“I feel I am an actress. I feel I have talent.” – Rita Hayworth

Wonderful 1967 interview with Rita Hayworth, on Gilda, the old star system, and being stereo-typed. Hayworth was grateful for what Gilda did for her (she became the biggest star in the world – and she was alREADY beloved by American GIs the world over because of her famous pin-up that then showed up in the Stephen King story).


But she had mixed feelings about Gilda too. It really was a defining role. Leaving a dent in the earth like a huge meteor. After Gilda, those were the types of roles she was offered, it was seen as ALL she could do. Rather ridiculous, really, since Hayworth didn’t come out of nowhere in Gilda. She had already been working and dancing in Hollywood for almost 10 years at that point. She had been great and tough and sexy in a smallish (but very memorable) part in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939), where she has a great scene stumbling around in a bar late at night, holding a bottle of wine, looking for a corkscrew, and laughing at a stern Cary Grant, “Lock the doors, Judith’s lost her equilibrium.”


She had some major successes in big musicals in the early-mid 40s, starring Fred Astaire, or Gene Kelly – where she was absolutely wonderful, and a phenomenal dancer. Gilda represented a complete change, a change that shattered the rosy-cheeked ingenue. Startling. Bold. Radical. Unforced. Maybe a more appropriate reaction to Hayworth in Gilda would be, “Wow. I just saw her tap-dancing and grinning in a movie just last year. And now this? This woman can do ANYTHING.”

mame black strapless 6 rita hayworth gilda
Hayworth in “Gilda”

Gilda exploded Rita Hayworth into the stratosphere (where she remains today). She fought against the influence of “Gilda” for the rest of her life (and gave some wonderful performances afterwards: Sadie Thompson, Separate Tables. And of course I probably saw her on that Carol Burnette Show sketch when I was a kid.) A troubled and shy woman whose death came far too early, she had a pretty sad end as she descended into dementia (Hayworth was the first star to go public with her battle with Alzheimer’s: it brought huge awareness to the disease).

Sometimes the personal life dramas overshadow the work, especially with bombshell sex-symbols unfortunately. It’s all part of that uneasy (or it seems uneasy to me, so uncomfortable are we still with freely expressed female sexuality) and vested interest in boxing those types of women in, tossing them out when they get old, diminishing their accomplishments, lessening the meaningfulness of their impact. Honestly, what is more meaningful than a Movie Goddess?

So much of the earlier footage of Hayworth is just newsreel-y stuff and posed publicity photos so I was so happy to find this small interview clip. Smart, thoughtful, grateful, and honest.

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12 Responses to “I feel I am an actress. I feel I have talent.” – Rita Hayworth

  1. stevie says:

    These are the stories about Hollywood stars during the studio system that break my heart. People’s entire creative careers were directed, channeled, stifled, ultimately destroyed, and there was very little alternative. Perhaps they could get a TV show appearance here and there….Beautiful, talented, unique, incendiary personalities, often brilliant, magnificent to look at and behold in their talent, with no place to shine.

    • sheila says:

      I so agree. Hayworth was a big victim of it – such a talented actress – who was so damn GORGEOUS when she was young – but she was so willing to “show her age” in those later films, like Separate Tables, which is all about a beautiful woman growing old and having pain about losing her power. She understood that, was willing to play it.

      I love that you call her “incendiary.” Yes.

    • sheila says:

      Also, think of how Joan Crawford and Bette Davis ended up, as opposed to, say, William Holden or Claude Rains – who still got good parts as they aged. Joan Crawford had to do horror movies (nothing wrong with that, but come on) and the like.

      This is one of the reasons why Meryl Streep’s career is as pioneering as Tina Turner’s. And Helen Mirren. 60+ years old women can be Leading Ladies. Never happened before. Not like this.

      • Stevie says:

        Absolutely. Bette Davis putting the ad in Variety when she was 40: “Looking for work. Has Broadway. Not as ornery as previously reported.” It was a joke, but it was true – her career was over essentially. Then Claudette Colbert broke her back and Bette got Margo Channing. Crawford had Mildred Pierce – then zip until they both sank into second-rate productions. They both continued to give brilliantly energized performances, yet the vehicles weren’t constructed to contend with them, so they seemed outsized, even grotesque.

        I love the Tina Fey joke from the Golden Globes: “Meryl Streep was nominated this year, proving that there are great roles in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over sixty.”

        • sheila says:

          // They both continued to give brilliantly energized performances, yet the vehicles weren’t constructed to contend with them, so they seemed outsized, even grotesque. //

          Wonderful observation. The roles and the films were not worthy of them. They just got more and more gigantic as they grew older – and that tends to happen anyway – you become more confident as you grow older – but if you’re in something second-rate, you can look foolish. It’s painful to see them in some of those movies – although it’s always fun to watch La Bette and La Joan.

          // there are great roles in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over sixty. //


          • Stevie says:

            Exactly! They were perceived as grotesque in those second-rate roles, and no wonder – having benefited from brilliant cinematography, direction, writing, costumes, the whole megilla, they were not at their best; they knew the quality wasn’t there, which I’m sure revved up their anxieties (neither of whom were mellow to begin with). So then the Hollywood kingpins say, “See? I told you so – they’re grotesque!” and the nails are in the coffin. Makes me want to throttle Sam Goldwyn!

