Rita Hayworth was the flame-haired "love goddess" who ignited the fantasies of men everywhere in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite her on-screen success, particularly with the 1946 classic Gilda, her personal life was plagued with unhappy marriages, including one to famed director Orson Welles, as well as problems with alcohol. Her disarming beauty almost overshadowed her talents, which included dancing as well as acting.
A young Margarita with dreams of show biz success.
Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918, in New York City. Her parents were in show business; her father was Spanish-born dancer Eduardo Cansino while her mother, Volga Hayworth, was a Ziegfeld Follies girl. The actress also had two brothers, Eduardo, Jr. and Vernon. Rita's parents shortened their daughter's name to "Rita" shortly after she was born, and the icon was dancing professionally by the age of 12. Rita's father wanted her to be a professional dancer while her mother had dreams of her daughter becoming a successful actress.
The Dancing Cansinos, Rita and her father Eduardo.
In 1927 Rita's father moved the family to Los Angeles and established his own dance studio where he taught the likes of Jean Harlow and James Cagney. He lost everything in the Great Depression however, and enlisted Rita to perform with him in an act he called "The Dancing Cansinos." Because Rita was too young to work in bars and nightclubs, her father took her to perform with him in Tijuana, Mexico. Rita never graduated from high school as a result of her work with her father. It was on a stage in Agua Caliente, Mexico, however, that a Fox Film Company producer spotted the then 16-year-old Rita and signed her to a six-month contract.
Her credit noted her name as Rita Cansino in the film "Charlie Chan in Egypt," this publicity still shows her before electrolysis.
Rita appeared in five not-so-notable films for Fox, who had merged to become 20th Century Fox by the end of her contract. Her contract with the film company was not renewed, however promoter and future husband Edward C. Judson saw Rita's potential and got her a screen test with Columbia Pictures. Columbia signed her to a long-term contract and gave her small roles, usually that of the mysterious foreigner. She appeared with Spencer Tracy in 1935's Dante's Inferno and portrayed an Egyptian beauty in Charlie Chan in Egypt in 1935. Her first starring role was as a "Latin type" in 1936's Human Cargo.
The icon dyed her hair red and changed her name to Rita Hayworth thanks to the encouragement of Judson; she also had electrolysis done to raise her hairline and make her forehead appear broader. After appearing in a few more movies, including independent films, Howard Hawks gave Rita a small role as a "man trap" in the aviation drama Only Angels Have Wings, which cast her opposite Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. The success of the film resulted in lots of Rita fan mail being sent to Columbia, and studio head Harry Cohen began giving her more movie roles. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1940 and would grace the cover four more times; the magazine dubbed her the "American Love Goddess" in 1947 and the 1941 Life photo of Rita in black lingerie made her one of the pin-up icons of the second World War.
Her second of five Life magazine covers, here in 1941.
The Life magazine 1941 lingerie shot became a pinup classic.
Cohen loaned Rita to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and Warner Bros. to appear in a few films. While on loan at Warner Bros. Rita was cast in The Strawberry Blonde opposite James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland. The success of the film made Rita a huge star, and Warner Bros. offered to buy her contract from Columbia, though Cohen refused. In 1941 she appeared opposite Fred Astaire in the musical You'll Never Get Rich, the success of which garnered another Astaire-Hayworth vehicle, 1942's You Were Never Lovelier.
Fred and Rita in the 1941 film, "You'll Never Get Rich."
Fred Astaire and Rita in 1942's "You Never Were Lovlier."
In 1944 Rita made one of her best-known films, Cover Girl, with Gene Kelly. For the next three years Rita was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and continued to make films with Astaire and Kelly. Her sexuality was perhaps most prominently displayed in the 1946 noir film Gilda, in which Rita performed her famous one-glove striptease. The film cemented her as a "femme fatale" and a bona fide bombshell.
In "Cover Girl"; Rita has landed on many 'greatest movie stars of all time' lists.
The famous striptease performed to the song "Zip," in the movie ''Gilda."
Despite professional success, Rita's personal life was not as happy. Her first marriage to Judson lasted only a few years, which was followed by a marriage to Orson Welles. Rita appeared in the Welles vehicle The Lady From Shanghai in 1947, though the film bombed in part due to Rita's short, bleached blonde hair. Rita had married Welles in 1943 and they had a daughter, Rebecca. The marriage was over by 1948, however, as Rita cited that Welles never seemed interested in married life.
In happy times with Orson after the birth of daughter Rebecca.
She filed for divorce while still filming Shanghai, and had also met and fallen for Prince Aly Khan, whose father was the head of the Ismaili Muslims. Khan eventually served as Pakistan's representative to the United Nations. He and Rita married in 1949 and had a daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. Rita and the prince divorced after two years of marriage, and the actress subsequently married and divorced two more times. Her last marriage was to producer James Hill, to whom she was married from 1958 to 1961. Rita once said she was the "antithesis" of her characters; that she was actually very shy and that men "fell in love with Gilda and wake up with me."
