The Hair Electrolysis Makeover that Launched Rita Hayworth’s Acting Career


Helen Hunt, the top hairdresser at Columbia Pictures, recounted the story of how and why her client got electrolysis.

Rita Cansino

“When Rita first came to the studio she had black hair and her hairline was very low. Her first picture, Criminals of the Air, was filmed mostly across the street from Columbia, which is now a parking lot. She was there under contract with about five other girls with the idea of coaching them for stardom.

“Rita was going out with Eddie Judson who lived on a small allowance an oilman friend gave him for some past favour. Eddie was a car salesman before, in Tennessee, I believe. Good-looking and intelligent. He realised Rita’s potential so he started on a publicity campaign for her.

“He is the one who asked me to find a good electrolysist and start the treatments–which I did. Eddie paid ten dollars each for about one year. This was slow work.

“Eddie went to the top jewellery shops and borrowed jewellery for Rita, and even evening gowns–he took her to the finest restaurants–saw that she was seated in a good view. All this time she was unnoticed by Columbia and I was dressing her hair–still black.

“Finally the New York office called Harry Cohn and said you have a beauty with loads of publicity–why don’t you capitalise? Harry Cohn then gave her some tests.

“The cameraman said that her hairline was still too low and too black–so I suggested putting a bleached streak across her forehead. We tested, it was a success. This was for the picture with Jean Arthur and Cary Grant [Only Angels Have Wings, 1939].

“Jean was asked to pose with Rita in some stills and she refused, saying, ‘She’s too pretty for me to stand with her.’

“The streak across the front of her hair was copied by many. My daughter was a student at U.C.L.A. at the time–her girlfriends were begging me to give them the streak.

“One day I talked to Harry Cohn about making Rita’s hair red so we could do away with the streak. When she was in a picture I always shampooed her hair every morning and brushed it completely dry and very little pincurls were necessary to give the luscious flow of shiny hair.

“At this point I told Harry Cohn about what Eddie Judson had paid out of his small funds on Rita’s electrolysis and asked that the studio take it over. He agreed and I started in again.

“I worked with the electrolysist, drawing lines on a still picture showing the line we wanted. Now the treatments were fifteen dollars each but never more. This lasted another year until the work was finished.

“Achieving a new design for Rita’s forehead entailed a long and very painful process. Each hair had to be removed individually, then the follicle deadened with a charge of electricity.”

Hairline Closeup

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