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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May 14, 1987

Welcome to another edition of the Tuesday Timeline. For this week's look back in time, we're not going back in time that many years, but the subject of today's look back through time could have been considered a true Hollywood legend.

Confused yet? Don't be.

Of course, we have some other things to discuss before we get to the main subject of this blog for today. Like celebrity birthdays, for instance.

There's a lot of people who are indulging in birthday cake and other treats today. Among them are Al Porcino, George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, David Byrne, Tom Cochrane, Tim Roth, C.C. DeVille, Danny Huston, Pat Borders, Raphael Saadiq, Cate Blanchett, Danny Wood (New Kids on the Block), Sofia Coppola, Sabryn Genet, Gabriel Mann, Shanice, Anais Granofsky, Natalie Appleton, Martine McCutcheon, Ada Nicodemou, Mark Zuckerberg, Olly Murs, and Miranda Cosgrove.

And, as always, we're going to be looking at some of the other events that have taken place on this date in history beginning with...

1643 – Four-year-old Louis XIV becomes King of France after the death of his father, Louis XIII

1796 – The first smallpox vaccine is administered by Edward Jenner

1804 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition departs from Camp Dubois

1863 – The Battle of Jackson takes place during the American Civil War

1925 – Virginia Woolf's “Mrs. Dalloway” is first published

1936 – American singer Bobby Darin is born in The Bronx, New York

1939 – Lina Medina is confirmed the world's youngest mother, having given birth at the age of five

1940 – During World War II, the Netherlands surrenders to Germany following the Battle of the Netherlands

1961 – The Freedom Riders bus is fire-bombed in the vicinity of Anniston, Alabama, and civil rights protesters are attacked by an angry mob

1963 – Kuwait joins the United Nations

1973 – Skylab is launched into orbit

1992 – American football player Lyle Alzado passes away from brain cancer at the age of 43

1998 – American singer and actor Frank Sinatra passes away at the age of 82

2003 – American actor and “Unsolved Mysteries” host Robert Stack dies at the age of 84

And, now for today's peek through time. So, what year will we be visiting this week?

Well, how about twenty-six years ago?

The date is May 14, 1987. Cutting Crew had the #1 song on the Billboard Charts with “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight”, “Gardens of Stone” was the newest film to be screened in theatres, and the founder of Facebook was just turning three years old.

(Note to self: I'm suddenly feeling very old.)

But May 14, 1987 was a very sad day in the world of Hollywood royalty, as one member of that elite group lost her battle with Alzheimer's Disease. She was a woman who had appeared in over sixty films over almost four decades, and she received the 1977 National Screen Heritage Award.

And, hey, she was one of the sixteen celebs that Madonna name dropped in her 1990 hit “Vogue”. That's got to count for something, right?

Of course, you might not recognize the name Margarita Carmen Cansino at first. You see, that was our starlet's birth name. She was born on October 17, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York to two professional dancers, Eduardo Cansino Sr, and Volga Hayworth.

Remember her mother's last name, people.

Anyway, young Margarita's father really had high hopes of his little girl becoming a dancer just like him, while her mother wanted her to become an actress. Little did both of her parents know that they would both get their wish!

She attended dance classes that were held at Carnegie Hall (taught to her by her uncle, Angel Cansino), had her first public performance at the age of six, and by eight had already appeared in her first motion picture, “La Fiesta”. Granted, the film appearance was a short, but still, it helped the little girl get noticed.

Over the next few years, Margarita continued to appear in bit parts in several movies including 1934's “Cruz Diablo” and 1935's “In Caliente”. But it took a chance encounter with Winfield Sheehan to get things moving along. Sheehan was the head of the Fox Film Corporation, and he happened to see her dancing at the Caliente Club. He arranged for Margarita to do a screen test a week later, and was impressed by her natural ability. He immediately signed her on for a six month contract at Fox. Of course, with the signing came a name change, as he felt that Margarita was not Hollywood sounding enough.

Hence came the name Rita.

Now, going under the name Rita Cansino, she did appear in five films while signed onto Fox Film Corporation, but nothing too notable. And when Fox merged into Twentieth Century Fox, Rita's contract was not renewed. However, salesman/promoter Edward C. Judson was still convinced that Rita would become a star as she had the star quality necessary to succeed. With his assistance, Rita screen tested with Columbia Pictures and was promptly cast in 1935's “Dante's Inferno”, and 1936's “Human Cargo”.

TRIVIA: Judson would become the first of five husbands for Rita!

At first though, Rita was often typecast in roles that called for a Latina character or foreign-born. And Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn was troubled by this. He was concerned that Rita was limiting herself because she looked a little too Mediterranean, and with some encouragement from Cohn and Judson, Rita dyed her naturally black hair to a reddish-brown colour, and started going by her mother's maiden name.

