That beautiful black strapless gown with its matching opera length gloves…
That red hair cascading over her shoulders…
That pin up figure, often known to decorate World War II fighter planes…
What wasn’t to love about screen siren, Rita Hayworth?
When I was twelve, she was one of my earliest beauty icons.
And, of course, when I saw her stunning 1946 film, “Gilda,” along with her “Put the Blame on Mame” song and dance routine, I was thoroughly convinced she was a woman reveling confident in her beauty. No hint of insecurity for miles!
But, like any beauty icon, there was a more complicated back story going on concerning her success and image…
Originally born Margarita Carmen Cansino, of Spanish/Irish/English heritage, the starlet experienced two name changes in the creation of her Hollywood identity. The first was as Rita Cansino and the second later claimed her mother’s maiden name, Hayworth. It was about emphasizing her mother’s Anglo ancestry. Indeed, studio head Harry Cohn was so bothered by her Mediterranean-looking appearance, he wanted to do all he could to convince audiences Rita was “classic American,” via a less ethnic last name.
And, of course, physical appearance changes were also in order for Rita’s Hollywood makeover. She not only colored her hair from brunette to red, but also underwent electrolysis to raise her hairline.
So we see, even beauty Rita Hayworth was not deemed acceptably beautiful until she changed some things about herself.
And, after her career skyrocketed and she became known as a movie star and a world famous beauty, things did not get easier. We now see how fragile she was at accepting herself.
For, like that of legends, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Jayne Mansfield, poor Rita was mostly confined to the restrictions associated with the beautiful woman. She was viewed as only that, never viewed beyond her attractive face and body.
And certainly, that hindered her personal life; she couldn’t find the contentment she strongly desired. She was known for discussing her less than glamorous struggle…
“All I wanted was just what everybody else wants, you know, to be loved.”
She sought that love, marrying and divorcing five times; actor/director, Orson Welles was one of her famous husbands.
He specifically noted her struggles with alcohol as all-consuming, a fact confirmed by that of Hayworth’s daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan…
“…She had difficulty coping with the ups and downs of the business … As a child, I thought, ‘She has a drinking problem and she’s an alcoholic’… It’s very difficult, seeing your mother, going through her emotional problems and drinking and then behaving in that manner … Her condition became quite bad…”
Her reality, indeed, expanded beyond her glamorous beauty. And it is here, among Rita’s famous quotes, I’m especially struck by the sad sentiment of this one…
“Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me.”
“Rita Hayworth: Portrait of a Love Goddess” (1977) by John Kobal
Image expectations, self-acceptance issues and the longing to be loved are all shared human needs. Scripture taps into our spiritual drive to be viewed and accepted on that basis…
“For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Psalms 103:14
“Since you were precious in my sight… I have loved you…” Isaiah 43:4
“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, ‘Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.’” Jeremiah 31:3
Rita was no different. Beyond the film noir of “Gilda,” beyond the glossy black and white Hollywood photographs, there was another person- a separate person- apart from the beauty displayed before our transfixed attention.
For her legacy is not only “Gilda” and her beauty, but rather, the real, struggle-filled life she led. Besides her struggles with alcohol, in 1987, at the age of 68, she also succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
She wasn’t a one-dimensional movie star; she was a human being, susceptible to the human experience.
Just like the rest of us…
Once upon a time, I only saw Rita’s beauty and glamour. I didn’t see her complicated actual life. None of us did. Perhaps, we still don’t as we admire her photographs and films years later.
But, if we get past the surface, we can experience more of Rita: the good, the bad and the ugly. We can learn of her human struggle.
And that can be said concerning each one of us. No matter what our battles are- to be loved, to be valued, to be safe, to be sober, to be healthy- each of us cannot live fulfilled if we go sleep as a lie, and wake up a fictional, untrue character. We cannot live removed from the truth of who we are.
Perhaps, the “real us” is disappointing, not just to others, but to our own self-acceptance. Be honest. Are you disappointed when you wake up with who you really are, warts and all?
“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7
Or, do we incorporate the tedious, painful and imperfect process of learning and accepting that person? That is as much of the process to life and recovery as attending any meeting or implementing any step.
So, Rita Hayworth touches upon a spiritual question for us all:
“Do you and I live as Gilda or Rita?”
Whatever the answer may be, let’s choose to recognize our real identity, in harmony with God’s estimation of us, which is a freeing experience.
For as alluring as the Gilda character may be, she pales in comparison to the textured, flawed, meaningful and real Rita.
Shouldn’t we dare to live the more dimensionally accurate reality of ourselves?
And so it goes. Gilda or Rita: it’s our choice.