The Cult of the Love Goddess in America: Rita Hayworth, as presented by the notorious Harry Cohn

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gilda-rita-hayworth

November 10, 1947, excerpt from an article by Winthrop Sargeant for LIFE MAGAZINE: The Cult of the Love Goddess in America

The industrial machinery which communicates this interesting way of life [stardom] to American’s faithful moviegoers is vast and complex. The mere upkeep of a star like Rita Hayworth involves an unseen army including a dozen press agents, a staff of 30 or 40 make-up men, a half-dozen cameramen and photographic operators, a dozen couturiers and hair-dressers and an endless stream of directors, assistant directors, script writers, cutters, scenic designers, carpenters, lawyers, agents, accountants and stenographers. At its head, commanding with a hoarse voice and liberal profanity, is the formidable personality and stocky figure of Harry Cohn, omnipotent headman of Columbia Pictures. Cohn, who refers to Rita affectionately as “the fourth most valuable property in the business,” has singlehandedly built Columbia into one of Hollywood’s major studios, and he is proud of his achievement. His shrewdness in judging the taste of America’s moviegoing millions has never been questioned, and legends are beginning to form about him similar to those that surround his powerful competitor, Sam Goldwyn. Of the legends about Cohn’s perspicacity perhaps the most prevalent one has to do with the script of the the recent movie “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest,” which Cohn was reading prior to shooting. Disturbed by the dialog which bristled with such early Anglo-Saxon expressions as “Yea, sire” and “No, sire, ” Cohn stepped to his interoffice microphone and bellowed for the author of the script. When the author arrived, Cohn asked him to sit down. “The story is colossal,” he admitted, “but this is a medieval drama, see? Who want’s modern slang in medieval drama? What’s all this “Yes, siree, no siree?”

Considered as a commodity, Rita Hayworth is the most important single item processed by Harry Cohn’s Columbia Studios. And thought in blustering moods his favorite motto is “Hollywood respects just two things: notoriety and fear,” he actually treats her with friendly respect. The complexities of her professional life have, in fact, brought many a furrow to the meaty Cohn brow. One of these complexities erupted recently when Orson Welles (whom Cohn refers to snortingly as “that genius”) decided to cut the goddess’ hair and convert her into an upswept, sophisticated blonde for the role in the forthcoming picture “The Lady from Shanghai.” Everybody knows,” mourned Cohn wistfully, “that the most beautiful thing about Rita was her hair.” But Welles was adamant, and Cohn gave in…

Artists were called upon for designs. Samples of various hair colors were examined to determine the precise shade, which was later christened “topaz blonde.” Helen Hunt, Columbia’s chief hair stylist was flown in from New York where she was on a honey moon and directed to perform the actual cutting…

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