Rita Hayworth Had to Change More Than Just Her Name When She Began in Hollywood

Rita Hayworth’s rise to fame

rita hayworth
American actress Rita Hayworth (1918 – 1987) wearing a green and white, leaf-patterned dress and putting her feet up, circa 1945. | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

According to the Independent, a Fox executive spotted Hayworth when she was just a teenager performing at a Mexican nightclub. The young actor was in a handful of forgettable movies. But then her career began to take off in 1939, when she was cast in Only Angels Have Wings.

Rita Hayworth was a Hollywood icon and fan favorite, known for her timeless beauty and irresistible glamour. The New York-born actor, best known for her roles in Gilda and Cover Girl, began her professional life as a dancer. However, Hayworth wasn’t exactly who she seemed. There was so much more about her storied transformation from a Hispanic dancer to an Anglicanized star.

Despite her tremendous success as an actor, Hayworth’s personal life was somewhat of a disaster. She battled alcoholism and had a string of unsuccessful marriages. In her first marriage, Hayworth wed Edward Judson, a man about two decades her senior. According to Film Daddy, it was actually Judson who convinced Hayworth that she needed to change her name and appearance to make it in the film industry.

Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino in 1918, was the daughter of a Spanish father and an Irish-American mother. According to Backlots, when Cansino first appeared on screen in 1935’s Dante’s Inferno, the production company didn’t know what to make of her. At the time, she stood out because of her dark hair and low hairline. She didn’t land leading lady roles until Judson and studio executives finally got through to her about needing to change her appearance.

Rita Hayworth had to change more than just her name when she began in Hollywood

As Smithsonian Magazine explains, both Hayworth and the general public knew she was a Hollywood invention. In fact, many believe that was what made the actor so alluring and liked by the people.

Changing her identity from Margarita Carmen Cansino to Rita Hayworth was anything but easy. According to Film Daddy, the actress had two years of electrolysis to alter her hairline, then dyed her hair red and adopted her mother’s last name. Hayworth underwent more physical transformations, including a change in diet and an intensive exercise routine.

First up is Raquel Welch. Despite her fame as a Hollywood actress and sex icon in the 1960s and 1970s, few people realize that Welch was actually half Bolivian. According to the New York Times, her father was obsessed with assimilation and forbade the family from speaking Spanish.

Other celebrities whitewashed in Hollywood

Several Hollywood stars had Latin American ancestry, although they never fully discussed it. Whitewashed by studios and given Anglicanized names, you would never suspect that these icons were at least largely from Latin American nations.

Believe it or not, Gladys Pearl Baker, Marilyn Monroe‘s mother, was born in Mexico in the little town of Piedras Negras. And even though Marilyn herself was fluent in Spanish and frequently traveled to Mexico during her childhood, her Mexican ancestry is hardly ever mentioned. So, Rita Hayworth was not the only star whitewashed by Hollywood.

Next is Anthony Quinn, famous in the 1940s and beyond. Quinn was born in Mexico as Manuel Antonio Rodolfo Quinn to parents of Mexican and Irish heritage. Even Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in 1975, was born to a Mexican mother.

RELATED: ‘The Carol Burnett Show’: Why Carol Burnett Thought ‘Something Was Terribly Wrong’ With Guest Star Rita Hayworth
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