And, that is how Margarita Cansino became Rita Hayworth!

The first film that Rita Hayworth starred in under her new stage name was 1937's “Criminals of the Air”. But that certainly wasn't the last. She would appear in such Columbia Pictures classics as 1940's “Angel Over Broadway”, 1944's “Cover Girl”, and 1946's “Gilda”. She was also one of the most sought after actresses from other movie companies as well, with one of her most famous appearances coming from the Warner Brothers produced “The Strawberry Blonde”, a 1941 film starring James Cagney and Olivia de Haviland. Warner Brothers was reportedly so impressed with Hayworth's performance that they offered to buy Hayworth's contract from Columbia Pictures! Of course, Cohn was not about to part with his rising star, and no deal was made.

Hayworth also became quite a popular sex symbol as well. How could she not? After all, she was absolutely stunning in her prime. In an August 1941 issue of Life Magazine, there was a pin-up photo of Hayworth relaxing in a black-lace negligee. That photo more or less cemented her as one of the top pin-up girls that could be found in the barracks of many American soldiers fighting in the second World War. And her appearance in 1946's “Gilda” caused some controversy back in the day when she performed a one-glove striptease.

Well, in 1946 that was considered very racy, anyway.

It is also erroneously reported that Rita's image was also presented on the side of what was then known as one of the first atomic bombs to be tested at Bikini Atoll. The word “Gilda” was painted on the side of the bomb along with a picture of Rita, which was meant to symbolize her bombshell status. However, Rita was absolutely furious over her image being used for such a thing and made her want to speak out against it. But, it was later proven that only the name “Gilda” was stamped on the bomb. There was no picture.

Consider it an urban legend, so to speak.

Now, Rita Hayworth stayed with Columbia Pictures until 1948. After her first two marriages (Judson and legendary actor/director Orson Welles) fell apart, she took a gamble on love once more with Prince Aly Khan, whom she married in 1949. The marriage caused Hayworth to break her contract with Columbia so she could live with her new husband in France. Of course, the wedding received huge press, as Hayworth had already cemented her status as a Hollywood icon by then. But the wedding was also considered scandalous because at the time she was still legally married to Orson Welles (with whom she had a daughter with). Regardless, Hayworth became the first Hollywood actress to become a princess, and exactly seven months after their wedding, Rita gave birth to her second daughter, Yasmin.

Unfortunately, the marriage fell apart two years later, and Hayworth returned back to America and back to Columbia Pictures by 1952. But although she had a comeback of sorts when she returned to Columbia, she had admitted later on in her life that the relationship that she had with the company was not the greatest. The movie company refused to let Hayworth sing in any of her films (the voices were dubbed over), even though she really wanted to perform. Because she refused to appear in a film, she was once suspended for nine weeks without pay, and she felt as though the company prevented her from trying new things, causing her resentment to grow even more.

It also didn't help that all five of Rita's marriages ended in divorce, with irreconcilable differences and mental/physical abuse being the main factors.

By the 1970s, it became apparent just how much the stress surrounding her personal and professional life had taken its toll. Rita only appeared in one film during the 1970s, and her performance in 1972's “The Wrath of God” exposed some of her poor health problems, with reports that they had to record Rita's lines one at a time because she could not remember them. It ended up being her last film appearance.

With the deaths of her two brothers within a week of each other in 1974, Rita's depression worsened. While Rita had always had a problem with alcohol, the alcohol use escalated following the deaths of her brothers. It all culminated in an infamous incident in 1976, when Hayworth was booted off of a plane following an angry outburst on board.

What many people didn't realize was that at the time, Hayworth's alcoholism disguised the fact that she was really suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's Disease. And, it was complications of the disease that silenced Rita Hayworth forever on May 14, 1987 at the age of 68.

So, to end this piece on Rita Hayworth, I thought I would repost the statement that former American president Ronald Reagan made following her passing;

Rita Hayworth was one of our country's most beloved stars. Glamorous and talented, she gave us many wonderful moments on stage and screen and delighted audiences from the time she was a young girl. In her later years, Rita became known for her struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Her courage and candor, and that of her family, were a great public service in bringing worldwide attention to a disease which we all hope will soon be cured.

This is kind of eerie, given that Ronald Reagan would also fall victim to Alzheimer's Disease, losing his battle in June 2004.

At any rate, Rita Hayworth was a real legend. Her performances with such actors and entertainers as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly earned her the adoration and love of fans. Yet her personal life was filled with heartache and stress.

In a way, Rita's life would have made for the classic Hollywood tragedy. She was a woman who appeared to have it all, but as we all know from this article, looks were deceiving.

And, that's our look back on May 14, 1987.

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