Rebecca Welles: “Mother, If You Marry Him, I’ll Run Away. . . Elope . . . Anything . . .”
In Beverly Hills, California, there is a supermart called McDaniels. And as befits that deluxe community of Beverly Hills, McDaniels is a very, very deluxe market. And the ladies are very, very deluxe as they shop there.
One late summer afternoon a very beautiful woman, accompanied by an outstandingly handsome man, whirled into McDaniels, barefooted and wearing a shirt and blue jeans rolled up to her lovely knees. Among the elegantly-groomed shoppers, she stood out like a four-alarm fire. Her escort was just as conspicuous. He was dressed exactly as the girl: shirt, jeans rolled to his not-so-lovely knees, no shoes or socks. He, too, was sorely in need of a comb. A shave and a little more sobriety would have helped his appearance, too.
If their presence bothered the other shoppers, the other shoppers didn’t bother them. They were very, very, very happy. The girl stretched out her lovely arms and called out so everyone could hear her. “Oh, it’s so wonderful to be out seeing people again. It’s so wonderful to be free.”
The girl was Rita Hayworth. The boy was Gary Merrill. And unless all the signs are completely false, Mr. Merrill is slated to be Rita’s sixth husband.
The fascinating Mr. Merrill was a beatnik when he became Bette Davis’ fourth husband more than eleven years ago. The word beatnik wasn’t in use then—but Gary was one just the same. He is a Bohemian, an intellectual, a creative man who never wanted to dress up to play the social game. He was and is a man who cares very little about money. He was and is an excellent actor.
If beatnik is the word for Gary, then sweetness is the word for Rita. Sweetness and the most feminine nature. When these two met, something had to happen—and it did. And to understand why it “had” to be, you have to understand Rita’s love life.
Rita’s first husband was a promotor named Ed Judson. What he promoted best was, of course, Rita. She was still in her teens when she married him and, at that point, the only men she had known were her father and her brothers. She was an unknown dancer when Judson discovered and married her. She was a star when they were divorced a few years later.
Her second husband was Orson Welles, then a Hollywood-styled and self-styled genius. Orson was brilliant; Rita was inarticulate. Orson was worldly; Rita knew only one world—the private, closed world of backstage.
Rita had a daughter by Orson, a lovely little baby named Rebecca Welles. That was seventeen years ago. And, astonishingly enough, this tall, intelligent, thoughtful child is now the greatest obstacle in her mother’s new romance. If Rebecca can, she will break up her mother’s relationship with Gary Merrill. And Hollywood wonders if she can. It’s an interesting situation and we’ll get back to it shortly.
After Orson, whip in such men as Glenn Ford, Tyrone Power, Tony Martin, Vic Mature, Howard Hughes and Steve Crane. Yes, they all figured in Rita’s love life—but they never rated husband status. And remember, too, that in those years, those years of World War II, Rita was the absolute top glamour girl. You could call her the most beautiful woman in the world and not be challenged. She was the box office queen with such films as “Gilda” and “Cover Girl.” Her gorgeous face and figure adorned walls wherever our soldiers were.
But being a perfect pinup queen was not as important to Rita as being a perfect mother to Rebecca. She took the child wherever she went. And when she went to Europe in 1948, she took four-year-old Rebecca with her. Remember that year—1948—for that was the year Rita met Aly Khan—one-quarter Persian, one-quarter Iranian, one-half Italian and all charmer. Since Aly’s father was then the Aga Khan, living god to the Moslem sect, Aly was also very, very rich. Grace Kelly, on becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, was as poor as a church mouse compared to Rita’s becoming Princess Aly Khan.
And become Princess Aly Khan she did—in May, 1949, in a tiny French town on the Riviera. Their wedding was something out of a storybook. Oriental potentates, European royalty, great painters, great writers, great stars came to. her wedding and danced against the background of her husband’s million-dollar chateau. One could say, without reservation, that Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Cansino, had married well.
Every newspaper in the world covered the wedding. And, when, at the very end of the next December, Rita and Aly’s baby was born, that, too, made headlines around the world.
Little Princess Yasmin was the first girl in the Khan line for many generations. Her grandfather, the Aga, adored her. Her father, Aly, was infatuated with her. Her half-brother by her father’s former marriage beamed on her. Even Rebecca got used to her, though it wasn’t easy for a five-year-old girl to have a new baby around the house—let alone a new baby who was also a princess. Prince Aly and the Princess Rita went to the races in Paris, London, Dublin—wherever his horses raced. And always Moslem servants waited on them hand and foot and guarded them constantly no matter where they stayed—whether it was one of Aly’s five homes or someplace else. They went on champagne safaris to Africa, together. And Aly always went to Paris with Rita when she bought clothes, for he knew such superb designers as Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain personally, and knew exactly what he wanted his beautiful wife to wear. They went together to see the great painters of Paris, where Aly chose what masterpieces Rita should buy.
