Rita's Female Co-Stars

Though Rita's smoldering screen persona didn't leave much opportunity for other female actresses to shine in her films, it did happen on occasion. Here I have included the co-stars from Rita's most prominent films in which a second strong female presence lends a hand in the proceedings.

Cary Grant and Jean Arthur Jean Arthur (1900-1991) - Frank Capra's "favorite" actress was a truly first-rate comedienne whose talent and distinctive voice charmed the masses. Throughout the 30's she starred in such classics as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and You Can't Take it With You (1938). Jean was the big female star on the Columbia Pictures lot before Rita. Alongside Cary Grant, she was the star of Rita's first "A" production, Only Angels Have Wings (pictured at left). Like Rita, Jean was known as quite a shy, self-effacing person off screen, and apparently rather insecure. During the making of Only Angels Have Wings, Jean would not pose for publicity shots with Rita. She said, "That beautiful girl and me?" In the following years she continued working at Columbia, and turned in a top-notch performance in George Steven's The Talk of the Town (1942), before happily leaving the studio (and boss Harry Cohn) for good in 1944.

Evelyn Keyes
Evelyn Keyes (1919) - Evelyn forever cemented her place in cinematic history by portraying the bratty Suellen O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939). (She even called her autobiography Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister!) Evelyn had been a dancer, then entered movies with small parts in a few Paramount productions before signing on with Columbia Pictures in 1940. The Lady in Question, with Rita as the girl of the title, was her first assignment for the studio. Evelyn's part is rather small but her performance of "Francoise Morestan" is very cute, and helps to make this one of my favorite Rita films. They have little screen time together but the two Columbia contractees became friends. Evelyn got to know her over the years and later said, "I liked Rita. There was a nice, gentle quality about that woman...Something a little sad too." Evelyn went on to "B" films, an acclaimed performance in Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), and appeared in the immortal 1955 Marilyn Monroe film, The Seven Year Itch as "Mrs. Sherman". Evelyn was married to Rita's favorite director, Charles Vidor for a time, and later to legendary director John Huston.

Rita and Olivia De Havilland Olivia De Havilland (1916) - This acclaimed Oscar-winning actress is another member of the Gone With the Wind (1939) legend. Her "Melanie Hamilton" is a favorite Gone With the Wind character. But with a motion-picture career that has spanned more that half a century, this powerhouse has of course had a career far beyond that singular role. Among the long list of Olivia's screen triumphs are To Each His Own (1946), The Snake Pit (1948) and The Heiress (1949). Her film with Rita came in 1940, The Strawberry Blonde (They're shown at left sharing a moment between takes on the set of this film). Olivia played Rita's feminist friend, "Amy Lind" in this adorable turn-of-the-century comedy. They balanced each other well in their scenes together.

Linda Darnell
Linda Darnell (1923-1965) - During the 40's at Twentieth Century-Fox, Darnell was a popular actress. The Texas-born former model's breakout film was Star Dust (1940), but she never quite reached the highest heights of stardom Rita knew. Her sweet persona, celebrated face and figure did however land her leading lady roles in such productions as The Mark of Zorro (1940). Her career peaked in 1947's film adaptation of the novel Forever Amber, but for me her best performance was in A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Linda played the other eye-catcher in the film that propelled Rita to stardom, Blood and Sand (She is shown here in a publicity shot for the movie). Her virtuous "Carmen Espinosa" was at the opposite end of the spectrum of Rita's amoral femme fatale, "Doņa Sol". Unfortunately, the contrasting characters only come face to face one time during the film, in a scene where Carmen appeals to Doņa Sol to give up her handsome husband (played by Tyrone Power).

Rita and Leslie Brooks Leslie Brooks (1922) - Leslie's blonde beauty is featured in three of Rita's mid-40's musicals, You Were Never Lovelier, in which she played her younger sister, Cover Girl, where she was a mean-spirited chorine and Tonight and Every Night, as a showgirl with an eye for every man in uniform. Her biggest part of the three is in Cover Girl. In the picture at left she and Rita appear to be having a good time during the making of this film. Her brief career in movies was not a stellar one, but as Rita once had, Leslie played lead in several "B" programmers for Columbia like Cigarette Girl (1947), and also had small roles in "A" films. Except for one more film in the 70's, Leslie retired from the movies in 1948.

Janet Blair
Janet Blair (1921) - Star of stage, screen and television, Janet's radiant persona made her quite popular with movie audiences during the 40's. Today she is best known for her performance in the comedy My Sister Eileen (1942). Janet co-starred with Rita in the 1945 film Tonight and Every Night (pictured here). She is the one actress with whom Rita shared a substantial amount of screen time during her top years of stardom, and it's refreshing to watch. Janet got to do a few songs on her own, and they collaborated in "The Boy I Left Behind" number. The two play best friends, whereas in most of the other films featuring other actresses, they are invariably Rita's rivals. That's the way it went onscreen, but the film's choreographer, Jack Cole, got the impression Janet was somehow trying to upstage Rita during their scenes together, because she was relatively new to films -though no one ever said or made anything of it. Who knows?! But I still immensely enjoy watching Rita's rapport with a female co-star.

Kim Novak Kim Novak (1933) - As we began with Jean Arthur, I guess its fitting that we end with Kim Novak since during the days of the studio system, movie moguls seemed to take pleasure in trying to pit young actresses against established ones. In this case, Columbia boss Harry Cohn was building up the buxom blonde Novak to "replace" Rita as their top female attraction. But if he was hoping for a catfight on the set of Pal Joey, it was just not going to happen. Rita never let such "threats" get to her and did not show bitterness towards her co-star. Novak recalled, "She was always charming and gracious." Upon seeing Rita on the set Novak remembered thinking, "God, I'd die to look like that!" They both shone in the film and looked wonderful, but perhaps I'm biased, I thought Rita stole the show. Novak enjoyed much success in her career as well. Her face and figure made her a sex goddess but that was not all she had going for her. She was a quite capable actress, and proved it in my favorite Novak picture, Picnic (1955), and two films with Jimmy Stewart, Vertigo and Bell, Book and Candle (both 1958).

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