Rita Hayworth is best remembered for being a smoking hot Tinseltown femme fatale and iconic pin-up star who took the world by storm during the mid-20th century. But who she really beyond her image is very different than how she represented both on-screen and by the insatiable media. In truth, she was a somewhat shy and sensitive woman who managed to get a foothold in the entertainment industry by controlling the men in her life. As a result, she had to contend with a string of tumultuous and troublesome failed marriages.
Even though all of her romantic relationships ended up going down in flames; for a brief period, she found a bit of happiness in a man that she was once quoted as calling the greatest love of her life. That man is none other than the late-great Orson Welles; a director, producer, screenwriter, and actor who has called one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time. But even though he enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in cinema; he wasn’t always the best partner to the many women he had relationships with – Rita included. Even though she loved him dearly, one of his biggest regrets in life ended up being how poorly he treated Hayworth.
Join FactsVerse as we take an in-depth look at the ups and downs of this infamous Hollywood relationship and why it left Orson Welles with a pang of deep sadness that he would take to his grave. But first, let’s get a little background on Rita Hayworth and how she came to be a star in the first place.
She Wasn’t Always Rita
Born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn back in 1928, Hayworth was the oldest child of two dancers. Eduardo Cansino, her father, was of Romani heritage and hailed from a small town near Seville, Spain, called Castilleja de la Cuesta.
Rita’s mother, Volga Hayworth, was an Irish-American who was popular in the theater scene performing with the Ziegfeld Follies.
Rita faced intense hardship and heartbreak from her youngest years onward. When she was only 12 years old, her dad made her perform at casinos as his dance partner. Eduardo was a fierce man and would often beat her. Hayworth would later confide in her second husband, Orson Welles, that her father sexually abused her as well.
Rita’s not the most adept student as most of her free time spent practicing her dance routine and performing on stage. She could be found only rarely ever playing or socializing with other kids her age and had very little opportunity to make friends.
Her family eventually packed their bags and moved closer to the Mexican border in Southern California. They would regularly travel to Tijuana, where Rita’s barbarous father had her perform at flashy nightclubs.
While she enjoyed a modicum of success as a child dancer, her days of performing had just begun. In 1937, at the age of 19, Hayworth got married to her first husband, Eddie Judson.
Her parents were disapproving of the union from the beginning seeing as how Judson was nearly twice her age. And it was apparent that his intentions with her were nothing short of selfish. In Barbara Leaming’s 1989 Hayworth Biography, If This Was Happiness; Hayworth quoted as saying that she had married Judson for love while he merely married her for an investment.
For half a decade, Hayworth shared with Leaming, Judson treated her as if she ‘had no mind or soul’. All he cared about was turning his teenage bride into a star; thinking that he would be able to profit off of her success if she was able to get her name in lights.
After their marriage inevitably fell apart, Hayworth shared that while Judson helped her advance her career. He also ‘helped himself’ to her money. But before their marriage dissolved, Judson forced Rita to do just about everything for publicity’s sake. He would dictate her appearance and change it frequently. Ordering her to have medical treatments conducted to move her hairline back before ordering her to dye it auburn to look ‘less latin’.
In time, Hayworth became known as the most submissive and ‘cooperative girl in Hollywood’; but his domineering didn’t stop at that. Judson reportedly was even okay with pimping out his young wife to other influential Hollywood big-wigs. Encouraging her to sleep with them in exchange for special favor in the industry.
When Rita refused to have sex with one of these men; Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn who had just signed her to a lucrative contract. Hayworth created a decades-spanning grudge with the man.
As she enjoyed increased success in the industry; all the while being pimped out by her scumbag husband, Hayworth changed her name to sound less exotic, adopting a more American-sounding name.
She then starred in a string of films opposite Fred Astaire, and almost overnight, she became a household name thanks to her sexual allure and acting chops.
In 1942, after years of being estranged from her family and enduring his cruelty, Hayworth finally filed for divorce from Judson. A little under two years later, Rita got married once again – this time to an individual that she would call the great love of her life.
