Rita was naturally shy and didn’t do many interviews. At the end of John Kobal’s biography, Rita Hayworth: Portrait of a Love Goddess, he recalls his interview at her Beverly Hills home in August 1973, when she was 55 years old.
We began by looking through piles of faded yellow stills, taken in her early days at Fox when she was still Rita Cansino.
She fell about laughing, bursting into bubbly shrieks, especially over a session that showed her heavily oiled, wearing an Egyptian head-dress for some publicity stunt comparing her heavily retouched profile to that of Nefertiti, while she was working on Charlie Chan in Egypt. It was typical of the hare-brained ideas publicity departments thought up to keep the company’s name and product in the public’s eye.
Rita: “They used to do that kind of nonsense when they still had the studio system. Fox, Metro, Warners … it was their idea of selling a personality. But who’d know that was me if you didn’t already know? I wouldn’t if my name weren’t underneath.”
Rita fights back memories, but has forgotten little: the first steps she took as a dancer, the hours and years of hard work it took to create what the public accepted as Rita Hayworth.
“The way the studio sold me, you’d think I popped out of some package, ready made. My father’s family were all dancers. I was trained as a dancer since I was four years old. Honey, they had me dancing as soon as they could get me on my feet. It was a family tradition but the reason I had to do it professionally was that we were broke. Very broke. NOTHING.” She gives a harsh laugh.
“My brothers became businessmen; they didn’t have to rely on a precarious career like dancing or acting. Because it doesn’t last long–it’s very short-lived money-wise. Forgive me for saying money.
“I was eight when we moved to Los Angeles. My father had a studio on Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard. After my classes were over I had to take care of my two brothers because my family was working.
“So we used to go to the movies. We’d go to the Iris Theatre where they had all the silent movies, because it cost so little–ten cents for kids–and I used to take them and we’d sit there for hours.
“I liked Jeanne Eagels and Ruth Chatterton, and all of those people. I always wanted to stay longer but Vernon and Eddie got angry because they wanted to leave when they got tired of that stuff.
“I wasn’t movie-struck but I liked the movies. I never thought at that time that I’d want to go into movies when I grew up, because I was so busy between school and dancing. It must have given me some thought in the back of my mind, like ‘that would be interesting’ but I never thought of it seriously. We just went to the movies.”