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Rita Hayworth
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Remind Me

Robert Osborne on Rita Hayworth

In the 1940s and '50s, one only had to say "Rita" and everywhere in the civilized world people knew you were referring to the lady who's our TCM Star of the Month for April. "Rita" meant only "Hayworth," whether in Beverly Hills, Barbados, Belgium or Bora Bora. On film, her va-voom factor was so potent it's said that the airmen testing the first atomic bomb on July 1, 1946, pasted her picture on the bomb itself before it was dropped at Bikini Atoll, an "homage" her publicists loved but something which always made Rita herself cringe.

Three years earlier, Orson Welles, having seen her play a seductress in the movie Blood and Sand, told a friend in South America, "I'm going back to America to marry Rita Hayworth," even though Orson had yet to even meet her. (Welles made good his vow: they married in 1943 but divorced five years later.)

In 1949, a bona fide European prince made her a genuine Princess in a wedding on the French Riviera that was front page news in every newspaper known to man. Meanwhile, she went from being one of the two top pinup girls of World War II (the other: Betty Grable) to a woman known far and wide as, simply, "The Love Goddess." Some irony, then, that this sought-after, blazing beauty was, in person, incredibly shy, low-key, soft-spoken and amazingly down-to- earth.

One of the great treats of my early days in Hollywood was getting to know this heralded lady, thanks to having a job with a public relations firm (Patricia Fitzgerald & Associates) where, for a brief period, The Love Goddess was a client. By this point, Orson and the prince were long gone from her life, her days as a soaring star were over, and she spoke of herself as simply a hardworking actress who only wanted to be considered for a good role, now and then. She couldn't have been nicer to work with, or more gracious, or more tolerant of a young kid quite in awe of her history.

Sometimes, when luck was on my side, my boss would assign me the job of accompanying her to a function. (Something I learned quickly about this iconic woman: on the way to an event, she might be quiet and understated as a mouse but on emerging from a car, if there were fans or photographers gathered, she could turn on that million-dollar "it" quotient in a flash, always causing a genuine rumble.) There were some danger signs. I was always cautioned to make sure the lady had minimal access to any kind of liquor because after a drink her good nature could suddenly, unexpectedly change to anger and beligerance, something which we all interpreted as a low tolerance to alcohol; little did we know it was actually the onset of the Alzheimer's which destroyed her. But most of my memories of Rita Hayworth couldn't be sweeter, and it's a treat for all of us to be able to spend quality time with her on TCM every Tuesday this month.

We'll be showing 26 of her films, including six premieres plus one documentary on her life, an astounding fairy tale with its rocky start, its unbelievably dazzling second act and its heartbreaking conclusion. All this and, of course, Gilda, too, which airs April 17. Few people in the Hollywood parade have deserved a tribute more.

by Robert Osborne
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