cinematographer Rudolph Maté, is offset by perverse overtones. Seething anger seems the prime motivator behind the behavior of more than one central character…“Hate can be a very exciting emotion. Very exciting. Haven’t you noticed that?” And, with all that malice in the ether, it's no surprise that a particularly twisted triangle develops between the three main characters.

Gilda opens with two-bit gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) rolling the dice in a down and dirty craps game. He's been reduced to trying his luck in “the Argentine.” Chance soon throws him together with casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) when the older man rescues him from an even dicier situation. The two appear to be birds of a feather and hit it off; soon Johnny is managing Mundson’s casino. Things get tricky when Johnny discovers that Mundson’s much younger new wife is his ex, a hair-tossing singer/dancer named Gilda. Barbs fly back and forth between the two former flames for most of the rest of the film. Yes, hate can be exciting, if that’s what you want to call it, but it can also be a cover for excruciatingly frustrated desire.

Rita as Gilda
By the time Gilda was released in early 1946, Rita Hayworth's makeover was complete and she was now every inch the sultry "Love Goddess." Her hair was a free-flowing riot of red, with her hairline raised just enough to open up her face. She was clad in luxurious gowns designed by Jean Louis, and her dance routines were the work of Jack Cole, the man who would concoct Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" number a few years later. Additionally, casting Rita opposite Glenn Ford in Gilda proved to be a canny move. Ford's Johnny Farrell is brash and edgy, full of bravado - a worthy foil to Gilda's provocative silkiness.

The film was a smash and Rita would reign with the likes of MGM's Ava and Lana as an international movie star and object of global desire for years after. With the passage of time, though, she would grow rueful about the impact of her superstar-making role on her private life. More than once she famously remarked that the men in her life all seemed to "...fall in love with Gilda and wake up with me."

As that line implies, Rita Hayworth's personal life would be turbulent. Her later life, ultimately, would be tragic. Her final film was Wrath of God in 1972 when she was 54 and well past her prime, and her passing would come 15 years later, in 1987 at age 68, the result of complications related to Alzheimer's Disease. But today we celebrate Rita on her 100th centenary, recalling her best-remembered film and her sizzling portrayal of Gilda. Rita is also being honored all this month as TCM's Star of the Month for October and I'll be watching her on the big screen tonight as my local movie house, the Smith Rafael Film Center (aka/the Rafael), pays tribute with a one-night-only screening of Gilda.


  1. Gilda on the big screen? That should be remarkable. I sometimes forget the trajectory of Rita's career and just accept the whole jumble as it came to me on TV as a kid. A most appealing woman and star. I saw my son, when a toddler, fall in love with her in Cover Girl.

    PS: Love the fresh new design to the blog.

    1. We're really looking forward to the screening tonight. I don't think I've ever seen any of Rita's films on the big screen, now that I think of it.

      Glad you like the updated look of the blog, trying not to change it too much but to freshen it up a bit.

  2. Another PS: Congrats on the well-deserved CiMBA!

  3. I'd rate GILDA and LADY IN SHANGHAI as Gilda's best films. She is truly iconic in both of them and literally sizzles on the screen. And, as you pointed out, Jean Louis's costume are fabulous in GILDA.

  4. Hi Rick, Blogger isn't letting me access "Reply" to your comment, so I'll do it this way...I also like Rita in "Pal Joey" even though she is basically stepping aside for Kim Novak at that point in her career. It's hard to top "Gilda" - but she's a great blonde femme fatale in "Shanghai" - it's just that I can't take Orson Welles's blarney Irish accent in that film :)

  5. She was almost too (sexy, beautiful, sweet, elegant... fill in the blank) to believe. She was the ultimate movie goddess. Love the post!

    1. Hello m'dear! Rita is so "too everything" in "Gilda" but it sure worked in that film. And thanks!