The immortal Rita Hayworth walked beauty in the shadow of tragedy

I never fully recovered from it Citizen Kane. His lyrical nightmare haunted half my life. It’s not a coincidence. Kane begins with a warning on a wire: Trespassing. And yet we are all invaders. At least those of us willing to move beyond the wire to a film that never fails to seduce, that is as modern today as it was when it was made. No wonder, then, that I wanted to tackle a novel about Orson Welles, whom I adored despite his gargantuan flaws as if he were being swallowed up by his own greatness.

There was so much mythology about him, most of it from Welles himself, that I just couldn’t write a novel in his voice without succumbing to Welles’ own bravura.

Like many geniuses, he never solved the riddle of his own genius. He saw himself as a circus master who could hold the entire “circus” of a film together. He could not. When he arrived in Hollywood, he didn’t know a thing about screenwriting. But he had a gift that transcended any technical wizard at RKO. Welles had the eye of a camera. There isn’t a moment in it Citizen Kane that doesn’t explode with energy and keeps us captivated by the image that appears on the screen. And nobody but Welles could have dreamed up the magic mirror maze The lady from Shanghai, where he arms the movie machine, leaving us all as helpless victims, forever trapped as moviegoers in this labyrinth. Like other directors, he had his failures and misfires. But he remains the boldest director in film history. Hollywood moguls, led by Louis B. Mayer, tried to destroy any print of Kane, to make it invisible, as Welles had dared to parody her willie, William Randolph Hearst. It is Kane that survived, not Louis B. Mayer, not the other moguls.

But the more I read about Rita Hayworth, Orson’s second wife, the more I realized that she would play a central role in my novel. Still, I couldn’t write in her voice – she didn’t have one. Her true voice was the gliding of her body, her panther-like movements. And when I found out that she had been abused by her own father and had become both his sexual pawn and dance partner before the age of thirteen, I felt that Rita’s voiceless voice would remain crucial to everything I wrote.

Rita Hayworth, as a child of ten, wearing a Spanish shawl and castanets in the courtyard of her family’s home.


And so I invented a narrator, Rusty Redburn, whose own sexual fluidity sets her apart from the other characters in the novel. She’s an outlaw who can overlook the parochialism and prejudice behind the male-dominated hierarchy of so-called “Golden Age” Hollywood. She is the perfect counterpart to Harry Cohn and his fellow moguls as she possesses none of their structural power and they hardly care that she exists. But Rusty understands her “product” – her films – better than she does. She’s a sort of Cassandra, realizing which films will last and which won’t, and why Harry Cohn’s walled Hollywood citadel was doomed. She has her own cinema, the Regina, and becomes Hollywood’s chronicler Regina X. She is among the first to recognize Welles.

Hired by Harry to spy on Rita and Orson, she undermines his desires, becoming Rita’s protector and Orson’s most important ally and part-time collaborator. But she cannot save Orson from his own extravagances and wanderlust. Declared the most beautiful woman in the world, Rita was also one of the shyest. And that timidity would have paralyzing consequences; it kept her from traveling to the White House with Orson to meet FDR and Eleanor; She preferred the company of Columbia hairstylists and makeup girls, who would chatter with her about Orson’s petty crimes and help ruin their marriage. She would claim to love Orson her entire life, after four more failed marriages and years of drinking that would hasten her dementia.


Rita Hayworth stars with her then-husband Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai.

George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

I didn’t want to document her downfall big red, although we see them in a run-down state. Instead, I tried to reveal the music in her bones, as Rusty herself relates – Rita was always dancing, even when she was standing still. Her shyness was fully apparent in Jane Wither’s poignant eulogy for Rita at her memorial service in Beverly Hills on May 18, 1987. A 1930s child star, Jane had to tutor Rita on the set of Paddy O’Day (1936), or Rita would not have been able to recite her lines.


Actors and dancers Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire rehearse for a scene from their film You Were Never Lovelier on a rooftop at Columbia Pictures in 1942 in Los Angeles, California.

Earl Theisen/Getty Images

Rita, a gentle girl, was dropped out of school early and felt inadequate for the rest of her life. But their speech was in their limbs. Much of the world could feel it as she danced into it with such abandon guild. But the aura around guild couldn’t last, and as Rita wailed, her suitors went to bed with Gilda in all her glamor and woke up with a girl walking around in blue jeans. Rita often confessed how happy she was once with Orson, who although he idolized her, still cheated on her with a number of other women including Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe to name a few. Although he claimed he still loved her in his very last interview (the day before he died), he mocked Rita in a rather brutal way. If he was lucky to be with you, he boasted to one of his biographers, how could the rest of her life have turned out?

Maybe that’s Big Red’s secret. She had a temper. she drank She succumbed to Alzheimer’s. But there remained a sublimity of her beauty. After all, she was Princess Rita, even if she preferred Margarita to Carmen Cansino. And when dealing with Harry Cohn and other powerful, predatory men, her silence was both her weapon and her song.

Pains is the word that defines her, maybe also sadness. It is curious that Jane Withers, herself a child in the 1930s, recognized the child in Rita. That’s why they got along so well. Both had the stubbornness of children – Jane was mostly a spoiled brat on screen. And when Jane first noticed Rita dancing in a Charlie Chan movie, she might have been looking in a mirror of herself, even though Rita’s moves were magical and Jane’s weren’t.

Rita with the red hair was a star long before it was released guild in 1946, but the role of Gilda immortalized her in mid-20th-century America and in every far-off country that had a movie screen. As sexualized as she was, the child in her remained. She was always the little girl locked in someone else’s dressing room with a row of toy electric trains for company while her parents gambled away everything she earned. She kept those Lionel trains in her own Columbia dressing room and coveted them throughout her career. Perhaps that sound of the trains as a caged child was the reverberation of her whole life, and that was the music she heard even as she danced. The immortal Rita Hayworth walked beauty in the shadow of tragedy


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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