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Rarely has a film's title so perfectly described its leading lady as whenRita Hayworth put on her dancing shoes for You Were Never Lovelier (1942), the follow-up film to her first teaming with Fred Astaire, You'll Never Get Rich (1941). But where she had been an up-and-coming leading lady when they made their first filmtogether, she was a full-fledged star by the time she danced with him asecond time. And just as Margarita Cansino had been Hollywood-ized intoRita Hayworth, so the film was set in a Hollywood version of Buenos Aires,complete with bandleader Xavier Cugat and his band playing the Latin musicof all-American composer Jerome Kern. In typical Hollywood fashion, allLatin countries were one. The film was originally titled Carnival inRio before the setting was changed to Argentina, and the Argentinenatives were played by a leading lady of Spanish descent and a Cubanbandleader. Cugat wasn't the most famous Cuban on screen either. The15-year-old Fidel Castro appeared as an unbilled extra.
Astaire had performed with Hayworth's father, Latin dancer Eduardo Cansino.That family connection had helped him overcome his doubts about workingwith an actress almost as tall as he and 20 years his junior. From theirfirst rehearsal for You'll Never Get Rich, he would dub her thefirst natural dancer he had worked with since his sister, Adele, hadretired from their stage act. Years later, he would call Hayworth hisfavorite on-screen dancing partner.
When their first film together became a hit, Columbia Studios, which hadreleased the film, quickly got to work developing another vehicle for thedancing stars. Latin subjects were in vogue at the time and Columbia, like other Hollywood studios, began marketing to South American moviegoers. Besides, European movie ticket sales had drastically dropped off ever since the start of World War II so Columbia decided to adapt anArgentinean film, The Gay Senorita. Astaire was cast as a dancerwhose gambling losses strand him in Buenos Aires. When night club ownerAdolphe Menjou's second daughter (Hayworth) refuses to marry, leaving heryounger sisters with no chance of tying the knot until she gives in, Menjoustarts sending the girl gifts from a secret admirer she mistakenly decidesis Astaire. The situation created ample opportunities for dance numbers asAstaire performs with Cugat's orchestra in Menjou's club and firstreluctantly, then amorously courts Hayworth.
The studio relied on Cugat to supply the Latin music, then assigned therest of the score to Kern, a composer who had never been comfortableworking in that style. Instead, he and lyricist Johnny Mercer supplied theclassic "I'm Old Fashioned" as a perfect expression of Hayworth'scharacter, the hit "Dearly Beloved" for Astaire's pose as her secretadmirer and "The Shorty George" for an athletic rehearsal number. "DearlyBeloved" would reach the hit parade in recordings by Glenn Miller'sorchestra and Dinah Shore. It even became a standard wedding piece for awhile. A few years later, Mercer would paraphrase the lyrics, particularly"I know that I'll be yours come shower or shine," for an even bigger hitwith music by Harold Arlen, "Come Rain or Come Shine." But then, themelody had already been recycled; Kern had borrowed it from a Pucciniopera.
Space was at a premium on the lot during production, so Astaire found aroom over a funeral parlor for dance rehearsals. Unlike many of hisearlier partners, including Ginger Rogers, Hayworth was there for all therehearsals while he was developing their routines. But every time afuneral procession went by the hall, they had to stop so the music andtapping feet wouldn't disrupt the proceedings. When that made therehearsals too somber, Astaire distracted Hayworth with little jokes. Theywere using an ice bucket to cool soft drinks, and one time he dipped hishand in the ice before taking her in his arms for a romantic pas dedeux.
Hayworth had scored solidly in several films the year before, includingThe Strawberry Blonde, with James Cagney, and Blood and Sand,with Tyrone Power. This helped make You Were Never Lovelier a majorhit for the studio, and the film's success made her Columbia's top femalestar. The picture scored Oscar® nominations for its score, soundrecording and the song "Dearly Beloved," though it lost in all threecategories. Sadly it would mark Astaire's last teaming with Hayworth.Columbia kept her too busy for such elaborate musicals in the future, whilehis career carried him to MGM, where he would find new success dancing withsuch co-stars as Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen and Cyd Charisse.
Producer: Louis F. Edelman
Director: William A. Seiter
Screenplay: Michael Fessier, Ernest Pagano, Delmer Davies
Based on the Story and Screenplay The Gay Senorita by Carlos A. Olivariand Sixto Pondal Rios
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Art Direction: Lionel Banks, Rudolph Sternad
Music: Jerome Kern
Principal Cast: Fred Astaire (Robert Davis), Rita Hayworth (Maria Acuna),Adolphe Menjou (Eduardo Acuna), Leslie Brooks (Cecy Acuna), Adele Mara(Lita Acuna), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Maria Castro), Xavier Cugat and HisOrchestra (Themselves), Lina Romay (Herself).
by Frank Miller