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it, that before Yasmin was six months old, Rita was grumbling that Aly played too much. Were these grumblings a wife talking? Or were they really Rita’s creative impulses protesting her watched-over existence? People have said that Rita was, and is, just a glamour girl, that she has no talent other than the talent to exude glamour. If that were true, you could take any beauty and turn her into a star like Rita. That, of course, has been tried over and over again—and it has failed. No, Rita is an artist—and probably a greater artist than she herself knows. And, as an artist, she must express herself. And, after only a short life with Aly—a life that was usually one long house party after another—she did.
Rita listened to $12,500
Columbia Pictures still held Rita’s movie contract, and they kept asking her to return. When they offered her $12,500 a week, Rita listened. So, in 1952 she was back in Hollywood. She was also heading for Reno to get rid of Aly.
The prince followed her to Hollywood trying to talk her into a reconciliation. just as Orson Welles had followed her to Europe when she left him. And remember, that to the day of his death in an automobile accident outside of Paris in 1960, Aly Khan said he loved Rita. Remember, that when she was in trouble regarding the custody of her daughters, Aly immediately cabled an offer of help. Orson immediately cabled an offer of help, too. Both said repeatedly that she was a wonderful mother.
So far, in our story, Rita has been the wife of Ed Judson, Orson Welles and Prince Aly Khan—three men as different as the good Lord makes men. Then, imagine her falling in love with Dick Haymes—not only falling in love with him—but becoming his fourth Mrs. Haymes.
Does the name Dick Haymes mean anything to you now? Well, a mere nine years ago, in 1952, that name was very much in the headlines—and, unfortunately, the headlines were far from good.
There had been a first Mrs. Haymes, but everyone had forgotten her. However, the second Mrs. Haymes, Joanne Dru, was then suing him for back alimony. At the same time the third Mrs. Haymes, Errol Flynn’s ex, Nora Eddington, was threatening Dick with everything. The United States government was also threatening him with deportation because he had ducked the draft by claiming he was a citizen of Argentina. And while all this was going on, Rita and Dick were falling in love.
A wonderful line
In spite of all his problems. Dick did have charm. He did have a good voice. He did have a wonderful line. He said he’d been in love with Rita for eighteen years. Why he had married three other women during those years, he never did say. Yes, he did have a good line, and sweet Rita had always been a good listener. She listened to Dick and she believed. Maybe she believed because she knew Dick needed her—needed her in a way a genius and an Oriental Prince never did.
Said Rita way back in 1952, “I’ll stand by him even if he is deported.” Said Dick, “With her beside me I know I can win all my battles.”
Thus, one day after Nora Eddington Flynn Haymes finally divorced him, Rita and Dick were married at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in September, 1953. The Sands is the largest gambling hall in all of Las Vegas, and people looked up from the crap tables and applauded Rita and Dick as they went by. Yes, wedding number four was quite different from wedding number three. The Sands was more than a continent away from Aly’s chateau L’Horizon, where champagne had flowed, orchestras had played and flowers shaped “A” for Aly and “M” for Margarita had floated in the pool.
Dick was actually a devoted father to Rebecca and Yasmin. He was a colorful husband to Rita. But he was also something else—he was anxious to get “in” on Rita’s career. He wanted to be Joseph in a film Rita was scheduled to make, “Joseph and his Brethren.” Rita didn’t make the film, neither did Dick. But Rita did break her contract with Columbia, put herself under Dick’s management and started her own film company.
Nothing good happened. Dick had no work, neither did Rita. Columbia sued them. Dick, who was something of a drinker, reportedly slapped Rita around. No, nothing good happened.
Then another studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, got into the act. They tried to straighten out Rita’s contract relationship with Columbia so she could make a film for them. It was fairly obvious they were not interested in Mr. Haymes’ services. And by August 1955, Rita wasn’t interested in Mr. Haymes’ services, either.
Still a princess
To add to the crazy, mixed-up affair. as Rita was divorcing Dick, she was still due to answer the French courts on her divorce from Aly. The French, you see, don’t put through divorces as casually as we do. In Europe, then, she was still legally the Princess Aly Khan, even though Aly had taken up with other beauties.
Asked at that time if she would reconsider returning to Aly, she said, “That’s ridiculous. Aly is an old story, over and done with.”
Aly was far more gallant. So was Orson. When she married for the fifth time, in 1958, Aly told the press he “wished her every happiness.” Orson said almost the same thing. By 1958 Rebecca was fourteen years old, Yasmin was eleven, and there they were again with a brand new daddy. This one’s name was Jim Hill.
