Glenn Ford & Rita Hayworth

June 15, 2023
Glenn Ford & Rita Hayworth

Monday, July 31st | 4 Movies

There were countless movie teams during the Golden Age of Hollywood that were sure fire ways to get audiences out of the house and into the movie theaters. Among the greatest were Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, William Powell and Kay Francis, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and Lana Turner and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But perhaps the sexiest and most beautiful were Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.

Over a 25-year period, they made five pictures together, the best was the luscious 1946 film noir Gilda. There was a heated passion between the two; their love scenes were ablaze with as much eroticism as possible during the Production Code era. Audiences flocked to the theaters waiting with bated breath for their embrace.

TCM celebrates Hayworth and Ford with a four film salute on July 31.  

Though a lot of their fans believe that Gilda was their first film together, they were paired in the slight but enjoyable 1940 comedy The Lady in Question. The best thing about The Lady in Question is watching these two legends in their salad days at Columbia which was ruled with an iron grip and a leering eye for his leading ladies by Harry Cohn. The piece on the movie noted the studio “was still trying to figure out what it had in its two young contract players.”

They had a lot.

Born Margarita Carmen Cansino to Spanish dancer Eduardo Cansino and dancer Volga Hayworth of Irish descent in 1918, Hayworth began performing on stage with her family before the age of five. She caught the eye of Fox executives in the 1935 Spencer Tracy film, Dante’s Inferno. Married at 18, she moved to Columbia in 1937 appearing in Criminals of the Air. She made her first A flick in 1939 appearing as Richard Barthelmess’ wife in the high-flying Howard Hawks’ classic Only Angels Have Wings.

Ford, who was born in 1916 in Canada but grew up in Santa Monica, knew from an early age that he wanted to be an actor. He made a short film in 1937 with his feature debut following in 1939 in Twentieth Century Fox’s Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence. His performance led to a contract at Columbia. It was Cohn who changed his named from Gwyllyn to Glenn. He quickly appeared in numerous B films in the early 1940s. In fact, both Ford and Hayworth appeared in supporting roles in 1940 in the studio’s popular Blondie comedy series. 

Ford would reminiscence about those early years at Columbia in John Kobal’s “Rita Hayworth Portrait of a Love Goddess”: “In those early days at Columbia they used to throw us into almost everything that came along.” 

Like The Lady in Question, a pet project of Charles Vidor, who would also direct the couple in

Gilda and 1948’s The Love of Carmen.  He loved Marc Allégret’s 1937 comedy Gribouille, known in the U.S. as Heart of Paris, and convinced the mogul to buy the American rights.

Set in France, The Lady in Question finds Brian Aherne as the owner of bicycle shop who eagerly reports for jury duty. On trial for murder is Hayworth’s demure Natalie. Aherne is convinced she’s innocent and he eventually gets his fellow jurors to vote not guilty. He brings Natalie into his home and gives her a job.  Ford plays Aherne’s rather nerdy, astronomy-obsessed son, who falls in love with Natalie.

Though the two have a tentative chemistry; Hayworth and Ford are more like two young colts trying to find their identities. Hayworth is stunning but hadn’t developed into a bombshell. And Ford is gangly with unruly hair that seemingly can’t be tamed by pomade.  

A lot had changed with their careers when they reunited for Gilda.

Hayworth endured painful electrolysis to raise her hairline. And her dark hair was dyed auburn.  
And a star was born. Hayworth was loaned to Warner Bros. for 1941’s The Strawberry Blonde and Fox for the 1941 Technicolor melodrama Blood and Sand. She found the perfect dance partner in Fred Astaire with the two starring in the swell musicals, 1941’s You’ll Never Get Rich and 1942 You Were Never Lovelier. Before having her first child by second husband Orson Welles, she returned to the screen in the 1944 Technicolor delight Cover Girl with Gene Kelly followed by another Technicolor hit Tonight and Every Night (1945). 

Ford continued to make B movies, finally getting a chance in an A film with 1941’s So Ends Our Night. He married tap dancer extraordinary Eleanor Powell in 1943, the same year he reported for service with the Marines.  Hayworth did her bit for the guys serving in World War II and became one of the top pin-up girls for the soldiers. 

When Gilda went into production in 1945, Hayworth was at the pinnacle of her success and beauty. Ford was one of many actors who had left Hollywood behind during World War II hoping to restart their careers.

Writer-producer Virginia Van Upp, who had written Cover Girl, developed Gilda for Hayworth. After a series of comedies and musicals, this film would change the trajectory of Hayworth’s career. Though she did a few musicals after Gilda, she was primarily known for her dramatic and femme fatale roles. Vidor directed and Rudolph Maté supplied the stunning black-and-white cinematography.

Gilda is best known for Hayworth’s sizzling performance of “Put the Blame on Mame” wearing that extraordinarily provocative strapless black satin Jean Louis gown. Though her “strip tease” consists of her removal of one long black glove, Hayworth, according to “makes it seem like she shucked the whole outfit.”

Ford plays Johnny Farrell, a down on his luck American gambler in Argentina who becomes the manager and friend of a ruthless casino owner named Mundson (George Macready). After returning from a trip, Mundson introduces Johnny to his new wife, Gilda. Johnny and Gilda had been lovers. Let’s say it didn’t end well. Their love/hate relationship is kinky, almost sadomasochistic  - at least for 1946.

