It is often said that Rita Hayworth was paradoxically shy. She was a big movie star who showed so much confidence on camera, but when the film stopped rolling, she turned into a woman as quiet as a mouse. Of course she wasn’t the first actress like that, but it is very rare.
She was submissive. Rita was always doing what her father told her to do as a girl, and then she was very obedient to her first husband, Ed Judson, following his direction down to very small details as he started her movie career. He told her to lose weight, so she lost it. He said she should wear certain clothes and she did. He wanted Rita to change her hairline, and she agreed to the painful process of electrolysis.
Hayworth became a fighter. She finally rebelled against authority figures in her life in her 20s. She was often fighting her boss Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures. He suspended her more than once following her refusal to do what he said. Many people now say that Cohn was a piece of work, and much of the enduring animosity between him and her was his fault. He could be incredibly mean even to the most important person at his studio.
Rita’s stepdaughter Chris Welles Feder used a phrase in her new book In My Father’s Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles to describe her which is very accurate. She said Rita had “natural dignity.” This was a quality she showed not only when she was a mature woman but also when she was much younger. It is an endearing quality which was one reason why her fans adored her and didn’t know exactly why.
Feder wrote: “Rita was everything a child could wish for in a stepmother: sweet-natured, affectionate, fun-loving, and, in many ways, a child herself.”
“. . . the brightest days of my childhood . . . I owe to Rita. Almost every weekend, she invited me to stay with her and my father in their spacious home at 136 South Carmelina Drive. Rita had bought the ten-room house with its spectacular grounds and swimming pool when she realized she was pregnant.
“The contrast between my easygoing stepmother and my excessively strict mother only heightened my euphoria from the moment I arrived on South Carmelina Drive, the weekend stretching ahead like a round-the-clock party loaded with treats and surprises. I was also free of Marie on these occasions, which added to the holiday atmosphere.
“Instead of the usual routine of eating in the kitchen with Marie or being led off to bed while it was still light, knowing that downstairs the grown-ups were mixing their martinis and the fun was just beginning, I was allowed to hang around all the time and stay up as late as I liked.” [Cont...]