Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Dolores Cansino on October 17, 1918 in New York City. Her mother, Volga, was from Ireland and her father, Eduardo, was from Spain. When Rita was young, she lived in a hotel near the Palace Theater in Manhattan, where her father worked as a performer. He taught Rita traditional Spanish dances while she was young and it became clear that she had a lot of talent for dancing.
In 1926, the family moved out to Hollywood and her father opened a dancing school on Sunset and Vine. After the Great Depression hit, the school had to close due to lack of students, but it was able to return after the economy improved. In the early 1930s, Eduardo hired her to become his dancing partner and they began performing around the United States and Mexico. She began to lead a very busy lifestyle, dancing as many as four shows a day, as well as going to school. Since she spent most of her time dancing, school was put on the back burner and she later regretted sacrificing her childhood for dancing.
One night when she was performing at the Caliente Club, she caught the eye of Winfield Sheehan. At that time, Sheehan was the vice president of Fox Film Corporation and he told her that she had a lot of potential for motion pictures. After several screen tests, she was given a contract with Fox and she was enrolled in acting classes to make her a star.
In 1935, she made her film debut in "Dante's Inferno". Over the next several years, she was given other small roles in "Under the Pampas Moon" and "Paddy O' Day". She was set to receive her first major role in a remake of the 1928 film "Ramona", but the part was later given to another actress when Darryl Zanuck took over Fox Studios. Zanuck also decided to drop Rita's contract and she was forced to find work at a number of B-movie studios.
On May 23, 1937, Rita married a man named Ed Judson, who was a talent promoter. He immediately began working to advance her career by lobbying studios to hire her for more important roles. That same year, she was signed to Columbia studios with a seven year contract and a starting salary of two hundred dollars a week. Under the contract, she was forced to take on a less Spanish image and took her mother's maiden name of Hayworth as well as dying her hair dark brown.
Rita's first film under the new contract was "Criminals of the Air". She continued to star in a series of B-movies there, all the while trying to get better roles. In 1938, she was given a good opportunity when she was chosen to star in Howard Hawks' "Only Angels Have Wings". The movie really helped to boost her career and showed that she was worthy of better films.
In 1939, she was selected to star in "Music in My Heart" and in 1940, she was chosen to lead "Blondie on a Budget". That same year she starred with Joan Crawford in the film "Susan and God". She also made her first film with Glenn Ford, "The Lady in Question". After starring in "The Strawberry Blonde", Warner Brothers tried to buy her contract, but Columbia refused, acknowledging her star potential. In 1941, she was chosen to star in Fox's "Blood and Sand", a movie that launched her career and became her first film in Technicolor.
After the success of "Blood and Sand", she was given a new contract and a private dressing room by Columbia. Her first film on the new contract was "You'll Never Get Rich", with Fred Astaire. She was then loaned to Fox again to do "My Gal Sal" and "Tales of Manhattan". On July 24, 1942, she was chosen to put her hand and footprints in the cement on the sidewalk in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater, a true mark of a star. She starred again with Astaire in "You Were Never Lovelier", an instantly classic musical.
When the United States became involved in World War 2, Rita worked in the USO to increase morale. She frequently appeared in dances at shows put on by the military and became a popular poster girl. She even worked at the Hollywood Canteen, where she made sandwiches, danced, and even washed dishes with soldiers.
On May 22, 1942, she divorced her husband Edward Judson, who got $30,000 from Columbia as part of the deal. Afterwards, she became romantically involved with Orson Welles after she met him at a party held by Joseph Cotten. On September 7, 1943, the two were married while she was filming "Cover Girl". On December 17, 1944, she gave birth to their daughter, Rebecca Welles.
In 1945, she made her most famous film, "Gilda". In the film, she plays the wife of a rich gangster and becomes involved with his friend Johnny. The film was a massive hit and even caused problems with censors because of her risque dancing in the film. She later resented the image that the film created of her, since many people believed that she had the same personality as the character.
In 1947, she starred in a film called "Down To Earth". In the film she played the role of Terpsichore, the goddess of song and dance, who visits earth. The film was a major success and she continued to star with Orson Welles in "The Lady From Shanghai". The movie featured her with short blonde hair, a new look that many fans did not like. After the film was complete, she divorced Orson and decided to start her own production company, Beckworth.
The first film she made with Beckworth with "The Loves of Carmen" and she sold it to Columbia for a share of the profits. After the film was complete, she moved to Europe, where she met Prince Aly Khan at the Cannes Film Festival. On May 27, 1949, they were married and she later gave birth to their daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan. They spent a great deal of time touring the world, throwing parties and meeting with other wealthy individuals. On May 25, 1951, she moved back to America with her two daughters and divorced Aly in 1953.
She moved back to Hollywood, where she made the film "Affair in Trinidad" with Columbia Pictures. The movie was a huge hit and she followed it up with 1953's "Salome". At this time, she started dating a fellow actor named Dick Haymes and they were married on September 24, 1953. The marriage proved to be a headache since he had troubles with the department of immigration, the IRS, and even ex-wives. She decided to divorce him in late 1955 and moved to Europe for a short vacation before returning to Hollywood.
In 1956, she made "Fire Down Below" with Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum. Her final film under contract with Columbia was "Pal Joey" with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. She continued to make a few scattered films, but by this time her career was on the decline since she was pushing 40 and at that time Hollywood didn't have much use for middle-aged female actresses. On February 2, 1958, she remarried to James Hill, a screenwriter. Although she wanted to quit films, Hill convinced her to keep working, but she decided to divorce him in 1961.
Throughout the remainder of the 1960s and 1970s, she made a few more mediocre films. She also made television appearances, including one on a Carol Burnett Show episode in 1971. In 1972, she starred in her last film "The Wrath of God". During the late 1970s, she became afflicted with Alzheimer's and lost most of her independence since she had to be under the care of her daughter Yasmin. On May 14, 1987, she died in her daughter's Manhattan apartment.