Gilda: “I hate you so much I would destroy myself to take you down with me…Hate is a very exciting emotion. Have you noticed? Very exciting…”

Johnny: “I hate you so much, I think I’m gonna die from it. Darling…[they kiss] I think I’m gonna die from it.”

It’s rather shocking to see how the New York Times hated the film: “Miss Hayworth, who plays in this picture her first dramatic role, gives little evidence of a talent that should be commended or encouraged. She wears many gowns of shimmering luster and tosses her tawny hair in glamorous style, but her manner of playing a worldly woman is distinctly five-and-dime.”

There was a bit of praise, though, for Ford: “Glenn Ford, just returned from war service, shows, at least, a certain stamina and poise in the role of the tough young gambler, but his is a thankless role.”

Even though Gilda was an enormous hit, Hayworth put the blame of her less-than-successful love life on the noir.  “Every man I’ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me.”

This film jump started Ford’s career and transformed him into a bona fide star and heartthrob. Hayworth had her first flop in the 1947 film noir The Lady from Shanghai written, directed and co-starring Welles, whom she divorced in 1947. Not only did audiences find the film confusingly dense, but they were also shocked at seeing Hayworth with short blonde hair.  

Hayworth had planned for her next film to be a Technicolor drama set in New Orleans called “Lorna Hansen”. But after The Lady from Shanghai, she needed a surefire hit. So, she became the femme fatale once again in 1948’s The Loves of Carmen, which reunited her with Ford, who looked awfully uncomfortable in Don José’s s tight uniform, and director Vidor. Shot in Technicolor, the film earned an Oscar nomination for cinematography. It was also a family affair. The film’s assistant choreographer was Hayworth’s father, her brother Vernon Cansino played a soldier and her uncle Jose Cansino performed the flamenco.

No expense was spared. Location shooting was at Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney in California; the sets were lavish and Vidor made good use of more than 1,200 extras. It has its moments but it’s no Gilda.

Bosley Crowther in the New York Times summed it up perfectly: “The electric spark of personality that might give illumination to the role is missing in her performance. And the Don Jose of the novel, who was a contemptible stuffed-shirt, is here a mopish fall-guy in the performance of Glenn Ford.”

Since Ford’s death in 2006 at the age of 90, it has become known that Hayworth and Ford were lovers. In fact, according to Ford’s only child, Peter, their relationship continued for some 40 years. Peter, whom I interviewed for the L.A. Times in 2011 for his biography “Glenn Ford: A Life,” noted Hayworth became pregnant with his father’s child and had an abortion in France after completing The Loves of Carmen.

“Nobody knows that,” he said. “I have [my  father’s] diaries. The image of my dad is that he is like Jimmy Stewart, an Everyman. He was that on film. He wasn’t that in private life.”

While in Europe, Hayworth met and married the charismatic playboy, Prince Aly Khan. Their daughter Yasmin was born in 1949. But by 1950, Hayworth was talking with Cohn about reviving her production company, Beckworth Corporation. She and and Khan officially divorced in 1953 and she returned to work.

Talks with Cohn lead to 1952’s Affair in Trinidad with Ford. Another film noir, Affair in Trinidad borrowed a lot from Gilda and even Hitchcock’s 1946 Notorious. The film was directed by Vincent Sherman, best known for such Warner Bros.’ hits as 1944’s Mr. Skeffington and 1950’s The Damned Don’t Cry. It’s fun to see  Ford and Hayworth back to their love/hate ways even though they are much more subdued this time around.

Her return to the screen was met with scorn by the New York Times: “Miss Hayworth proves no bargain after an absence of four years. In that time, we had probably forgotten what a mediocre actress she is, and now the bald fact-politely winked at in the past-hits one right between the eyes. Tawny she is and sometimes handsome in a highly shellacked and tailored way, but her acting is vasty unexpressive of anything but the postures of a doll.”

Ageism reared its ugly head with Hayworth. She did some fine work in 1957’s Pal Joey,
1958’s Separate Tables and 1959’s The Story On Page One, but as she matured, roles were few and far between. Whereas Ford, who was two years older than Hayworth, had his biggest successes when he was in his 40s even becoming a top draw at the box office in 1958.

By the time Ford and Hayworth did 1965’s crime melodrama The Money Trap, their careers were slowing down. Ford was still playing the leading man with sex symbol du jour Elke Sommer cast has his wife. Hayworth appears in two scenes has his former girlfriend, an alcoholic waitress.

Ford received good notices as Clark Kent’s adopted dad Jonathan Kent in 1978’s Superman, but he mainly did TV before retiring in 1991. He suffered from strokes and died in 2006 three months after his 90th birthday.

Hayworth was in her early 50s when she increasingly had memory and concentration issues. In fact, in 1971 she was set to be Lauren Bacall’s replacement on Broadway in Applause, but left during rehearsal because she had problems remembering her lines. The co-producer Larry Kasha told the New York Times in a most condescending way that “like most Hollywood actresses, she is a slower learner because they’ve never been required to learn scripts fast. She’s been watching the show and suddenly realized that there was a lot more to it than she expected.”

She was finally diagnosed in 1980 with Alzheimer’s disease. And she spent the last years of her life in New York under the loving care and guardianship of her daughter Yasmin Kahn. She was just 68 when she died in 1987.

Ford was one of the pallbearers at her funeral.