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The Later Years

Rita in the late 60's

Rita Hayworth, from star to legend

Before production began in Hawaii on her next picture, Miss Sadie Thompson, Rita began dating actor/singer Dick Haymes. They were married in Las Vegas on September 24, 1953. Unfortunately, though she remained off the screen for a few of years, Rita would face many unpleasant obstacles during her marriage to Dick Haymes that kept her in the headlines, and the target of bad publicity. Numerous court battles were to be fought during this time, stemming from Haymes' problems with the immigration department, the IRS and his ex-wives, among other things, making this a very difficult period in Rita's life, to say the least. She was granted a divorce from Haymes in December of 1955.

Rita took a much-needed break after her disastrous marriage to Haymes. She stayed in Europe for a while, but again had to returned to Hollywood. She was still under contract to Columbia Pictures. In 1956 she went back to work to begin production on Fire Down Below. Shot mostly on location in Trinidad, it starred Rita opposite Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum, and was directed by Robert Parrish. The camaraderie that developed between the four of them made the location filming a happy experience for Rita.

She had one more film to make for Columbia to fulfill her contractual obligations to the studio, Pal Joey. She was starred opposite Frank Sinatra and the woman Columbia was building up as Rita's "replacement", Kim Novak. If you watch the movie, you'll see that at thirty-eight Rita still looks and dances great. She shines in the film, particularly in the "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" number. Nevertheless, Pal Joey turned out to be Rita's last musical. After that she left the studio that had been her home for twenty years.

The first movie Rita chose to make after her departure with Burt Lancaster in Separate Tables was Separate Tables, with Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr and her old friend David Niven. It pretty much marked the end of Rita's glamour girl movie career. Beginning with this film she was given the chance to play more dramatic parts, and she began to be recognized as a talented actress, not just a Hollywood beauty. In Separate Tables she plays Ann Shankland, which she called "...the kind of role I've been waiting all my life to play." Her performance garnered excellent reviews. The movie was a great success, nominated for several Academy Awards, including "Best Picture". It was produced by the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Production Company. During production, on February 2, 1958, Rita was married to James Hill, a screenwriter and one of the partners in Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, with whom she had been living with since before Pal Joey.

Shortly afterward, Rita made They Came to Cordura, and The Story on Page One, which was released in 1960. Her next film, The Happy Thieves, was produced by she and her husband's newly formed production company, Hillworth. At this point in her life, Rita wanted to retire from films. When she married Hill, she would have been content to spend the her life with him writing and her painting. She loved to paint. But Hill had other ideas. He wanted her to continue working. He saw great potential in her as a comedic actress and wanted her to pursue this. She made They Came to Cordura so that they could buy a house, then The Story on Page One, and then she agreed to do The Happy Thieves to please her husband. He thought it would be a great vehicle for her to display her flare for comedy. Unfortunately, The Happy Thieves turned out to be a disappointment and shortly after, in late 1961, Rita's last marriage ended in divorce.

Rita then moved to Europe for a while. Back in America in 1962, she was slated to appear in a Broadway comedy called Step on a Crack starring her then boyfriend, Gary Merrill, but after a few weeks of rehearsal, she dropped out of the show. In Europe again in 1964, Rita made Circus World with John Wayne and Claudia Cardinale. Then in 1966 she was in The Money Trap and The Poppy Is Also a Flower, the first of which reunited her with her favorite co-star and close friend, Glenn Ford for their final film together. In the following years, Rita did a few European films, The Rover (L'Avventuriero), Sons of Satan (I Bastardi) and The Road to Salina (Sur la route de Salina), that had limited theatrical release in the United States. She also made television appearances, including a hilarious guest spot on a 1971 episode of The Carol Burnett Show.

on the set of The Wrath of God Rita's last feature film, The Wrath of God, was released in 1972. In the 70's, her public appearances became less and less frequent, and in the early 80's, the world learned that Rita Hayworth, the one time love goddess on the set of The Wrath of God had been diagnosed with a disease not many had heard of at the time, Alzheimer's. Other films were planned after The Wrath of God, but the disease was causing Rita increasing trouble remembering her lines. Her co-star in The Wrath of God, Frank Langella, later said that all her lines had to be written on cue cards and in one of their scenes together, a man was off camera telling Rita her lines, and then she would repeat them. She couldn't retain the dialogue. Before the public learned that Rita had Alzheimer's, when strange things would happen, the press would call Rita an alcoholic. It was later realized that it was the affects of the disease. In retrospect, friends and relatives say Rita began to show the first symptoms as early as the mid 50's, when she was in her late 30's. It was Rita who first brought awareness to this debilitating disease. In 1981 she was placed in the care of her daughter, Princess Yasmin, who moved Rita in with her in New York City and cared for her in her remaining years. Yasmin has since become an active spokesperson in promoting Alzheimer's awareness. She organizes many charity events and benefits, including the annual Rita Hayworth Gala's in New York and Chicago, which continue to raise millions of dollars for Alzheimer's research. Rita left behind not only a legacy of dozens of films in which her captivating talents were showcased, she brought about awareness and understanding of a heartbreaking disease that affects millions of people.

Left- photo used to publicize The Wrath of God, Right- about 1978, Rita with friends Mac Krimm and Harriet Nelson

In Rita's final years, none of her glamorous past or the heartache she had endured were even a distant memory in her mind. On Thursday, May 14, 1987 Rita Hayworth died peacefully in her daughter's apartment in Manhattan. Since then she has become a symbol of eternal youth, beauty and glamour. Her legend lives on thanks to the impact she continues to have on fans throughout the world. Her dream may have been a simple life with kids and a husband to spend the rest of her life with, but it was not to be. A simple life was apparently never in the cards for Margarita.


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