Orson Welles: An Upgrade From Her Previous Dumpster Fire Of A Marriage
Orson Welles was, as we already touched on, one of the most prestigious filmmakers and actors of his day. Years before he ever had the pleasure of meeting Hayworth face-to-face, he had already seen her pin-up spreads. And as the majority of people thought who didn’t actually know her, he assumed that she must be just like the femme fatale image that she portrayed as in the pages of that era’s gossip rags.
But after getting to know her on a one-on-one level; Orson discovered to his surprise, that she wasn’t the seductress that he had imagined. Hayworth was, in fact, far from it. She was merely a shy and somewhat insecure young starlet desperately trying to find her place in the world just like everyone else.
Welle’s quickly made her feel right at home in his circle. The only way he knew how to get her out of her shell was by pretending that he could read her mind, only for her to finally open up and correct him. It was a remarkably effective strategy to get the burgeoning young star talking.
The two celebrities fell for each other quickly and by 1943 they got got married while Hayworth taking a lunch break in between takes of her movie Cover Girl.
Since Hayworth still needed on the set of that film, the couple, unfortunately, couldn’t enjoy a honeymoon. But that mattered little, as the two were beyond thrilled to be together. They quickly became known as one of the happiest and most adorable couples in Hollywood.
Hayworth subsequently moved in with Welles at his lavish mansion. She desired to step out of the limelight and escape the constant pressures of show business. At that point, she hated being a movie star and was willing to do just about anything other than acting. Welles likewise desired to leave Hollywood and get involved with politics.
All she wanted to do was please her new brilliant, successful husband. As such, she did everything she could to be the perfect wife. She read all of his books, supported his political aspirations, and bore his child.
Hayworth would later tell Leaming, the previously mentioned author of her 1989 biography, that she wanted to be ‘everything Orson wanted’ her to be. Unfortunately, that evidently wasn’t enough.
Orson Welle’s Lost Interest In Rita
Welles displayed very little interest in establishing a stable home with Hayworth. Whenever she would suggest that they buy a proper home to raise their family, he would tell her that he didn’t desire that kind of responsibility. Furthermore, he would say to her that he regretted getting married in the first place as it impeded his freedom.
When Hayworth became pregnant with her and Welle’s daughter, Orson had an affair with Gloria Vanderbilt, but it wasn’t just her whom the filmmaker cheated on his wife with. Welle’s repeatedly committed acts of infidelity with various women, including Judy Garland. Not only was he unfaithful, but he increasingly became detached from and insensitive to his wife’s needs.
In response to her husband’s selfishness, Hayworth hit the bottle hard, becoming an oftentimes volatile alcoholic. Eventually all of these factors led to Orson and Rita’s divorce in 1947.
Shortly before divorcing Welles, Hayworth starred in the movie Gilda in which she portrayed one of her most iconic and provocative roles.
After Welles, Hayworth would marry three other men and would have high-profile romances and affairs with several others. But never would she find that same kind of spark that she felt with Orson. Each one these marriages would end in divorce. And all of her other flings would leave her feeling more and more lost.
In retrospect, Orson would later say that the way that he treated Rita was one of his biggest regrets in life. He further reminisced that she was the one person that had the most striking impact on his perspective in life.
Hayworth’s Life After Orson
Although Gilda had turned Rita into a star, being in the spotlight was never something that she wanted. It was domestic bliss that she most interested in finding. In 1949, she stepped away from Hollywood once again to marry Prince Aly Khan. Unfortunately, that marriage was nothing but turbulent. After divorcing him just four years later, Rita returned to Hollywood and appeared in several more films; including 1953s Miss Sadie Thompson and 1959s They Came to Cordura. While she starred in a few relatively forgettable films in the 60s, her career was all but over after her appearance in 1972s The Wrath of God.
Hayworth diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 1980; although she had been displaying symptoms of the ailment since as early as 1960. She passed away at the age of 68 on May 14, 1987, in New York City.
To be a Hollywood star is something of a blessing and curse. If fame and fortune are all that you care about, then it might be a dream come true, but if you value things like love and family, stardom can be particularly detrimental to these values. Rita Hayworth passed away without ever finding what she spent her entire life looking for. Orson Welles may have been the love of her life, but even he let her down in the end.
But what do you think? Did Orson make a huge mistake by taking Rita for granted? Let us know in the comments section down below.
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