Friday, May 14, 2010

Remembering... Rita Hayworth

The daughter of a flamenco dancer and a Ziegfeld girl, Rita Hayworth was fortunate* to have been born with her father's ability and her mother's beauty; despite it, though, Hayworth's life was in essence a series of tragedies which culminated in the greatest tragedy of all - her early death from Alzheimer's disease on this day in 1987. Hayworth was one of the first big stars to go public with her diagnosis, and in the years since Hayworth's look-alike daughter Princess Yasmin Aga Khan has worked tirelessly at eradicating the affliction which claimed her mother at the age of 68.

PhotobucketIn symbolic terms, of course, it's apt that a disease which attacks the memory should have taken her; according to celebrity biographer Barbara Leaming there's evidence that young Rita was molested by her father well into her teens. The eventual makeover that honed her already remarkable beauty was painful - involving, among other things, electrolysis of her hairline**. Likely owing to her treatment as a child - apart from allegations of abuse she began performing at a young age under strict discipline - she seemed unable to make a happy home life for herself, marrying and rancourously divorcing five times. In later years, haunted by the loss of her looks, she took to drinking (which only exacerbated the problem***).

A naturally shy and reclusive person, behind the sexy image she projected in films like Cover Girl (1941) and Gilda (1946), behind the sultry smile which comforted millions of GIs during World War II, was a scared little girl who'd never been treated as anything but an object - good only for sex or to make money to support her family. Unable to trust in anyone or anything, thrust into show business with its shallow pleasures and fickle relationships, labelled 'The Love Goddess' and then forced to live up to the expectations of such a moniker offstage as well, as frightened as she must have been when she first felt her memory failing, in a way it must have been a relief as well.

*Or unfortunate, depending on your perspective.
**Mere words cannot express how painful electrolysis is; with all the nerve endings in the scalp and hairline, electrolysis there could only be that much worse!
***Nothing will ruin your looks faster than the consumption of alcohol.  Nothing.
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