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Lovely Rita

Rita Hayworth was lost in

the mirror maze of her own fame

By Richard von Busack

She was born Carmen, an ill-fated name for a woman who will be hurt by men, who will betray and be betrayed. Margarita Carmen Cansino, molded into a creature known as Rita Hayworth--featured in a retrospective at the Stanford Theater--had spectacularly bad luck in her love life. Writes film historian Marjorie Rosen, "Her image boomerangs, too powerful to be reconciled with reality." As Hayworth herself is supposed to have put it about one of her famous parts, "Men go to bed with Gilda and wake up with me."

Hayworth was a created star, made by the efforts of studio press-agentry and Eddie Judson, her first husband, of whom the best thing that can be said is that he was born in San Jose. Starved into shape, her hairline pushed back by electrolysis, Cansino--previously a dancer and a featured player in B films--disappeared into Hayworth.

Judson pushed her into countless interviews and photo sessions: 3,800 stories had been filed on her by 1940, none of which discussed the realities of her early life. At age 13, she was a Tijuana nightclub dancer; the tourists naturally assumed she was for sale. To protect her, her father passed her off as his wife. It is said that this is also the way her father used her.

The smoky Hayworth is on the famous cover of Life magazine for Aug. 11, 1941, luxurious-haired, full-lipped, longing and mischief combined in a slightly asymmetrical gaze--the literal roving eye? It was a photo that attracted millions of men, wrapping her up with the war in a way no other move icon was; the bomb at Bikini atoll was nicknamed "Gilda." After the war, Hayworth's persona shifted into a predatory, powerfully sexual women, one of the first such that would haunt film from the noirs to the wretched excesses of Joe Eszterhas.

In real life, Hayworth was caught by a very wealthy and powerful man, the Prince Aly Khan. It was a troubled, acrimonious marriage, and Hayworth ended her life as perhaps the best-known victim of Alzheimer's disease before Reagan.

Hayworth's particular mystery can be seen on Nov. 24 in Blood and Sand (1941; and shown in a gorgeously colored nitrate print) and The Lady From Shanghai (1948). The former, with Hayworth as a Carmen character, is the tale of a bullfighter (Tyrone Power) having his manly essence sapped. Like shadows to a rainbow is then-husband Orson Welles' famed noir, set in Acapulco and San Francisco, not Shanghai. The much-imitated finale at dawn in San Francisco's sinister Playland by the Beach captures her in a maze of mirrors--perhaps Welles' typically grim comment on what is must have been like to be Rita Hayworth.


Rita Retrospective: You Were Never Lovlier & Cover Girl, Nov. 18-21; You'll Never Get Rich & Strawberry Blonde, Nov 22-23; Blood and Sand & Lady From Shanghai, Nov. 24; Gilda & Angels Over Broadway, Nov. 25-28; Fire Down Below & Miss Sadie Thompson, Nov. 29-30; Separate Tables & Pal Joey, Dec. 1-2.

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From the Nov. 16-Nov. 22, 1995 issue of Metro

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