          • Stevie says:

            The idea of becoming more gigantic as you age is right on. The smooth skin and baby fat melt away from the face, and what’s left is real and worn and reflective of the million smiles and tears – it’s gigantic – it’s raw. Youth is a mask. Lordy, sounds like a line from a Marlene Dietrich skin rejuvenating cream commercial! But it is! And what you have below is so authentic. Older actors may seem more exaggerated in their gestures than they were when younger – in reality perhaps it’s that they are no longer covered in layers of youth and beauty. Maybe that’s why I blubber whenever I see an older person crying and have been so touched by performances given by elders – there’s no space – it’s naked in such a profound way.

          • sheila says:

            I so agree, Stevie – being able to watch actors we love grow old and change or develop – or what they choose to do as they grow old – I mean, it’s awesome, right? Because once people get old – all this OTHER shit becomes possible.

            We got to see Spencer Tracy old, and Hepburn, and Fonda – Cary Grant too – although he had stopped acting. These were amazing people with very strong personas – but seeing how age impacted those personas – I mean, it’s difficult sometimes, right? It’s hard not to think, “Oh God, she was beautiful once.” It’s a personal issue: we all grow old, we all have feelings about it.

            But once you get past that personalization bit – it’s just AMAZING to see these people, whom we have seen acting since they were 18 years old, suddenly be elderly, and taking on different sorts of parts. I don’t know, this isn’t very articulate. I guess the word I’m looking for is “generous.”

            There’s that great Sidney Lumet anecdote about shooting Long Day’s Journey with Hepburn – and he invited her to dailies, as a courtesy. She said no, she didn’t want to go. He asked why. She said, “Because every time I see myself onscreen all I can see is this – ” (she grabbed hold of the loose skin underneath her chin) “and this” (grabbed hold of her old-lady arms) – “and I need all the courage I can get to play this part.”

            I mean, breath-taking right? I think Lumet’s response in his book was: “Now that’s a giant.”

          • sheila says:

            On the flip-side there’s that fabulous retort from Cher.

            She was asked what it was like to be 50.

            She replied, “40 was better.” Ha!

          • sheila says:

            and yes, in re: the mask of youth.

            How many actors get even more interesting when that mask starts to crumble?

            I mean … Gloria Swanson alone.

            Unfortunately she’s mostly remembered by that final mad-scene and also Glenn Close’s imitation – but as stylized as the film is, that performance is extremely honest about age – and sex – and the diminishment of female power – and also – you know, her feeling that “she’s not done yet.” Because why SHOULD she be “done”?

            Add to that vanity and celebrity … well, you’ve got Norma Desmond.

            The “caricature” of the role is often really funny of course – but I love to watch that film and remember just how good and how honest and how TOUGH Swanson was in that part.

            Her and Bette Davis in All About Eve – confronting the dragon of being aging women. and aging ACTRESSES.

            Also, I’m sure you’ve seen Bette Davis’ “The Star.” How awesome is that movie? If I ever win an Oscar, I would love to then get drunk, drive around town drunk TALKING to my Oscar statue, and then crack up my car.

            Like, if you’re going to win an Oscar, you might as well have THAT moment too.

            But that film, too, is so HONEST about all of these issues – Bette Davis again, determined to TALK about this stuff, and admit the REALITY of what was happening to her body, her face – but still insisting: I have a right to be here, I still have stories to tell.

  2. Rinaldo says:

    I just caught up with Gilda earlier this year, having seen her mostly in musicals before (Cover Girl… sigh), and, Yes. Oh, my. That would redefine a person all right but unfortunately in that system, it did exactly that.

    It’s also rather stupefying to look up the ages of Hollywood actresses when they made those career transitions: Bette Davis played an actress facing replacement by the next generation (All About Eve) when she was… 42, and became a horror crone (Baby Jane) at 54. Crawford was about the same age. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard playing a legendary has-been was all of 49.

    Those ages seem like nothing now. Though I’m not minimizing the very real pressures and unfairness that still exist. In one of the Blu-Ray extras for Into the Woods, Meryl Streep mentions that in the year she turned 40, she was offered three different “witch” roles. Her reaction was to resolve never to play a witch. So she admits she broke her rule (at 64), but it was for a really good and nuanced part in a Sondheim classic.

    • sheila says:

      Love the Streep anecdote – thank you. Chilling how quickly it happens. (Like that funny sketch by Tina Fey, Amy Schumer and Julia Louis Dreyfuss celebrating their “last fuckable day” – not sure if you’ve seen it. It’s brutal and funny.)

      Great context with Davis’ age – 42. Yes, she’s ANCIENT, right? Bah. My friend Stevie has a good anecdote about the ad in Variety Davis placed. And Davis wasn’t a bombshell sex bomb. She wasn’t just known for her gorgeous youth. She was a serious actress. (So was Joan and Rita – but their beauty complicated things for them.) But even with Davis – the roles dried up. Women really just start to get interesting in their 40s. So I’m hopeful for the future – look at Sandra Bullock, starring in both Gravity and The Heat – in the same year. Huge hits: action films, an astronaut space film (where she is really the only person in it) – so I do have hope that things are changing. Not in time for Davis and Crawford though.

      I love that you love Cover Girl. It really is wonderful, isn’t it?

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