“It’s Not Just Who But When…”
This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”
Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.
This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.
…So of course it starts with Rita Hayworth.
And how couldn’t it? Rita Hayworth is considered to be in the top five movie stars of the classic movie era, but she is far and away my vote for the most beautiful and distinctive. She didn’t nearly have the chops but her entire look was transcendent and ahead of its time. And by her third major film she learned how to hone in her natural personality and translate it to her performance, much like Marilyn would do later on. The difference being that Rita’s screen presence was so effortless. Rita was inherently in three dimensions, and glided about the screen with guile. Marilyn more seemed to stomp about, hit her marks, and pose accordingly. To put it bluntly, Rita could be watched, but Marilyn could be looked at.
Perhaps Rita’s natural presence had something to do with her extensive background in dance. Admittedly, I’m not talking about the illustrious ballet at the MET kind of background, but more the smokey nightclub sort. She did have formal training from youth and professional Latin dance training; she never worked anywhere scandalous mind you, but she did work in the sort of high end nightclubs where someone with her talent and beauty could rise to prominence without necessarily having to engage in the more sordid ends of that world (like so many others did). And so as one of these promising young dancers she showed up in a host of background dancing roles and B movies.
The first big break for Rita was ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939) by Howard Hawks. Going by the logic discussed in the italicized intro above you would expect this to be the optimum moment to meet her, but I disagree. She wasn’t Rita Hayworth yet. She was still too rough around the edges (and I’m not necessarily talking about her eyebrows, which weren’t shaped into their defining status yet, but that would be… shallow? But she really didn’t look like “Rita” yet). More importantly, she just needed a little more seasoning on her on screen persona. Of course I could also go with GILDA(1948) and that oh-so-famous hair flip which has defined her for decades, but that isn’t it either.
For me the answer is easy to when Rita really became Rita. She’s a dancer right? So what happens when you pair her with Fred Astaire. The legacy of Rita Hayworth always seems to forget this in the wake of Gilda-hair-flip, but for me she was never more amazing then when she was teamed up with Astaire in YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH (1941). The movie’s not all that perfect, but they are. In a way that’s all that matters when you go back and watch it today. It’s one of my favorites. Even though Astaire is famously linked to Ginger Rogers as he dance partner, he always spoke most fondly of Hayworth’s influence on him. They were able to use a lot of her Latin influences and they would then go on to make YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942) together as their last collaboration. Don’t believe me that they were an amazing pairing?
Start this video at 2:25. It really shows just how glamorous, beautiful and elegant she was:
Pretty, but nothing special? Okay now check this one out as it actually shows off their moves.
Of course she’s just trying to keep up with Fred during a lot of the fast stuff, but come on… How is Rita NOT amazing? When I think of my favorite classic film actresses. I think of her. When I think of the most beautiful I think of her. How could I not start this series with Rita Hayworth?
… Of course like most stars of the era there were behind the scenes troubles. Ups and downs and heavy drinking. All that stuff. Honestly I’m not all that interested in that part of the story. To me there’s merely what’s on screen and that knocks me out. Nothing else needed. As far as ends go, she ended up suffering from Alzheimer’s the last 5 years of her life. Ugh. I watched my grandmother die from Alzheimer’s and I can tell you that the very thought of this is tragic to me… No one should ever forget Rita Hayworth.