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Rita Hayworth

Born Margarita Cansino, her first name was shortened to Rita when she was briefly signed to Fox Studios in 1935. A year later, she was dropped by Fox when they merged with 20th Century studios and she was hired by Columbia, where studio head Harry Cohn changed her last name to Hayworth, her mother’s maiden name. This allowed her to play beyond the Spanish dancer roles she had played up to this point. They also changed her hair color from its natural black to a less ethnic looking auburn color. By 1939 she was getting more attention and larger film roles, including “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939) opposite Cary Grant, “Blood and Sand” (1941) opposite Tyrone Power and “The Strawberry Blonde” (1941) opposite James Cagney. She returned to her dancing roots when she co-starred with Fred Astaire in “You’ll Never Get Rich” (1941) and “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942), and with Gene Kelly in “Cover Girl” (1944). But it was her starring role as “Gilda” (1946) that made her a superstar. By this time, she had been married to actor-director Orson Welles for three years. In 1948 they co-starred together in his film “The Lady From Shanghai,” for which he cut her hair and dyed it blonde. The film bombed and they were divorced shortly thereafter. A year later she met and married Prince Aly Khan, the playboy son of Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of millions of Moslems. She mostly gave up her career during this tumultuous marriage, until they divorced in 1953. They did have a daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. She did make more films up through the late 60s and early 70s, but she was beginning to show the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. In the last decade of her life she was cared for by her daughter, who has since been an active fundraiser on behalf of the disease that claimed her mother at age 68.

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