by Charles Vidor
Days to remember from an ace director about a redhead the marquees call Rita Hayworth and whom he calls “all emotion”
RITA HAYWORTH has to work with other directors. I have to work with other stars. Therefore it is, I suppose, very indiscreet of me to say that she is my favorite star—and I hope I am her favorite director. But that is what she is and that is what I hope I am.
I regard Rita as one of the most beautiful, one of the most talented, and one of the sweetest of human beings. We have made three pictures together so far—her first essay into real acting, “The Lady in Question” in 1940, and her two top hits, “Cover Girl” and “Gilda.” Personally, I wish we were going to make another thirty together.
Do not decide from this that I am a Pollyanna who feels admiringly about all stars. I would undoubtedly be a much nicer person if I did and perhaps a much better director. But since I’m trying to tell the truth about Rita, I might as well go the whole way and tell the truth about me, too.
There are, alas, some stars whom I can’t abide—and probably they return the feeling. Once I made a picture with a star to whom I never spoke—off the set. That’s how terribly we were on one another’s nerves.
A director’s job is to get from his players a greater performance than they know they are capable of giving. Rita is like a trusting child—the most beautiful and obedient child in the world. She is never late on the set. She always knows her lines. She does not beg you to break for lunch at eleven or to quit for the day at four. You are the boss. She is there to comply.
Not that she isn’t conscious that she is a star and has, as a result, certain prerogatives. She is very conscious of it. Not but that she knows the effect of her beauty upon every one who surrounds her. I remember the day on “Gilda” when she first walked on the set wearing that “Put the Blame on Mame, Boys” costume, that halfnaked black satin number, and dragging an ermine cape on the floor behind her, just as the script ordered.
WE were working under tough conditions on “Gilda.” We didn’t have a finished script, we never knew what was coming next and we even started the picture without a leading man. Every night, as we quit, we got next day’s scenes. Rita had to study at night. So did I. So did Jean Louis, the dress designer—but somehow he kept one leap ahead of us all. So that particular “Mame” morning none of us knew how Rita was going to look. She sauntered on the stage holding her head high, in that magnificent way she does, stepping along like a sleek young tiger cub, and electricians began dropping light bulbs, carpenters began dropping hammers and the whistles that sounded would have shamed a canary’s convention. It was a good ten minutes before I could restore anything like calm. Rita smiled in her sweet and secret way. She enjoyed every second of it. Then she did that elaborate, difficult “Mame” number in two takes. The whole set broke with spontaneous cheers. Rita loved that, too. But she didn’t take advantage of it.
She never does. Not that she’s without temperament. She has temperament—but it is wonderfully under control. Once in a long while, if she gets very angry she will stamp her foot—which, again, is what a little child does and if she gets very angry she will say, “Darn, oh, darn”—and “darn” is what I do mean.
I doubt that she, herself, knows that she is more apt to stamp her foot and say “darn” after four in the afternoon than at any other time. I’m positive she doesn’t know I a.n aware of it and I am absolutely confident that the front office at Columbia Pictures hasn’t noticed how many times I finish up Rita’s scenes for the day before that hour—but it is all true. The reason behind it is this: Movies are infinitely harder on actresses than on actors. In order to be ready for the first scene at nine, a girl must usually be up at six and in make-up by seven. By four, she’s worn out. I always try to give Rita her big dramatic scenes in the morning and shoot around her in the afternoon.
Her best “take” is usually the second, sometimes the third. After that, if you don’t get it, you are in trouble. For she is all emotion and arrives at everything emotionally. After the third take, she is emotionally exhausted.
I had a real problem when Glenn Ford was cast opposite Rita in “Gilda,” for Glenn is the type of actor who improves as he goes along. Trying to get a balance between their performances took a lot of management. I felt the situation was hardest on Glenn, for he was playing an essential heavy—and he isn’t at all that in person. His real personality is an honest, direct, warm quality. He is a fine performer—but in “Gilda” I think it is enormously to his credit that he played a role that was so counter to his own type—and did it so excellently.
Not but that Rita was going counter to her own impulses in that scene where she struck Glenn in the face. She would no more do that in real life than she would commit murder. She is much too gentle, much too feminine. Besides, that is not the way she gets her objectives. In that particular, she reminds me of Gandhi. She knows exactly what she wants. She will stick indefinitely to an ideal or an ambition—but she doesn’t fight for it. She waits—quietly, passively, and sometimeslike the Mahatma—is a perfect example of composed non-cooperation. By her very stillness she gets what she wants.
