Rita Hayworth (1918-1987)
- Carol Borland, Mark of the Vampire, 1934. Hayworth tested. So did Borland. And she seemed, well, easier with the star, Bela Lugosi. Of course, she did. She had worked with his Dracula on stage. Just too shy to mention it…
- Barbara Stanwyck, A Message To Garcia, 1935. Head Fox Darryl Zanuck chased Franco-Italian beauty Simone Simon with a seven-year Fox contract (the first of his many French.. er.. discoveries. He then rushed her before the cameras work with only a smattering of English for her LA debut - as a Spanish girl! She was swiftly replaced by Rita Cansino (later known as Rita Hayworth), then she was sidelined by Stanwyck. (Twenty-one years after SS, Allégret launched another French icon in Future vedettes and En effeuillant la marguerite - BB. Brigitte Bardot).
- Loretta Young, Ramono, 1936. Fox production chief Winfield Sheehan had found Margarita Cansino, clipped her to Rita, nurtured her debut, Dante’s Inferno at age 16, other tiny roles, preparing her for this biggie. Sheehan was dumped by the 1935 merger with 20th Century. His successor, Darryl F Zanuck, cancelled Rita’s $200-a-week contract.
- Margo, Lost Horizon, 1937. Frank Capra resisted Columbia tyrant Harry Cohn's insistence that Rita play Maria. “King” Cohn gave her a hard time, not for resisting his advances, but for having a pimpish husbamd, Eddie Judson - he offered her around.
- Doris Nolan, Holiday (UK: Free To Live/Unconventional Linda), 1938. By the time director George Cukor tested her for Katharine Hepburn’s snobby sister, Cansino was re-named Hayworth and in B movies and, by Geprge, too inexperienced for the role. So let’s hear it for unknown Doris…for beating Hayworth (and Joan Bennett). Two years later, Cukor called Rita back for Susan and God.
- Hedy Lamarr, Boom Town, 1939. After ten films as Rita Cansino, the fiery Rita was changing her name - and her game. She tested for Karen Vanmeer. And Hayworth’s day would come within a year - dancing with Fred Astaire in You’ll Never Get Rich.
- Mary Astor, The Maltese Falcon, 1940. Who didn’t want to be Brigid O’Shaugnessy: “I’ve been bad, worse than you could know.” She was the film noir Scarlett O’Hara and three of the potential Scarlett women were in the mix: Joan Bennett, Paulette Goddard, Brenda Marshall. Also delighted at being seen were: Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, Olivia de Havilland, Betty Field, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Janet Gaynor. The rest were livid about not being good enough for bad Brigid… and her just desserts. “If you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years,” Bogie’s Sam Spade tells her. “I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”
- Ruth Hussey, Our Wife, 1940. In March 1941. Columbia’s couple planned for 1938 was Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Or Rita Hayworth - pushed, instead, into You'll Never Get Rich - or even Loretta Young. Two years on, the couple became Hussey (loaned from MGM) and Melvyn Douglas. Not the same lightness, at all.
- Hedy Lamarr, Tortilla Flat, 1941. For the John Steinbeck creation of Dolores Emngracia “Sweets » Ramirez, MGM wanted to borrow Hayworth. The exact reponse from Columbia czar Harry Cohn would, as per usual, have been unprintable.While head Brother Jack Warner was perfectly willing to loan John Garfield. Co-star Spencer Tracy was noticed forever slipping into Lamarr’s tailer. Romance? No, work. That is to say working on the boxes of chocolates he hid there from eyes prying into his weight!
- Alexis Smith, Gentleman Jim, 1941. Not even Raoul Walsh could always get his own way… He wanted the delightfully hammy Barry Fitzgerald as boxer Jim Corbett’s father, Phil Silvers for fun, plus Hayworth or Ann Sheridan for romance. Walsh made do with Alan Hale, Jack Carson, Alexis Smith and managed to keep Errol Flynn as Corbett.
- Virginia Dale, Holiday Inn, 1941. He already had Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, but director Mark Sandrich wanted the moon…. Hayworth and Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayyworth for their gals. Listen up, snarled the Paramount suits, Astaire and Crosby are pricey enough, OK? (Fred actually worked two weeks for free, including 38 takes of his patriotic, post-Pearl Harbour firecracker routine).
- Janet Blair, Two Yanks in Trinidad, 1941. Rita and Claire Trevor were also seen for the nightclub chanteuse caught between Pat O’Brien and Brian Donlevy as two hoods turned US spies in the B thriller nonsense. Within seven years, Blair had quit movies. “Because I was always getting parts where I’d be the girl who says, ‘Oh, Red!’ in a Skelton movie.”
