The undisputed "Love Goddess" of the mid-1940s, Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino on this day in 1918 in Brooklyn, New York) was the daughter of a Spanish-born dancer and his "Ziegfeld Follies" dance partner. At 13, she was dancing in night spots in Tijuana, and made her bit part film debut as "Rita Cansino" at 17.
She languished in B movies until her businessman-first husband had her change her name to "Hayworth" (her mother's maiden name) and promoted her into choice roles in successive breakthrough pictures (Only Angels Have Wings, 1939, directed by Howard Hawks, with Cary Grant; Strawberry Blonde, 1941, with James Cagney; Blood and Sand, 1941, with Tyrone Power). Wartime filmgoers warmed to this robust, voluptuous, sunny auburn-haired woman, who paradoxically seemed to possess a touch of smoldering Latin sensuality and, potentially, the cold heart of a jungle predator.
The sunnier side of Rita was displayed to great effect in some musicals (You Were Never Lovelier, 1942, with Fred Astaire, who said she was his favorite dance partner; and Cover Girl, 1944, with Gene Kelly); but she reached her zenith as a downright dangerous sex symbol in Gilda (1946, with the late Glenn Ford), in which she was uninhibitedly erotic, with her flaming mane tumbling carelessly about her bare shoulders, in a way that even Hollywood could not even contain. In the film's centerpiece, a musical number called "Put the Blame on Mame," she steamed up movie theatres around the world with a mock striptease in which she only removed one long black satin glove.
Her photo in Life magazine, kneeling on a bed in black lace lingerie, became the most requested pin-up of GIs overseas, and even adorned the atomic bomb test which was detonated at Bikini atoll in July 1946. She was briefly married to Orson Welles (starring with him in The Lady From Shanghai, 1948), but left Hollywood in 1949 to marry Aly Khan, the son and heir of the Aga Khan. When that marriage dissolved after only two years, she returned to Hollywood in the 1950s looking tired; the electric glint which shone in her eyes during the previous decade was gone, and she faded slowly until her retirement in the 1970s. She died, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, on May 14, 1987 in New York City.