I have a theory that no one is naturally kind. That is, I believe kindness is an acquired quality. We have to learn to be considerate of other people’s feelings. Certainly no child is a natural gentleman. You have to teach children not to be little barbarians, intent upon having everything to suit their own pleasure.
SOMEWHERE along the line of her childhood, Rita was, I fancy, very hurt. As a reaction to it, she is today considerate and thoughtful with everyone. It has been my peculiar fortune to make my pictures with Rita always at the time of some crisis in her personal life. When we began “The Lady in Question” she was getting her divorce from Ed Judson. When we started “Cover Girl” she was just about to marry Orson Welles. During the shooting of “Gilda” she separated from him.
She is no talker at any time. I presume she was in love with Judson though I don’t know that from her. But I needed only the evidence of my own eyes to tell me that she adored Welles as if he were a god. During his courtship of her, she was positively illuminated. When she was expecting her baby, she was like a goddess, walking far off the earth, touched with glory. One morning on “Gilda” she did not report for work. We were briefly told it was impossible for her to get to the studio. That night hers and Orson’s parting was announced. The next morning she was present, her face without color, her eyes without tears, her voice as emptied out as a clean plate. But she kept her mind on her scenes, nevertheless, and did them perfectly.
People ask me, “What happened?” I very honestly answer I do not know. I have been told that Orson says he will do anything on earth to win her back.
I know none of this from Rita. She has never talked to me about it. I doubt that she has talked to anyone. She keeps her own counsel. As far as I can tell, she has no “chum,” no “best friend.” Most stars do have, particularly the women stars, and while working, they will usually have their dearest friends with them on the set or sharing luncheon. But Rita has never had anyone around.
She is, however, a wildly devoted mother —and I know that she was an intensely devoted daughter to her own mother. In fact, I have never seen her be as outwardly devastated as she was when her mother died, not very long ago. One night recently we were guests at a Jack Benny party. Somehow the subject got around to mothers. Rita’s eyes filled up. She couldn’t talk at all until the subject got quickly changed. It was all she could do to retain any social composure.
And that, I repeat, is amazing for her. I realize from her acting power that she feels everything deeply—but to the world, she very seldom shows it. For example, my wife and I recently asked her to dinner and asked if she would like us to provide an escort for her. “No, I’ll bring my own,” Rita said.
Half an hour before dinner, Rita telephoned us. “Is it all right if I come alone?” she asked. Naturally we assured her that she was always welcome—alone or in a mob. So all by herself she came—the reigning glamour girl of the season, whose telephone rings constantly with men asking to take her out. Obviously we did not question her concerning her lack of an escort—but, characteristically—Rita herself offered no explanation.
As supreme at the box office as Rita is today, I nevertheless believe she is only on the threshold of her powers. Just as her beauty has steadily increased so I am convinced that her emotional range is developing. I told you earlier that the “Gilda” slapping scene was difficult for her to do—it went so against her natural impulses. In a sense I tricked Rita into it. I mean I talked to her about the scene for six weeks before we shot it. That is the way I always work with her. Other performers may study scenes, brood over them, then be ready for the camera. That is not the Hayworth approach. With Rita, it is better to talk her into the mood of a given situation. Often we talk as long as an hour before one take—but it is a saving of time when she flashes into it and does it flawlessly. But the slapping scene I kept for the last shot of the picture and I warned Glenn Ford about it. “You mustn’t move,” I cautioned, “and we can shoot it only once. For if Rita wakes from the spell of it, she will be so revolted by it she won’t be able to repeat it.”
So Rita gave it all she had. She did, in fact, give it so much that her blow practically knocked Glenn down.
“Quick,” I said. “Do it again.”
She was so in the fury of the scene that she did it again, without knowing it, but this time Glenn was prepared and he took it without flinching. I saw Rita’s eyes widen as she saw that scarlet bruise coming up on Glenn’s face. “Cut,” I cried, just as she began to cry.
Do I think that Rita will marry again? She says she won’t but I think she will, for within her half-afraid, half-repressed, little-girl soul, she is lonely and insecure. Will she find the right man? Of that I’m not so sure—but with my whole heart I hope she does. Rita is a lovely creature who could make a perfect wife, a very great mother. She looks sophisticated—but she isn’t at all. She is tender, simple, sweet. She loves clothes and her career for identical reasons—they both give her assurance. Nevertheless, I believe if the man wise enough to understand her and great enough to be worthy of her came along, she would give up her career without so much as a backward glance and with the greatest happiness bring up a very large family—every child of which, I am sure, would certainly be most extraordinary and very possibly be a genius.