The Truth About Rita Hayworth's Real Name

Actress Rita Hayworth was once a glamorous pin-up bombshell (via Biography). Known for her films "Gilda" and "Cover Girl," Britannica writes that the New York native started her career as a dancer. Hayworth was only a teen when she was discovered by a Fox executive when she performed at a Mexican nightclub. She made a few forgettable films in the mid-1930s. By 1939, however, Hayworth's career was on the rise when she was cast in "Only Angels Have Wings" (per Independent).

Nicknamed "the love goddess" (per a Vanity Fair review of the Hayworth biography "If This Was Happiness"), she became an icon in 1941 when a photo of her in a lingerie nightgown made the pages of Life Magazine. Shortly after, Hayworth's career flourished as she starred in "Strawberry Blonde" and "You'll Never Get Rich" opposite Fred Astaire. She was a full-fledged star by the time she married Orson Welles in 1943. Despite her massive success, Hayworth's personal life was tragic and disastrous, to say the least.

She suffered from alcoholism and had several failed marriages. Her first marriage was to Edward Judson, a man who was decades older than she. According to Film Daddy, it would be Judson who convinced her that in order to become a movie star, she would have to change her name and her look. Thus, Margarita Carmen Cansino became Rita Hayworth in the late 1930s.

Rita Hayworth's Spanish heritage

Jstor Daily writes that Margarita Carmen Cansino, later known as Rita Hayworth, was born in 1918 to a Spanish father and an Irish-American mother. When she made her film debut in 1935's "Dante's Inferno," the studio was unsure of what to do with Cansino (per Backlots). At the time, she had dark hair and a low hairline; in other words, she did not look white. Cansino was subsequently cast in a series of stereotypical roles until Judson and studio executives convinced her that she had to make adjustments to her appearance.

Film Daddy reports that her transformation from Margarita Carmen Cansino to Rita Hayworth was anything but easy. She endured two years of electrolysis to change her hairline, dyed her hair a shade of red, and took on her mother's surname. Hayworth also changed her body and was put on a strict diet and a rigorous workout program.

As Smithsonian Magazine explains, Rita Hayworth was a Hollywood creation and both she and the public were well aware of it. In fact, many believe it's what made Hayworth so appealing and beloved by the public. Despite her well-documented metamorphosis, she still felt authentic. Most importantly, Hayworth could play an Anglo woman who was virtuous or a woman who was seductive, all thanks to what Hollywood touted as her Hispanic side.

In her later years, Rita Hayworth was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She died on May 14, 1987 at the age of 68 (via Biography).