Jim was a forty-one-year-old bachelor when he married Rita. He is a very quiet man. If you want to use elegant language, you’d call him an introvert. He deeply appreciates books, art and music. He has always lived quietly. He and Rita met when she played in, and he produced, “Separate Tables.” After a four-month courtship, they married.
A one-day pause
Where with Orson and Aly, Rita had honeymooned on fabulous ocean voyages and chartered yachts, where with Dick she had gone to New York, with Jim Hill, their honeymoon was a one-day pause in their work. They rented, then bought, a very quiet, beautiful home in Beverly Hills. They seldom went anywhere, seldom entertained. Jim, the long-time bachelor, the long-time lone wolf, tried to be a conscientious husband and a conscientious father.
Then last winter he pulled what may have been a boner. Where “Separate Tables” had been a Hecht-Hill-Lancaster production, Jim decided to produce a film on his own. The picture, “The Oldest Profession,” was to star Rita Hayworth.
Furthermore, he decided to make the film in Spain. Rita speaks excellent Spanish, Jim does not. Making films abroad is twice as difficult as making films in Hollywood—and goodness knows, it’s difficult enough for a husband and wife to make a film in Hollywood. By the beginning of this year, rumors were around that Rita and Jim were quarreling. Back in Hollywood, the rumors reached Rebecca’s ears. Reports said she was so upset by them she called her mother in Spain to check on their authenticity. Rita denied the rumors. But then, Rita always denies rumors.
Early in June, Princess Yasmin made her acting debut in her mother and stepfather’s film. An exciting event for a little girl, but not so exciting for Rebecca, who was back home in school. But Mommy flew home to attend her graduation and that nearly made up for it.
The excuses started
But then the rumors really did fly, for Mr. Hill did not return with his wife. The excuse was he was cutting the film. When the rumors kept up, another excuse was given—he was having trouble with the music scoring.
But by the end of June, there was no longer any need for excuses. A spokesman announced that Rita and Jim had separated and a divorce was imminent.
Rita was alone in Hollywood, but girls like Rita don’t stay alone for long. She soon met Gary Merrill, amusing, intelligent, talented Gary Merrill. Gary, a beatnik, Gary, who is not like any other husband Rita has had.
Which brings us right up to date again. Right up to the red hot Merrill-Hayworth romance that Hollywood is whispering about. Right up to the point where Hollywood is almost ready to announce that, once more, Yasmin and Rebecca have another brand new stepfather. Almost, but not quite.
And, again, to understand the situation, you must go back to Rita’s life. You must remember that Rita joined her family’s dancing act when she was six; you must remember that Rita had no childhood as most people did. It was through her two girls that Rita tried to relive those days denied her. When she is alone with Rebecca (whom she calls Becky), and Yasmin (she calls her YasMeen—with the accent on the last syllable), they play together like three children. Sweet Rebecca tends toward overweight—which is pretty natural considering what a mountain her father has always been. Rita tries to keep her slim, but is lovingly tolerant because she remembers she, too, was a chubby little girl. (Right now, with Gary Merrill, Rita is going to Italian restaurants, packing in the calories, crying out for everyone in the restaurant to hear, “I’m eating. . . I’m eating!”)
Yasmin is a slim living doll who can wind her mother around her little finger. There is no preventing her from being conscious of the fact that she is a princess. Every year, until his death, Yasmin visited her father in France. She has his natural aptitude for languages, his instinct for horsemanship.
“I’ll rum away. . .”
This all, of course, has been very hard on the sensitive, young Becky. She, too, was extremely fond of Aly, who wanted to adopt her. Jim Hill tried extra-hard to be a good father to Becky. Her real father, Orson Welles, has been tremendously changed by his current marriage, and now writes to his daughter at fairly regular intervals.
But trying to be a good father, wanting to be a good father, doesn’t always pay off, particularly when there has been such a parade of fathers. Which brings us to that very interesting situation we were discussing a while back. You see, Rebecca Welles does not want another father. She is the one who is laying down the law. She is the one who is trying to put out the fire of love that’s burning between her mother and Gary Merrill. How is she doing it? She is doing it by threats. “Mother,” she has said, “if you marry him I’ll run away . . . I’ll get married … elope . . . anything!”
Rita is still in the spin of a new-found love. Will she come out of it? Will Rebecca be able to keep her mother to herself and Yasmin for a while longer—until the beatnik phase wears off? That is the question all Hollywood is asking. Our answer? Love is the darndest thing—whether it’s love for a daughter or love for a fascinating man. So who can guess what a lady in love will do?
—BY LISA REYNOLDS
Rita’s in U.A.’s “The Oldest Profession.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1961