Rita Hayworth posing for her famous Life magazine World War ll pin-up.
There have been many tragic screen goddesses down the decades, especially in the days of the studio system, but none had it tougher than Rita Hayworth. As a young girl she was treated abominably by her lecherous father, Eduardo Cansino, who not only hawked her body to others, but used it himself whenever he felt the need. Years later, when she was wed to Orson Welles, she told him of the incest (as well as several beatings) and he was appalled. ‘He was a terrible man’, said Welles. ‘And she really hated him’. Nevertheless, Rita appeared to remain close to her father and even hired him as choreographer on The Loves of Carmen. Possibly, she was still afraid of him, or he may have threatened to wreck her career with a few well-placed ‘items’. She was forever being manipulated by the men in her life.
Her first husband was Edward Judson, another low-life who totally dominated the fragile beauty. He, too, gave her to scores of executives as he pushed his beautiful meal-ticket to the top of the Hollywood pile. Early in her career she was quoted as saying, ‘I owe everything to Ed. I could never have made the grade in Hollywood without him’. After they divorced she fell in love with actor Victor Mature. Then, in the middle of their romance she was hunted down and snared by Orson Welles. He took one look at the famous 1941 Bob Landry snapshot of Hollywood’s latest love goddess and determined then and there to meet and marry her. ‘I saw that fabulous still in Life magazine’, he said, ‘where she’s on her knees on a bed. She was in alluring repose, dressed in a satin-and-lace nightgown. That’s when I decided’. They were soon wed, but Welles was always a hopeless adulterer. While Rita was preparing to give birth to their first child he was cheating on her with Gloria Vanderbilt, Judy Garland and a string of prostitutes. To nobody’s surprise the couple separated after the birth and Rita soon took up with singer Tony Martin.
A few months after the separation she agreed to make The Lady from Shanghai, a movie directed by none other than her estranged husband. Before long they were back sleeping together, but as soon as the movie was finished Orson ceased to lavish his attention on her and they split for the second time. It was 1947 and Rita joined the long queue of women who offered comfort to David Niven when his wife was tragically killed in a fall. Outwardly, it seemed as if the couple might be serious, but Rita was seeing bandleader Teddy Schauffer at the same time. Niven quietly let the relationship lapse when Teddy hit the headlines for scaling the exterior of the Hotel Lancaster in Paris after Rita locked him out of their room. In November of that year she finally divorced Welles.
Rita made no bones about her liking for sex. In bed she was confident and demanding, but would only believe someone loved her if they were actually making love to her. After her divorce she had affairs with the Shah of Iran’s brother Mahmud Pahlavi; then Howard, ‘love ‘em and leave ‘em’, Hughes. She was soon pregnant, but to which lover was anyone’s guess, so she aborted the problem and promptly jumped back into Orson’s bed in Cannes. However, he was busy seducing lots of women as usual, so it was goodbye to Orson for the third time and hello to Prince Aly Khan.
Probably the world’s most promiscuous man, the prince was notorious for treating beautiful women as trophies on his mantelpiece. His initial attempts to seduce Rita failed, so he employed an old gypsy woman to visit her and tell the unhappy star that he truly was the man she was destined to enjoy life with. Rita was no rocket scientist and fell for it hook, line and sinker. Aly’s expertise in the sack was also a mitigating factor. He had been educated in imsak, the art of indefinite postponement of ejaculation, in the brothels of Cairo at an early age. So Rita fell for him, married him, and was soon pregnant again, eventually giving birth to Princess Yasmin. Most people tend to overlook the fact that Rita, not Grace Kelly, was the first real-life Hollywood princess. The prince, of course, continued to take lovers wherever and whenever he pleased. Rita inevitably grew tired of this arrangement, walked out on him and hopped back into the four-poster of her old flame Victor Mature.
When Vic bowed out,( possibly from exhaustion), Rita bedded producer Charles Feldman, singer Robert Savage, make-up man Bob Schiffer and actor Kirk Douglas in quick succession, but none of them matched Aly in the sack so she went back to him! He was heavily involved with the beautiful Yvonne De Carlo at the time and did not try to hide it from anyone. A disgruntled Rita then gave herself to bullfighter Luis Dominguin, although how she managed to squeeze in between him and Ava Gardner is possibly a story in itself. She followed that little dalliance by giving a tumble or two to Count Jose-Maria Villapadierna during a European visit before flying back to Nevada and divorcing Aly once and for all.
Poor Rita’s over-riding problem in life seemed to be her inability to recognize a sleazebag when she met one. Enter fading singer and all-round creep Dick Haymes, a man known about town as ‘Mr. Evil’. Somehow, he managed to sweep her off her feet and all the way to the altar. He then proceeded to milk her of everything she had left, (which was not all that much by the way). Aly had spent all her money, not his, while they were together. Haymes meanwhile split his time between spending her money and beating her up, yet Rita steadfastly stayed loyal to him. When Columbia mogul Harry Cohn threw him off the lot she went to bat for him, but without success. Haymes repaid her loyalty by blacking both her eyes. The penny finally dropped and she at last walked out on him.
A brief fling with Egyptian producer Raymond Hakim ended when Rita again meandered her way back into the rarely empty boudoir of her ex-husband Aly Khan. Yet again, she became disenchanted by his womanising and, yet again, she fled to America. On this rebound she married director James Hill; another match made in heaven. They fought tooth and nail, often with any object that came to hand, both at home and on the set. In 1961 they divorced. Over the remainder of her life there would be many other lovers, but none of lasting importance. Already, signs of the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease that would claim her in 1987 were manifesting themselves.
One final word: It is doubtful there has ever been a more thoroughly detested man in all of Hollywood’s history than the boss of Columbia Studios, Harry Cohn. Perhaps, Rita Hayworth is the ultimate proof of this. No matter how many denizens of the movie world she slept with over the years (and she fell for some doozies), she drew the line at Cohn. She would not sleep with him, no matter what. And he pestered, threatened, bribed, cajoled, argued, and promised her anything and everything for decades, just for a one-night-stand. He never got one. Lovely Rita Hayworth’s troubled life was once succinctly summed up in her own words: ‘Basically, I am a good, gentle person, but I’m attracted to mean personalities.’