Raped by her father, her unhappy loves and a famous slap: the sad end of the most beautiful woman in the world

Under the spotlights –a blinding light– he suffers, one by one, the pricks of that electric needle that will strike down the black hairs on his forehead. That forehead too narrow for the rigid canons of Hollywood 1936. That hair that is born rebellious and too close to the eyebrows, also bushy, Latin, Mexican, indigenous, on that sallow skin that his father left him.

His father. Eduardo Tired. Seville. Dancer. Hustlers. That – like so many – emigrated to New York believing that the light of the Statue of Liberty illuminated (always) the route of the dollar.

He needed a woman, and he found her. An antithesis of her blood: Volga Hayworth, Irish, but also a dancer, one more from the choir, but with the mark of the Ziegfeld Follies. A registered trademark.

Rita Hayworth with her family: her mother Volga Hayworth, father Eduardo Cansino and brother (Bettmann Archive)
Rita Hayworth with her family: her mother Volga Hayworth, father Eduardo Cansino and brother (Bettmann Archive)

Impossible to know what he thinks under the spotlights and the painful needles and the disappearance of his jet-black hair now red. But later, in front of the mirror, transformed into a fantastic redhead, and under the approval of her first husband, a certain Edward Judson, a used car salesman – the most discredited and suspicious task from coast to coast – imagine crowds worshiping it.

You deserve that fantasy. Because since she was thirteen years old she has been forced to dance under the worst of teachers: her father, who pairs up with her in seedy cabarets, forbids her to call him “dad”, registers in hotels as “Mr. and Mrs. Cansino”… and shares a bed and dressing room with her. He has raped her since she was thirteen.

From the age of thirteen, yes. Margarita Carmen Cansino Hayworth He was born in New York on October 17, 1918. At the age of 18, he measured 1.68. After the painful treatment, her hair was a flaming waterfall that covered the back of a perfect body. Did she want to be a dancer? No. Already at the top, when reporters buzzed around her, she said more than once:

-Since I was able to stand up, at the age of three, my father tormented me with his dance classes. Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal… I didn’t like it, but I didn’t have the courage to tell him.

Rita Hayworth with her father Eduardo Cansino in 1948. on the film set of 'Los amores de Carmen'.  HE had always abused her, but the young actress tried to hide that tragedy that had marked her life (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Rita Hayworth with her father Eduardo Cansino in 1948. on the film set of ‘Los amores de Carmen’. HE had always abused her, but the young actress tried to hide that tragedy that had marked her life (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Tijuana, Mexico, 1935. Father and daughter-fake wife are in a nightclub. A man from another table looks at her for a long time. He approaches. He introduces himself: “Fox Producer.” And he tempts her with all the fruits of Paradise:

–You will be the new Dolores del Río. (Note: Mexican, 1904–1983, first from her country to succeed in Hollywood).

No sooner said than done. Margarita limits herself: Rita. Cansino disappears behind the maternal surname: Hayworth. He breaks spears with his father, the great Sevillian exploiter… but in the escape he falls into the nets of Edward Judson, the car salesman: double frying in used oil…

However, the guy has a tongue. “I know a lot of Hollywood producers: I can make you a star.” It takes more than two decades and comes from two marriages. Enough experience for a scammer. He marries her. He forces her through the painful transformation—lights, needles, dyes. He drives away the Sevillian dancer, who loses his prey. He gets him, yes, a minimal contract at Columbia, which much later would be his emblem label.

Some time later, Rita would say:

–He helped me in my career, and he helped himself with my money, and my few properties. In 1942, when we divorced, I was left in ruins.

Orson Welles starred with Rita Hayworth in “The Lady from Shanghai.” The actress at that time was already his wife (George Rinhart / Corbis via Getty Images)

In 1941, Orson Wellesa man from Wisconsin, was only 26 years old but already l´enfant terrible of Hollywood from his masterpiece: Citizen Kane, a monumental film that in more than one sense traced a before and after in the history of cinema. And that was where he was, feeling great, when saw a picture of Rita on the cover of the magazine Life and swore before witnesses that this woman would be his.

Orson was magnetic: he didn’t need too much effort to seduce her, marry her in 1943 – in Hollywood they were called “the beautiful and the brains” – and they had a daughter: Rebecca.

But the great man was too busy with too many projects, too many women, and too much time away from home. He led her reluctantly in La dama de Shanghai (1947), called her an “idiot” at a press conference. That same year, goodbye came.

She continued to be the most desired woman, the one that everyone wanted.

Rita Hatworth and Prince Ali Khan on their wedding day in the French Riveria (Bettmann Archive)
Rita Hatworth and Prince Ali Khan on their wedding day in the French Riveria (Bettmann Archive)

The next love, the one that would prick the butterfly under the glass again, was the prince, billionaire, playboyThoroughbred horse breeder, Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations, and citizen of the world, Su Alteza Ali Khan. The man who would make the often unfortunate Margarita Cansino a princess.

