That beautiful black satin strapless gown with its matching opera length gloves…
That red hair cascading over her shoulders…
That pin up figure, often known to decorate World War II fighter planes…
What wasn’t to love about screen siren, Rita Hayworth?
At age of twelve and on, she was one of my earliest beauty icons.
And, of course, when I saw her stunning 1946 film, “Gilda,” her “Put the Blame on Mame” song and dance routine thoroughly convinced me she was a woman reveling confident in her beauty. No hint of fear or insecurity for miles!
She had it all together.
But, like any beauty icon, there was a more complicated back story going on concerning her success and image...
“Hayworth was born… in 1918 as Margarita Carmen Cansino, the oldest child of two dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, Sr., was from… a little town near Seville, Spain. Her mother, Volga Hayworth, was an American of Irish-English descent who had performed with the Ziegfeld Follies…
Margarita's father wanted her to become a professional dancer, while her mother hoped she
would become an actress...
…In 1927, her father took the family to Hollywood. He believed that dancing could be
featured in the movies and that his family could be part of it…In 1931 Eduardo Cansino
partnered with his 12-year-old daughter to form an act called the Dancing Cansinos…
Winfield Sheehan, the head of the Fox Film Corporation, saw her dancing at the Caliente Club
and quickly arranged for Hayworth to do a screen test a week later. Impressed by her screen
persona, Sheehan signed her for a short-term six-month contract at Fox, under the name Rita
Cansino, the first of two name changes for her film career…
Studio head Harry Cohn signed her to a seven-year contract and tried her out her in small roles.
Cohn argued that Hayworth's image was too Mediterranean, which reduced her
opportunities to being cast in ‘exotic’ roles that were fewer in number. He was heard to say
her last name sounded too Spanish… Rita Cansino became Rita Hayworth when she adopted
her mother's maiden name...With a name that emphasized her British-American ancestry,
people were more likely to regard her as a classic ‘American…’
… Hayworth changed her hair color to dark red and had electrolysis to raise her hairline and broaden the appearance of her forehead…”
Indeed, after years of peering beyond the beauty façade curtain, I now empathize at how fragile she was at accepting herself.
Being rejected for her name, her hair color/ hairline and her very ethnicity were all just the beginning. When her career skyrocketed and she became known as a sex goddess, a movie star and a world famous beauty, things certainly did not get any easier. Hollywood’s definition of beauty didn’t line up with Rita’s…
“I have always felt that one of the secrets of real beauty is simplicity… Perhaps if we
thought for a second of the classic, simple elegance of the Spanish lady it might help
us to be ‘simply’ ourselves.”
Article written as guest columnist for Arlene Dahl, headlined "Rita Hayworth
Sees Simplicity As Part Of Beauty" in The Toledo Blade (11 March 1964)
Like that of legends, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Jayne Mansfield, poor Rita was mostly confined to the restrictions associated with the beautiful woman. She was viewed as only that, never viewed beyond her beautiful face and body.
And certainly, that hindered her personal life; she couldn’t find the peace and contentment she strongly desired in her life. Her sad admission tells of her less than glamorous struggle…
“All I wanted was just what everybody else wants, you know, to be loved.”
Through the years, Rita sought that love; she was married and divorced five times, including to actor/director, Orson Welles.
He specifically noted her struggles with alcohol as all-consuming, a fact, personally confirmed by that of Hayworth’s daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan…
“...She had difficulty coping with the ups and downs of the business … As a child, I thought, 'She has a drinking problem and she's an alcoholic.' That was very clear and I thought, 'Well, there's not much I can do. I can just, sort of, stand by and watch.' It's very difficult, seeing your mother, going through her emotional problems and drinking and then behaving in that manner … Her condition became quite bad...”
And, again, among her most famous quotes, I’m struck by this sad one…
“Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me.”
As quoted in Rita Hayworth : Portrait of a Love Goddess (1977) by John Kobal
Image expectations, self-acceptance issues and the need to be loved are all there as human beings. Scripture taps into our spiritual need to be viewed and accepted on that basis…
“For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”
“Since you were precious in my sight… I have loved you…”
“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, ‘Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.’”
“Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.”
Song of Solomon 4:7
Rita was no different. Beyond the film noir of “Gilda,” beyond the glossy black and white Hollywood photographs, there was another person- a separate person- apart from the beauty displayed before our captive attention.
For her legacy is not only “Gilda” and her beauty, but rather, the real, struggle-filled life she led. In 1987, at the age of 68, she succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Once upon a time, I only saw Rita’s beauty and glamour. I didn’t see her complicated actual life. None of us did. None of us do as we view her still and moving images years later. Reviewing some of her more famous quotes, it’s also easy to get tunnel vision at the aesthetic image meaning. And that is certainly there.
But, if we get past the surface, we can experience more of Rita: the good, the bad and the ugly. We can learn of her human struggle.
And that can be said of each one of us. No matter what our battles are- to be loved, to be valued, to be safe, to be sober and healthy- each of us cannot live fulfilled if we go sleep as a lie, and wake up a fictional, untrue character. We cannot live removed from the truth of who we are.
Perhaps, the “real us” is disappointing, not just to others, but to our own self-acceptance. Be honest. Are you disappointed when you wake up with who you really are, warts and all?
“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he...”
Or, do we incorporate the tedious, painful and imperfect process of learning and accepting that person? That is as much of the process to life and recovery as attending any meeting or implementing any step.
So, Rita Hayworth touches upon a spiritual question for us all:
“Do you and I live as Gilda or Rita?”
Whatever the answer may be, let’s choose to recognize our real identity, in harmony with God’s estimation of us, is freeing.
“The truth shall set you free.”
For as alluring as the Gilda character may be, she pales in comparison to the textured, flawed, meaningful and real life of Rita.
Shouldn’t we dare to live the more dimensionally accurate reality of ourselves?
And so it goes. Gilda or Rita: it’s our choice.
Copyright © 2017 by Sheryle Cruse