RITA HAYWORTH 1918 - 1987
Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, into a family of dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino Reina, was a dancer as was his father before him. He emigrated from Spain in 1913. Rita's American mother, Volga Margaret (Hayworth), who was of mostly Irish descent, met Eduardo in 1916 and were married the following year. Rita, herself, studied as a dancer in order to follow in her family's footsteps.
Below: Rita Hayworth dancing with Fred Astaire.
She joined her family on stage when she was eight years old when her family was filmed in a movie called La Fiesta (1926). It was her first film appearance, albeit an uncredited one. Sotted by Fox studio head Winfield R. Sheehan, she signed her first studio contract, and make her film debut at age sixteen, in Dante's Inferno (1935), followed by Cruz Diablo (1934). She continued to play small bit parts in several films under the name of "Rita Cansino". She was Fox dropped her after five small roles, but expert, exploitative promotion by her first husband Edward Judson soon brought Rita a new contract at Columbia Pictures, where studio head Harry Cohn changed her surname to Hayworth and approved raising her hairline by electrolysis. She played the second female lead, Judy McPherson, in Only Angels Have Wings (1939). After thirteen minor roles, Columbia lent her to Warner Bros. for her first big success, The Strawberry Blonde(1941); her splendid dancing with Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) made her a star. This was the film that exuded the warmth and seductive vitality that was to make her famous. Her natural, raw beauty was showcased later that year in Blood and Sand(1941), filmed in Technicolor.
Rita was probably the second most popular actress after Betty Grable. In You'll Never Get Rich (1941) with Fred Astaire, was probably the film that moviegoers felt close to Rita. Her dancing, for which she had studied all her life, was astounding. After the hit Gilda(1946) (her dancing had made the film and it had made her), her career was on the skids. Although she was still making movies, they never approached her earlier success. The drought began between The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Champagne Safari(1954). Then after Salome (1953), she was not seen again until Pal Joey (1957). Part of the reasons for the downward spiral was television, but also Rita had been replaced by a new star at Columbia, Kim Novak.
JEAN HARLOW 1911 - 1937
Her big break came in 1930, when she landed a role in Howard Hughes' World War I epic Hell's Angels (1930), which turned out to be a smash hit. Not long after the film's debut, Hughes sold her contract to MGM for $60,000, and it was there where her career shot to unprecedented heights. Her appearance in Platinum Blonde (1931) cemented her role as America's new sex symbol.
Harlean Carpenter, who later became Jean Harlow, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1911. She was the daughter of a successful dentist and his wife. In 1927, at the age of 16, she ran away from home to marry a young businessman named Charles McGrew, who was 23. The couple pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles, not long after they were married, and it was there Jean found work as an extra in films, landing a bit part in Moran of the Marines (1928). From that point on she would go to casting calls whenever she could. In 1929 she had bit parts in no less than 11 movies, playing everything from a passing woman on the street to a winged ballerina. Her marriage to McGrew turned out to be a disaster--it lasted barely two years--and they divorced. The divorce enabled her to put more of her efforts into finding roles in the movie business. Although she was having trouble finding roles in feature movies, she had more luck in film shorts. She had a fairly prominent role in Hal Roach's Double Whoopee (1929)
The next year saw her paired with Clark Gable in John Ford's Red Dust (1932), the second of six films she would make with Gable. It was while filming this picture (which took 44 days to complete at a cost of $408,000) that she received word that her new husband, MGM producer Paul Bern, had committed suicide. His death threatened to halt production of the film, and MGM chief Louis B. Mayer had even contacted Tallulah Bankhead to replace Harlow if she were unable to continue, a step that proved to be unnecessary. The film was released late in 1932 and was an instant hit.