The ceremony justly deserved the trite title of “The Wedding of the Century” common place exhausted by how many magazines of the heart swarm on the planet. Year: 1949. Setting: the French Riviera. Guests -royalty included- four thousand five hundred. Groom’s podium: a mantle of thirty thousand roses next to a pool filled with cologne.

A daughter was born to them: princess yasmin. But Ali was an unstoppable whirlwind: a womanizer to the point of world record, a gambler capable of incinerating fortunes in the casinos of the Côte d’Azur, and idle by vocation and profession. “A thoroughbred who came to this world to spend the summer”, as defined by a journalist.

Rita Hayworth in “Blood and Sand” where she worked alongside Tyrone Power

But Rita, the mistreated, the unloved, the scammed by love, a very good dancer, not a very good actress, very beautiful (perhaps the most brilliant of her time), she made her way with blood, sweat, and forgetting the tears. She shot thirty-seven movies between the unknown Devil’s Cross (1934) y The God’s anger (1972). But it’s just numbers, filmography, frozen statistics. Let’s go to the heart, to the greatness.

For example, that Doña Sol from Blood and Sand (1941), which leads to love and death in the ring to the bullfighter Gallardo (Tyrone Power). But beyond everything… (reflectors, music, suspense!), the moment of epiphany. Script. Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is a small-time trickster who comes to the United States from Buenos Aires. He is saved from an attempted robbery by a casino owner, and is anointed by his right hand. Johnny finds out that his employer is married to Gilda (obviously: Rita H), her former lover, he ended up hating her. Hate and love: a dichotomy that has shed a lot of blood.

The ending doesn’t matter. In any case, get the film. But she has three memorable scenes. Long live currency that will never be repeated, Federico García Lorca would have written again. First she sings, pure eroticism and while she dances, My love. Later, Blame it on Mame…, and at that moment, if he had already amazed with his gloves that reached his finish line a little above the elbows.

Rita begins, with the cadence of a luxurious and volcanic stripper, slowly, very slowly, removing one of her gloves. Y Glenn Ford turns his face around with the most famous slap in the history of the silver screen.

The truth doesn’t matter: Rita did dance (she did it marvelously with Fred Astaire, Anthony Quinn, Gene Kelly), but his voice was Anita Ellisa great professional.

Gilda was banned in the Spain of Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde –a long title for a much longer horror–, at the peremptory request of the Catholic Church, which considered “the scene of the glove, seriously dangerous”.

The rest was the least of it. Although opulent and star, two other failed marriages – as if she wanted to punish someone so punished – brought her closer to the end.

Gilda's scene that became famous in the world: Glenn Ford turns her face with a brutal slap
Gilda’s scene that became famous in the world: Glenn Ford turns her face with a brutal slap

Especially the one about the Argentinian hustler, abuser and singer (in that order) Dick Haymeswho married her to avoid deportationused it to get contracts, and closed the pathetic story by turning his face, in public, with a slap: the wretched counterface of that of Glenn Ford…

As for the film director James Hill, her last husband, his abuse prompted her to divorce for “mental cruelty”.

Hill was nobody, but he thought he covered up his mediocrity by punishing her physically and verbally in public. Charlton Heston was a witness, and declared: “That night in a restaurant in Spain was the most embarrassing of my life.”

Among the unhappy loves, they were also his lovers Anthony Quinn, Kirk Douglas, David Niven, and of course Glenn Ford.

The Argentinian hustler, abuser and singer Dick Haymes married her to avoid deportation, used her to get contracts, and closed the pathetic story by slapping her face in public (Bettmann Archive)
The Argentinian hustler, abuser and singer Dick Haymes married her to avoid deportation, used her to get contracts, and closed the pathetic story by slapping her face in public (Bettmann Archive)

The collapse began in 1976 and with a photo that still shakes if one is old enough. Rita Hayworth at London’s Heathrow airport, looking aged, shaky, unrecognizable… when she was barely in her seventies.

In recent years, jobless and broke, she was an alcoholic, her mother’s presumed inheritance and the price of her misfortune. Seven years before her death, which occurred on May 14, 1987 in New York, at the age of sixty-nine, her daughter Yasmin presented irrefutable evidence of her mother’s decline and fall: Alzheimer’s.

Rita, died without knowing who she was.

Distraught and unrecognizable, just 57 years old, Rita Hayworth, at London airport (Bettmann Archive)
Distraught and unrecognizable, just 57 years old, Rita Hayworth, at London airport (Bettmann Archive)

She was buried in Santa Cruz Cemetery, Culver City: an anonymous death. Glenn Ford carried one of the coffin handles, perhaps with the same hand as that historic slap.

The American Film Institute considers Rita Hayworth number 19 on the list of The 50 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time.

*A version of this text by Alfredo Serra was published in Infobae in 2017

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