Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Image of Rita Hayworth

It's mid-October, Hispanic Heritage Month, and the perfect time to take a quick break from my Career Girls and Marriage series to celebrate Rita Hayworth. She is the birthday girl of the month, born October 17, 1918 (see the getTV Rita Hayworth Blogathon hosted by Classic Movie Hub for a list of wonderful reviews devoted to Hayworth). She is also one of the first Hispanic actresses to make it big in Hollywood although her widespread popularity did not come until after her Hispanic heritage was washed away.

If you are interested in a detailed account of Rita's transformation, you should stop by Backlots and read Lara Gabrielle Fowler's Rita Hayworth and the Loss of Hispanic Identity. (It is a fabulous read!)  

I am fascinated by how Rita Hayworth's all-American, sexy image is engrained into our public consciousness. Maybe my experience is unique, but for a long time my understanding of Hayworth was limited to her on-screen image and commentaries about her sex appeal to American G.I.'s. In fact, the first time I heard someone (probably TCM's Robert Osborne) talk about Rita's Hispanic heritage, I did a double-take, thinking they were discussing Rita Moreno. I have a feeling I'm not alone. In Being Rita Hayworth, Adrienne McLean observes that while the Hollywood publicity machine promoted Rita's "Latin heritage" and "ability as a dancer," they also glorified "her good looks [...] the result of much manipulation" (39). A quick internet search will demonstrate the number of images the powers-to-be presented to reinforce Rita's new American-ness.  

In the minds of her adoring public, Rita Hayworth was the all-American pin-up girl whose pose in a sexy black-laced negligee motivated the boys overseas. 

   "the" pic from Life magazine, 1941

Strangely, the image did not alienate her female fans. Was it because anyone who kept the boys inspired was a-okay? Or was it because her musical comedies brought her down to earth? She evoked memories of a simpler time--albeit whitewashed--as she charmed James Cagney in the musical Strawberry Blonde (1941). She hoofed with Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942) and with Gene Kelly in Cover Girl (1944). When the boys returned, they fell in love with her all over again as she played the title character in Gilda (1946).  

Can't wait to do a write up on this noir someday!

How does the saying go? Women wanted to be her and men wanted to be with her.   

So entrenched was her image, the public was aghast when she dyed her trademark fiery red hair to blonde for Orson Welles' Lady from Shanghai (1947). The film's box office failure was partially attributed to her physical transformation.  

Over a half-century later, Rita's sexy Americanized image remains in our memories, but thanks to a growing body of educated classic movie fans, her Hispanic heritage will never be lost. 

Works Cited

McLean, Adrienne. Being Rita Hayworth: Labor, Identity, and Hollywood
Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004. Print.

This post is part of the “getTV Rita Hayworth Blogathon” hosted by Classic Movie Hub and running during the entire month of October. Please visit getTVschedule to see a full list of Rita Hayworth films airing on the channel this month, and please be sure to visit Classic Movie Hub for a full list of other Blogathon entries.

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