Rita and Aly, very likely at the race track.
Rita continued to work throughout the 1950s, including her last musical Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in 1957, which came out the same year she left Columbia. Though she never regained the enormous success she had in the 1940s and early '50s, Rita continued to work up until the 1970s. Her last picture was The Wrath of God in 1972. Alcohol problems had plagued her for years at this point, and she made a disoriented (and escorted) exit from a plane in 1976. In 1980 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and was placed under the care of daughter Yasmin in 1981. The princess went on to found Alzheimer's Disease International in 1985, and eventually became president of the organization.
The poster for "Pal Joey," with Sinatra and Kim Novak.
Rita died on May 14, 1987, in the apartment she shared with her daughter in New York City, due to complications from the disease. Her death sparked an outpouring of grief from fans and peers, who cited her as a beloved icon of the silver screen. Rita's fans will no doubt always remember her as that "Love Goddess."
The forever-young Jean Harlow was the original "platinum blonde," a term coined by Howard Hughes especially for her. Renowned for her smoldering sex appeal and obvious comedic talent, Jean starred alongside many acting greats and made a lasting impression in Hollywood despite dying of kidney failure at the age of 26. Her ten-year career boasts many memorable films, and she will always be the first blonde bombshell to whom all others are compared.
The beautiful Jean Harlow in a photo by George Hurrell, famous for his dramatic lighting techniques.
Jean Harlow was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter in Kansas City, Missouri in 1911. She was the daughter of a dentist, Mont Clair Carpenter, and an aspiring actress, Jean Poe Carpenter (maiden name Harlow). Her mother has been described as a "strong-willed" woman who was exceedingly unhappy in her marriage. Jean was nicknamed "The Baby," a name that would remain with her for the rest of her life. Jean didn't even know her name wasn't Baby until she was 5 years old and attended finishing school for girls. Her mother, or Mother Jean, was very close to her daughter, which helped ease the pain from her unhappy marriage. Mother Jean eventually filed for divorce from her husband in September of 1922, which was uncontested. She was granted sole custody of Jean, who loved her father but saw him very rarely following the divorce. "She was always all mine," Mother Jean said of her daughter, and was quite over-protective.
Jean with her mother.
Jean moved with her mother to Hollywood in 1923 as her mother wanted to become an actress. However, she was too old at the age of 34 to make it as a movie star, as female roles generally went to teen girls at this time. Jean attended the Hollywood School for Girls and met numerous future stars, including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Irene Mayer Selznick. The money was running out, however, and Jean's father said they must either return to Kansas City or he would disinherit Jean. The mother-daughter pair did return to Kansas City, and Jean's father sent her to a summer camp in Michigan. Jean became ill with scarlet fever while at the camp; her mother rowed across a lake in a boat to see her daughter after she was denied entrance.
Next Jean attended the Ferry Hall School in Lake Forest, Illinois, but was sent there mainly because her mother was involved with a man named Marino Bello, who lived in nearby Chicago. Mother Jean married Bello in 1927, however Jean did not attend the ceremony. Jean was in love herself by this time at the age of 16, as she had met the wealthy Charles "Chuck" McGrew. She eloped with McGrew, who was 22 at the time, in 1927. The couple moved to Los Angeles, California in 1928, where Jean enjoyed her role as a wealthy socialite. Neither partner worked, however, and McGrew began to drink heavily.
Bello was a good stepfather to Jean, here carrying her when ill.
While in Los Angeles Jean met aspiring actress Rosalie Roy, who asked Jean to drive her to Fox Studios for an audition. Jean was noticed by a Fox executive while waiting in the car for her friend, but said she wasn't interested in auditioning. Roy then made a bet with Jean that she wasn't brave enough to go back and audition; Jean took the bet and signed the audition call-in sheet with her mother's maiden name, Jean Harlow.
With Laurel and Hardy in "Double Whoopee," 1929.
Jean appeared in her first film, Honor Bound, as an unbilled extra. She then got small parts in silent films, including Moran of the Marines and Unkissed Man, both of which came out in 1928. In December of that year she was signed to Hal Roach Studios, where she appeared in a number of Laurel and Hardy films. She also separated from McGrew in 1929.
A production still from "Hell's Angels."
After a few more small roles in various films, Jean got her 'big break' when she was spotted by James Hall, an actor filming the Howard Hughes vehicle Hell's Angels. Hughes was re-shooting the picture to make it a 'talkie' instead of a silent film, but needed a different actress as he did not care for the original actress's accented voice. Jean got the part, and Hughes promptly signed Jean to a five-year contract. Hell's Angels premiered in 1930, though critics were less than kind to Jean.
The poster from "Public Enemy."
After being loaned out to another studio by Hughes, Jean appeared in several more films, including The Secret Six with Clark Gable and Public Enemy with James Cagney. Jean's acting ability was still panned by critics, though that changed with Platinum Blonde, which came out in 1931 and co-starred Loretta Young. Female fans began bleaching their hair to match Jean's, though Jean herself always maintained that her hair color was natural.
A still shot from the film, "Platinum Blonde."
Jean's Hughes contract was bought by MGM Studios, though executives were originally disinterested in the actress as her image was that of a "floozy" and MGM's leading ladies, such as Joan Crawford, were "classy." It was at MGM, however, that Jean's talent as a comedienne was noticed, first in Red-Headed Woman in 1932, and Red Dust, also in 1932, with Clark Gable. Jean made a total of six films with Gable; she also appeared in several films with Spencer Tracy.
Many of Gable and Harlow's most beautiful images come from her final film, "Saratoga."
Jean had married again, to MGM producer Paul Bern, though Bern was eventually found dead in their home from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Despite initial speculation that Jean had something to do with Bern's demise, his death was ruled a suicide. Jean then started an affair with married boxer Max Baer, and his wife threatened to name Jean in the divorce proceedings. Wanting to avoid another "Harlowscandal," MGM arranged for her to marry cinematographer Harold Rosson, though they discreetly divorced seven months later.
Jean's popularity was white hot in spite of all her scandals. Time magazine cover, August, 1935.
A string of successful films followed, and MGM capitalized on the Harlow-Gable chemistry, pairing them in China Seas (1935) and Wife Vs. Secretary, (1936) which also starred a young James Stewart. Jean had met fellow MGM star William Powell in 1934, and though the couple was engaged for two years, they never married as she wanted children and he did not.
Jean spent two years engaged to co-star William Powell, here together in their film, "Lady Liberty."
Jean began to complain about her health while filming Saratoga in May of 1937. Her doctor said she had a gallbladder infection due to her symptoms of nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain, and water weight gain. Jean had suffered a few health setbacks the previous year, including a bout of flu, a bad sunburn, and an illness following a wisdom tooth extraction. "I feel terrible. Get me back to my dressing room," Jean said to co-star Gable while on set, and often leaned on him in between takes.
In a scene from "Saratoga," Harlow's real life health problems are ironically foreshadowed.
Her health did not improve, however, and it was announced in June of 1937 that she had the flu. Jean's symptoms now included breathing difficulty, and she was taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where she slipped into a coma. She never woke up. Jean died in the hospital on June 7th, 1937 at the age of 26. Her doctors cited kidney failure as the cause of death.
Headlines of Jean's death.
News of Jean's death spread quickly, and doubles were used to finish her scenes in Saratoga. The film was a huge success upon release as a tribute to Jean. The star was buried in the gown she wore in the film Libeled Lady at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California in its Great Mausoleum. She was laid to rest in a private room that Powell had purchased for $25,000. In her hands she held a white gardenia and a poem written by Powell, which included the words "Goodnight, my dearest darling." The inscription on her grave was simply, "Our Baby."
Jean will forever be remembered as the ultimate original platinum blonde.
Jean made a lasting impression on Hollywood and the world despite her relatively short career. Her status as the "original platinum blonde" is forever cemented, and she remains an icon of sultry, sexy, curvy, yet hilarious women.
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Judy Garland remains an icon of American film, music, and television thanks to her peerless voice, tremendous acting talent, and stunning good looks. Known best perhaps for The Wizard of Oz, Garland was also known for her troubled personal life, which included multiple marriages and problems with drugs and alcohol, the latter of which was eventually responsible for her untimely death. Despite her many personal struggles, Judy remains a beloved figure of American culture.
Performing with the Gumm Sisters.
Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm to parents Ethel Marion and Francis Avent "Frank" Gumm on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her parents were vaudevillians and ran a movie theater in Grand Rapids that showcased vaudeville acts. Judy was the youngest of sisters Susie and Jimmie, and began performing with them at an early age under the name The Gumm Sisters. Judy was then known as "Baby Gumm."
The famous scene from "Meet Me In Saint Louis."
The Gumm family moved to Lancaster, California in 1926 amid rumors that Frank Gumm had made sexual advances towards male ushers in his movie theater. Once in California the Gumm girls studied dancing and acting, and performed around the area with their mother as their manager and agent. The Gumm Sisters appeared in a few short films in the late '20s, and changed their name to the Garland Sisters while appearing at the 1934 World's Fair in Chicago. Tired of the nickname "Baby," the youngest Gumm changed her name to "Judy." In 1935 the sister trio broke up, in part due to Susie's marriage to musician Lee Kahn of the Jimmy Davis Orchestra. Judy performed as a solo act and was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at the age of 13. Legend has it Judy was signed to the film production giant without a screen test. Her appearance was something of an issue for MGM, however, as at age 13 she was too old for most child roles and had those sweet "good girl looks" that the company didn't know quite what to do with. Judy became very self-conscious about her appearance at this time, especially since she went to "school" at MGM with the likes of Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Ava Gardener. Studio head Louis B. Mayer referred to her as his "little hunchback," further fueling her insecurities.
