I always enjoy watching Turner Classic Movies (TCM). I love classic movies; the black and white cinematography, the preserved memories of simpler days, the glamor of the silver screen. So when the movie Gilda was featured on TCM, I DVR’d it and popped some popcorn, which I enjoyed eating in my old-fashioned popcorn container.
If you are a TCM fan, you may have also been a fan of Robert Osborne, who sadly passed away in March of this year. He often introduced the movie, and talked about the actors or directors, and what was going on in their lives at the time. You would get the inside scoop on who was really supposed the play the part, which actors didn’t get along, etc. Well, when Robert talked about Rita Hayworth, I felt so much compassion for her.
Rita was a dancer, actress, princess, Latina and pin-up girl back in the World War II era. When Fred Astaire was asked who his favorite dance partner was, you’d be wrong to guess Ginger Rogers as his answer. It was Rita. If you watch the scene from Gilda where she does a strip tease, you soon understand her dancing savvy and sex appeal. All she does is remove one of her full-length gloves, which would seem rather unremarkable in this day and age, but still today you will find yourself mesmerized. I dare you to watch it only once . . . and then try to tell me what happened to that glove?
What struck me in Robert Osbourne’s introduction was that he stated that the role of Gilda was both a blessing and a curse for Ms. Hayworth. Rita was married five times, most famously to Orson Welles, and also to Prince Aly Khan, so she was truly a bonafide princess! Rita has been quoted as saying, “Men go to bed with Gilda, but wake up with me.” All of her marriages came to sad endings, and at the age of 42, Hayworth began a long painful decline from Alzheimer’s disease.
Years ago, I must have been watching TCM, and Robert Osborne was probably giving a similar introduction about Rita, and mentioned the way she was Americanized. They took this beautiful Latina, and colored her hair auburn instead of raven black, and gave her hairline and eyebrows electrolysis, very painful hair removal back in those days, so that she looked more American. I always wondered just how that made her feel, and what it would do to her sense of self. I more recently read that Rita had very little confidence.
So Rita Hayworth, I get you. As a performer, you can sometimes struggle with knowing your value as an artist vs. your value as a human. There is a whole package of complexity within a person that can’t be packed up into a song or a role in a film. That’s why we can really like someone’s acting ability, paintings or songs, and then find out they have political views or behaviors that are revolting to us, and make us think, “How can I like that person?” Audiences would rather not separate an artist’s work from their true humanhood, and when it happens, many times it will be a disappointment. Often, I am Rita.
Photo by Tom Simpson on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND