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Revising Rita's portrait

A documentary on Hayworth puts a more ordinary face on the 1940s sex symbol.

September 04, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Rita Hayworth once said, "Most men fell in love with Gilda ... and wakened with me." It encapsulated a life that was at once glamorous and terribly sad.

Bestowed by Hollywood with the surreal title "The Love Goddess," Hayworth was one of the greatest sex symbols of the 1940s and '50s. But as with so many of Hollywood's leading ladies -- from Clara Bow to Marilyn Monroe -- Hayworth never found the love or security in her personal life that she so desperately sought. There were five failed marriages -- Orson Welles, Prince Aly Khan and singer Dick Haymes were among her famous husbands -- spousal abuse, drinking problems and then a sad death at 69 from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

A new Turner Classic Movies documentary, "Rita," which screens tonight at the American Cinemathque's Egyptian Theatre and premieres Tuesday on the cable network, is the first-ever comprehensive documentary on the glamour girl who starred in such classics as "Gilda," "Cover Girl" and "Pal Joey."

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is executive producer of the documentary. Previously, he was executive producer of TCM documentaries on Bow, actress Marion Davies and pioneering screenwriter Frances Marion.

When producer-writer Elaina Archer, his collaborator on those documentaries, approached him about Hayworth, Hefner says, "I didn't respond to Rita quite as quickly as I have to some of the others because most of the ones I approved before are more obscure. Rita obviously is from another generation [than the other women]. But in all cases, they are women who were of their time and in some cases were victims and in some cases managed to survive and prevail one way another."

Born into a family of Spanish dancers in 1918 New York, shy Marguerita Carmen Cansino and her family moved to L.A. in 1926. The dark-haired beauty was supporting her family by the age of 13, teaming up with her overbearing father Eduardo as the Dancing Cansinos.

While still a teenager, she was spotted by Hollywood talent scouts and signed to Twentieth Century Fox, where she was known as Rita Cansino.

Her fortunes changed when she married the rich, much older Edward Hudson, who busily began promoting her. She was signed by Columbia Pictures and got her first big break, as the now-renamed Rita Hayworth, as the second female lead in Howard Hawks' 1939 film "Only Angels Have Wings."

At Columbia, she got a chance to dance with Fred Astaire in "You'll Never Get Rich" and "You Were Never Lovelier." She was at the peak of her talents when Columbia teamed her with Gene Kelly in the 1944 musical "Cover Girl."

After giving birth to her first child, Rebecca, she starred in her most famous movie, the 1946 film noir "Gilda," playing the sexy, sophisticated married woman who wraps Glenn Ford around her little finger.

Hayworth abandoned Hollywood for Europe for two years in the late 1940s when she married Prince Aly Khan. After their divorce, she returned to Hollywood but never regained the popularity she had in the 1940s.

Robert Schiffer, who began doing Hayworth's makeup on "Only Angels Have Wings," believes she always picked the wrong men because "she had a lot of problems that people don't know about in her life with her father, not with her mother, and that weighed heavily on some of her depressions when she would have a drink or two or three or four."

Both Schiffer and Hefner believe Hayworth was abused by her father.

"I think with everybody's life, and in some cases it's more apparent, what happens to you when you are very young you play out the rest of your life," Hefner says.

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'Rita'

Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. -- "Rita" followed by "Gilda"

Price: $9, general admission: $6, Cinematheque members; $8, seniors and students with valid I.D. card.

Contact: (323) 466-3456 or www.egyptiantheatre.com

Also:

Where: Turner Classic Movies

When: Tuesday at 5 and 8 p.m.; also airing is "Gilda" at 6 p.m.; "The Lady From Shanghai" at 9 p.m.; "You'll Never Get Rich" at 10:30 p.m.; "Separate Tables" at midnight; and "Affectionately Yours" Wednesday at 2 a.m.

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