She was becoming a superstar. In MGM's glittering all-star Dinner at Eight (1933) Jean was at her comedic best as the wife of a ruthless tycoon (Wallace Beery) trying to take over another man's (Lionel Barrymore) failing business. Later that year she played the part of Lola Burns in director Victor Fleming's hit Blonde Bombshell (1933). It was a Hollywood parody loosely based on Clara Bow's and Harlow's real-life experiences, right down to the latter's greedy stepfather, nine-room Georgian-style home with mostly-white interiors, her numerous pet dogs - right down to having her re-shoot scenes from the Gable and Harlow hit, Red Dust (1932) here! In 1933 Jean married cinematographer Harold Rosson, a union that would only last eight months (although Rosson lived another 53 years, he never remarried). In 1935 she was again teamed with Gable in another rugged adventure, China Seas (1935) (her remaining two pictures with Gable would be Wife vs. Secretary (1936) and Saratoga (1937)). It was her films with Gable that created her lasting legacy in the film world. Unfortunately, during the filming of Saratoga (1937), she was hospitalized with uremic poisoning. On June 7, 1937, she died from the ailment. She was only 26. The film had to be finished by long angle shots using a double. Gable said he felt like he was in the arms of a ghost during the final touches of the film. Because of her death, the film was a hit. Record numbers of fans poured into America's movie theaters to see the film. Other sex symbols/blonde bombshells have followed, but it is Jean Harlow who all others are measured against.
LUCILLE BALL 1911 - 1989
Born Lucille Desiree Ball on August 6, 1911, she and her mother, DeDe, made their home with her grandparents in Celoron, outside Jamestown, New York. Her father died in 1915 of typhoid fever, a sometimes deadly disease that spreads through milk or water. Along with her brother, Lucille was then raised by her mother and grandparents, who took her to the theater and encouraged her to take part in her school plays.
Lucy's mother also strongly encouraged her daughter's love for the theater. The two were close, and DeDe Ball's laugh can be heard on almost every I Love Lucy sound track. But from Lucy's first unsuccessful foray to New York, New York, where she lost a chorus part in the musical Stepping Stones, through her days in Hollywood, California, as "Queen of the B's" (grade B movies were known for their lower production values), the road to I Love Lucy was not an easy one.
In 1926 Lucy enrolled at the John Murray Anderson/Robert Milton School of Theater and Dance in New York. Her participation there, unlike that of star student Bette Davis (1908–1989), was a terrible failure. The school's owner even wrote to tell Lucy's mother that she was wasting her money. Lucy went back to high school in Celoron.
After a brief rest, Lucy returned to New York City with the stage name Diane Belmont. She was chosen to appear in Earl Carroll's Vanities, for the third road company of Ziegfeld's Rio Rita, and for Step Lively, but none of these performances materialized. She then found employment at a Rexall drugstore on Broadway and later she worked in Hattie Carnegie's elegant dress salon, while also working as a model. Lucille Ball's striking beauty always set her apart from other comediennes. At the age of seventeen, Lucy was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis, a severe swelling of the joints, and returned to Celoron yet again, where her mother nursed her through an almost three-year bout with the illness.
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Determined, Ball found more success in New York the next time, when she became the Chesterfield Cigarette Girl. In 1933 she was cast as a last-minute replacement for one of the twelve Goldwyn girls in the Eddie Canter movie Roman Scandals, directed by Busby Berkeley. (Ball's first on-screen appearance was actually a walk-on in the 1933 Broadway Thru a Keyhole. ) During the filming, when Ball volunteered to take a pie in the face, the legendary Berkeley is said to have commented, "Get that girl's name. That's the one who will make it."
Determined to work together and to save their marriage, Ball and Arnaz developed a television pilot (one show developed to sell to studios). Studio executives were not ready. The duo was forced to take their "act" on the road to prove its potential and to borrow five thousand dollars to found Desilu Productions. (After buying out Arnaz's share and changing the corporation's name, Ball eventually sold it to Gulf Western for $18 million.) It worked, and I Love Lucy premiered on October 15, 1951.
Within six months the show was rated number one. It ran six seasons in its original format and then evolved into hour-long specials. It won over twenty awards, among them five Emmys, the highest award for television programming.
The characters Lucy and Ricky Ricardo became household words, with William Frawley (1887–1966) and Vivian Vance (1909–1979) superbly cast as long-suffering neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz. More viewers tuned in for the television birth of "Little Ricky" Ricardo than for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's (1890–1969) inauguration (swearing in as president). The show was the first in television history to claim viewing in more than ten million homes. It was filmed before a studio audience and helped revolutionize television production by using three cameras.