- Janet Blair, My Sister Eileen, 1942. By now, Columbia chieftain Harry Cohn had superceded her father and husband in controlling her fame - after the famous Bob Landry shot in Life, August 11 1941, made her a favourite GI's pin-up, second only to Betty Grable during WWII.
- Lucille Ball, Best Foot Forward, 1942. When Columbia’s crude czar Harry Cohn couldn’t get Hayworth and Shirley Temple for a film of the Broadway hit, he let MGM buy him out for $150,000. Enter: Ball as herself - boosting her career by being a cadet’s senior prom date at the Winsocki Military Academy.
- Laraine Day, Mr Lucky, 1943. Cary Grant wanted her for his first film after marrying Barbara Hutton. He contented himself by filling the script full of personal parallels - including aspersions on his manhood.
- Shirley Temple, Kiss And Tell, 1944. Columbia spent two years negotiating for the rights to F Hugh Herbert’s play - for Hayworth. And then for Temple - loaned by David O Selznick, despite worries that the role was too sexy for the ex-moppet. Poor old DOS… She was sweet 16 at the time. And wed her first husband, John Agar, a month before the 1945 premiere!
- Janet Blair, Once Upon A Time, 1944. Should have been once upon a Bogart- Hayworth, but Cary Grant-Janet lived happily ever after... in a tale of a boy and his dancing caterpillar. (You heard!)
- Gene Tierney, Leave Her To Heaven, 1945. First, Tallulah Bankhead, then Hayworth flatly refused the perfect John M Stahl melo. With yet another of Hollywood’s Shakesperian titles (Hamlet). Tierney stole everything but the on-set furniture as a memorably chilling, twisted psychopath. “It’s just that she loves too much,” explained her screen mom.
- Lizabeth Scott, Dead Reckoning, 1946... Hubby comes first. Bogart’s mysterious chanteuse Dusty Chandler was supposed to be Hayworth. Except hubby Oson Welles had other plans. Such as directing and co-starring with her in The Lady From Shanghai. PS Reckoning was better.
- Betty Grable, When My Baby Smiles At Me, 1947. From Paramount to RKO to Columbia, which saw the old Broadway musical (ex-Burlesque) as perfect for Al Jolson to produce for Hayworth in 1944. Apparently, she said: Make it not so.
- Hedy Lamarr, Samson and Delilah, 1948. The 1935 plan had been Miriam Hopkins. Now, apart from such inevitables as Hayworth and Lana Turner, pompous director CB DeMille had some odd notions for his Delilah. The veteran Laraine Day (31), song ’n’ dancer Betty Hutton, demure Nancy Olson and the way too young Jean Simmons (19). Most of their studios were not interested in any loan deals. Or not with DeMille. His film might such a huge hit that the actress would improve her status and demand more pay from her home studio contract!
Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday, 1950.
Columbia's crude chief Harry Cohn spent the first $1m for a play - written for Jean Arthur - as a Rita Hayworth vehicle. As she swanned around Europe with the Aly Khan, Cohn preferred Arthur, Alice Faye, Paulette Goddard, Gloria Grahame, Celeste Holm, Evelyn Keyes, Marie McDonald, Marilyn Monroe, Jan Sterling, Lana Turner - anyone other than “the fat Jewish broad,” the understudy who had made the play a hit. Katharine Hepburn waged a campaign to change Cohn’s mind, by virtually turning Judy’s support role in Tracy and Hepburn’s Adam’s Rib into the most elaborate screen test. An act of generosity unsurpassed in Hollywood history. Cohn gave in, gracefully. “Well, I've worked with fat assess before!” He paid a meagre $4,500 to the actress who did the impossible - and wrested Oscar from Bette Davis in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd on March 29, 1951 Judy also won Kate for a lover - Hepburn’s final lesbian affair at a mere 43.
- Gloria Grahame, Human Desire, 1954. After Marlon Brando refused - angrily - director Fritz Lang tried to re-unite Gilda’s Rita and Glenn Ford. Except, please Mr Harry Cohn, she had just married the third of her four husbands, singer Dick Haymes… Mr Cohn was not best pleased! Then again, this was no classic like the original: French realisateur Jean Renoir’s La bête humaine, 1938. So, Lang re-united Ford and Grahame from his own Big Heat, 1947. Brando was still right: crap!
- Ava Gardner, The Barefoot Contessa, 1954. Refused to play, in essence, herself. Maria Vargas was based on Rita, Anne Chevalier, Linda Darnell, and Ava’s 1951 Pandora Reynolds. Ava thought it was all her and certainly followed it in her life-style.
- Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sang et lumières, France-Spain, 1954. Prodigious dialoguist-turned-auteur Michel Audiard (129 scripts in 36 years) suggested Rita but Zsa Zsa was cheaper and handy, while cashing in on her Moulin Rogue triumph. She had, in fact, been in his previous comedy, L'ennemi public n° 1, with Fernandel. “She came with all the caprices of a Hollywood star,” recalled co-star Daniel Gélin, who had also been hoping for Rita. “And she spoke Michel’s dialogue like [the French-dubbed] Stan Laurel.”
- Elizabeth Taylor, Giant, 1955.
- Marlene Dietrich, Witness For The Prosecution, 1957. As if he didn’t have enough trouble settling upon his hero (Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon, etc), Billy Wilder considered both Rita and Ava Gardner for the titular Christine Vole. Their Cockneyspeak would have been no less horrendous than Marlene’s. n
- Kim Novak, Pal Joey, 1957. After Columbia hot-shot "King" Cohn saw the success of the Gene Kelly-Hayworth in the Cover Girl musical, 1944, they were were promised Joey. Sadly, it took another 15 years to make the film by which time Kelly (whose initial breakthrough was in the original 1940 Broadway show) was bound to MGM. Hayworth was now given the older woman, with “the new Rita” as the younger.
- Dorothy Dandridge, Porgy and Bess, 1959. Ira Gerswhin rejected offers from 90 producers over 22 years. Harry Cohn once said he intended to make it at Columbia with Al Jolson, Fred Astaire and Rita... in black-face!
- Belinda Lee, The Story of Joseph and His Brethern, 1960. "Bigger than Salome!" It was Harry Cohn's biggest dream and greatest grief (made two years after his funeral). Rita Hayworth fled when he would not cast her thirdhusband, singer Dick Haymes, as Joseph. (Although not a US citizen, Haymes was disliked in Hollywood for avoiding WWII service). Her lawyers said not starting in March 1955 breached her two-film contract and asked for $250,000. Cohn was furious. “When you came here, you were a nothing, a nobody. All you had were those two big things and Harry Cohn,” he berated her in his usual affable mode. “Now you just got those those two big things.” And, frankly, Cohn wanted to milk them some while she was on the right side of 40.
- Ginger Rogers, Harlow, 1965. The Version According to... a totally miscast Carol Lynley. Judy Garland started the shoot as for Harlow's mother, Mama Jean Bello, and had to quit after four days. Eleanor Parker and Rita were considered as substitutes before this proved Ginger’s final film. Not a good’’un to bow out on.
- Eleanor Parker, The Oscar, 1966. As the talent scout who discovers Stephen Boyd - an upstart on his uppers - opposite (at the time) Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Jean Seberg.
- Anne Bancroft, The Graduate, 1967. "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me… aren't you?" Despite his hots for Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr and Jeanne Moreau, Mike Nichols knew Dustin Hoffman’s seducer had to be American. And so the first $1m director ploughed through Rita, Doris Day, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Susan Hayward, Patricia Neal, Geraldine Page, Eva Maria Saint, Lana Turner, Shelley Winters. And the prerequisite outsider: Grayson Hall, of the 1966-1972 supernatural soap, Dark Shadows.
- Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora, 1968. By 1955, Rita was back in Europe, squired by Egyptian-born Paris producer Raymond Hakim. His Isadora Duncan biopic (not a bad idea, except Rita was a better dancer - “remarkable,” said Astaire) was side-swiped by Harry Cohn’s New York litigation against her for quitting Joseph under the orders of her husband, Dick Haymes.
- Debbie Reynolds, What’s the Matter with Helen? 1970. Tragically, the great Rita was in the first stages of Alzheimer's. Reynolds jumped at the horror role - turned down by the great Joanne Woodward! - and even put $800,000 into the pot as (uncredited) co-producer.
- Sylvia Miles, Heat, 1972. Andy Warhol had this thing about old-timers. He talked, lengthily, with Rita about making what is the nearest thing to a film emanating from The Factory - his version of Sunset Blvd. Warhol told screenwriter John Howell to keep Rita in mind. Director George Cukor warned her off it - far too much nude sex between the ageing screen queen and gigolo Joe Dallesaandro. “I created her,” said Sylvia. “I had a history, evil ex-husbands, and a rotten daughter... There was no script. I wrote every line I said, making it up as I went along, which is what life is, behaviour is. Most good actors can’t really do that... behaving.”
- Kim Novak, Tales That Witness Madness, 1973. As proved on her last film, Wrath of God, Hayworth was ill - the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease (undiagnosed for some 20 years!). This then was the only time that Harry Cohn’s Rita Mk II stood in for Mk I, 15 years after Cohn’s death, 19 years after he yelled “Get me another blonde who can be a star” and started grooming “that fat Polack.”