Judy singing with daughter Liza.
While preparing for a Shell Chateau Hour radio performance in November of 1935, Judy learned her father had been hospitalized for meningitis, and that the prognosis did not look good. Frank Gumm died the morning after Judy learned of his condition, which devastated her. The song she performed on the Shell Chateau Hour was 'Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,' a tune that would become a live concert standard for her.
Judy in "A Star is Born."
Judy's next attention-grabbing performance was during Clark Gable's birthday celebration, for which she sang 'You Made Me Love You' to the actor. MGM next paired Judy with Mickey Rooney for several "backyard musicals" that did well; Judy eventually performed in nine films with Rooney. Unfortunately, to keep up with her increasingly busy schedule, MGM supplied Judy with amphetamines to keep her up during the day, and barbiturates to take before bedtime. This resulted in a lifelong struggle with drugs; Judy would later say that MGM stole her youth.
With husband Vincent Minnelli.
In 1939 Judy found huge success with the release of The Wizard of Oz, for which she received a special Oscar for her role as Kansas farm girl Dorothy. The film showcased her singing as well as acting abilities, and was one of the first films to use technicolor technology. The Wizard of Oz remains a staple of the classic film archive and has resulted in numerous books and spin-offs, including the book turned Broadway musical Wicked.
With daughter Lorna Luft.
More musicals followed, including Babes of Broadway in 1942, and For Me And My Gal in 1943, which co-starred Gene Kelly. Meet Me In Saint Louis, which came out in 1944, is another film for which Judy is so well-known. Three songs from the film, The Trolley Song,, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and The Boy Next Door became classic Judy tunes.
At her wedding to fifth husband Dean.
Judy married for the first time at age 19 to bandleader David Rose in 1941, however the union only lasted till 1944, during which time Judy had an abortion. Her second marriage was to director Vincent Minnelli, whom she married in 1945. They had a daughter, the incomparable Liza Minnelli, in 1946. Though the marriage was basically over by 1949, the couple did not officially divorce until 1952. It was during this time that Judy began to get a reputation for being unstable and unreliable, as years of performing and drug abuse were wearing her out. MGM fired her in 1950.
The beautiful Judy.
Judy met producer Sid Luft in 1951 and began rebuilding her career. She married Luft in 1952, with whom she had two children, Lorna and Joey, in 1952 and 1955, respectively. Though the marriage was said to be "stormy," the relationship had a fantastic impact on her professional career, as the pair's production company was responsible for the remake of A Star Is Born, which is considered one of the best movies of Judy's career. Her performance as an aspiring actress who forsakes her personal relationship for stardom was well-received, and her rendition of 'The Man That Got Away,' is considered one of her best. She received an Academy Award nomination for her work in the film.
Singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' in 'Wizard.'
By the 1960s Judy was working more as a singer than as an actress, though she had made numerous television specials starting in the mid-50s. Despite her burgeoning live performance career, Judy still managed to make 1961's Judgment At Nuremberg, for which she received another Academy Award nomination. She also won two Grammys in 1961, for Best Solo Vocal Performance and Album of the Year for Judy at Carnegie Hall. Her television show, The Judy Garland Show, ran from 1963 to 1964, with daughters Liza and Lorna making appearances. Judy won an Emmy for her work on the show.
"The Wizard of Oz" will forever be a favorite for children and adults of all ages.
Judy and Luft divorced in 1965 following an ugly child custody dispute. She married actor Mark Herron in the same year, however the marriage ended after only a few months. Judy wed former bandleader and club manager Mickey Deans in 1969. By this time Judy was in financial trouble and did not look well during her live appearances. She died of an accidental drug overdose in 1969 while in London, a few months after she had wed Deans. Judy was only 47 years old.
Despite the tragedy of her personal life Judy remains an icon of the film and stage industry, and her popularity crosses all boundaries - The Man that Got Away is a drag review staple. Daughter Liza, another gay icon, continued the family legacy with a performing career of her own, while Lorna wrote about her mother in the 1998 memoir Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir. The book was eventually turned into a television mini-series in 2001 entitled Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.
The Judy Garland Museum, located in her hometown, holds an annual festival in honor of the late star, and thousands of women everywhere can be found in a blue gingham dress, braids and ruby slippers each Halloween.
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