Sunday, March 27, 2011
The Love Goddess and the Prince
Movie star Rita Hayworth (1918 - 1987) was at a personal and professional crossroads in her life when she took off for Europe in the summer of 1948. She was feuding with Columbia studio boss Harry Cohen. After short-lived affairs with David Niven and Howard Hughes, she had realized that she was still in love with her estranged husband Orson Welles. But Orson had moved on, he'd fallen in love with a fiery Italian actress. This time there would be no reconciliation. Heartbroken, Rita wasn't interested when society hostess Elsa Maxwell begged her to attend a party at the Summer Casino in Cannes. Elsa insisted that she just had to attend, urging Rita to buy a new dress, preferably white, and to arrive fashionably late. A real life Prince would be amongst the guests.
It wasn't an immediate slam dunk. While Rita was flattered by Aly's attentions, she wasn't in the mood for a serious romance. Still Aly persisted, sending huge bouquets of rose, so many that her suite began to look like a florist shop. He took her out to candle-lit dinners at small intimate places high in the hills, and dancing in out-of-the way nightclubs so they could have some privacy. Rita couldn't help but be flattered by his attentions both in and out of the bedroom. The prince's prowess in the boudoir was considered legendary. Rumor had it that he had learned an ancient technique that allowed him to make love to a woman not just for hours but for days before reaching a climax himself. Rita responded to the wounded little boy in Aly, who had never been able to please his difficult and demanding father. He aroused all her maternal instincts. He whisked her off to Biarritz, France, piloting his private plane Avenger. Then they traveled by car, in a shiny new Cadillac ordered from Paris, to Spain and Portugal. Rita assumed at first that Aly was toying with her, but she soon realized just how serious he was. Rita, however, was just not ready for another serious relationship. She soon fled to stay with friends for a few days to get her bearings. A fortune teller who had been hired as a lark to entertain at a private party changed Rita's mind. She predicted that Rita was about to embark on the greatest romance of her life. The man in question was someone that she knew who she had foolishly resisted.
That was all Rita needed to throw herself headlone into the relationship. Before long, Aly had offered the sanctuary of his nearby Chateau de l'Horizon to keep his new love safe from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. Despite the fortune teller's prediction, the romance was rocky from the start. Now that he had won his prize, Aly reverted from the devoted prince who lavished hours of attention on his new love, to the bon vivant playboy that he really was. Aly was gregarious by nature, loving nothing more than to be surrounded by people. He had an open door policy at all his lavish homes for his friends and assorted hangers-on. Rita immediately felt out of place amongst his jet-setting friends who spoke several languages, and all knew each other from the watering holes of Europe or from the elite boarding schools they had attended. Although she was an international sex symbol, Rita was painfully shy and had been since childhood. She much preferred to sit quietly in a corner, or small gatherings with a just a few friends. In spite of having worked with stars like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Tyrone Power, Rita was easily intimidated. She felt keenly her lack of education, having been forced to drop out of school at the age of 12 to in order to tour as her father's dancing partner in the casinos and hotels of Tijuana, Mexico.
There was also the problem of Aly's wandering eye. Women were drawn to him like catnip, and he certainly felt no urge to turn their invitations down. Rita threw jealous tantrums, which only served to inflame Aly. The prince also lived a rootless, hedonistic lifestyle which was the antithesis of the home, family and security that Rita craved. They fought passionately and made-up the same way. Gossip columnists were tickled pink at the news of Rita's new romance. Who could resist the story of the American movie star and the foreign prince even if no one knew exactly what he was prince of. Conservatives were incensed at the idea of Rita cavorting openly with a married man. She was labeled a bad mother amongst other things. Racism also reared its ugly head, Aly might have been a prince but he was still the wrong color. The Aga Khan was incensed by all the publicity surrounding the affair. He gave his son an ultimatum, either get a divorce and marry Rita or end the relationship for good. When he finally met Rita, he was won over by her modesty and charm.
Studio boss Harry Cohn was furious that Rita was still off gallivanting in Europe instead of back where she belonged, making movies for Columbia Pictures. The gossip about her relationship with Aly could ruin all the time and money that Cohn had invested in his auburn-haired asset. The furor against her relationship just served to make Rita more determined to continue seeing Aly. He followed Rita to Los Angeles. Although he moved into a house close by, he spent most of his nights at Rita's. He now endeared himself to Rita by the way he treated her little daughter Rebecca Welles who had been virtually ignored by her father since her birth. He supported Rita when she refused to film Lona Hansen without a script. Rita began to feel that perhaps Aly would be the protector that she had been looking for after all.
They were married on May 27, 1949 at the town hall of Cannes, France. Aly's father The Aga Khan and Aly’s stepmother, the Begum, attended conferring their approval on the match. Afterwards a lavish reception was held at Chateau de l’Horizon. The bride wore a long-sleeved ice blue dress by Jacques Fath, with a floppy blue hat.. The marriage was doomed from the beginning. Although she had agreed to the wedding, Rita still hoped that Orson Welles would swoop down and rescue her. At the wedding, "500 guests from the United States and Europe feasted on 50 pounds of caviar, 600 bottles of Champagne and other gourmet delights around a swimming pool scented with 200 gallons of eau de Cologne." In the swimming pool, white carnations formed 2 enormous interlocking 12 foot letters A for Aly, M for Margarita (Hayworth's birth name was Margarita Carmen Cansino)The reception went on for 6 hours, exhausting the bride who was two months pregnant. The next day, the couple were married by a pair of Muslim priests from the Paris mosque in a religious ceremony. The Catholic Church howled at Rita's decision not only to marry a Muslim but also to bring up her children in the faith.
After the wedding, Aly hired an etiquette teacher, a Georgian prince named Gregory Eristoff to initiate her in the mysteries of being a princess, all the protocal she would need to meet the dignitaries and other royalty in her new role. In the beginning, Rita forced herself to please Aly, to make him proud of her. The lessons must have brought back painful memories though of the dance lessons with her father, that often ended in physical and emotional abuse. But the traveling was a constant strain as the couple moved from one race meeting to another. In December, Rita gave birth to her second daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan in Switzerland. Aly was delighted to have a daughter, to join his two sons by his first wife. For three months, after Aly broke his leg skiing, the couple lived the kind of life that Rita longed for, but soon Aly was restless again. Rita began spending more and more time in her room, drinking and dancing to the Spanish records that she loved instead of entertaining Aly's guests. Aly encouraged her to go back to making films, not just to give her something to do, but because they needed the cash. The Aga Khan kept his son on a tight financial leash, so Aly began spending her money. This was not the life that Rita wanted or envisioned.
It was a trip to Africa to visit the various Ismaili communties there that was the final straw in the marriage. Aly had promised Rita that they would go on a romantic safari but after he ignored her all night at a New Year's Eve party in Nairobi, Rita said au revoir. The marriage had lasted less than two years. Rita filed for divorce in 1951 on the grounds of "extreme cruelty, entirely mental in nature." but dropped the suit in 1952 after Aly pleaded for a reconciliation. Eventually, however, the couple were divorced in April 1953, due his infidelities. During the custody fight over their daughter Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Prince Khan said he wanted her raised as a Muslim; whereas Hayworth (who had been raised a Roman Catholic) wanted the child to be a Christian. The settlement was increased to $1.5 million in 1954, which included trust-fund payments of $100,000 a year for 14 years for Princess Yasmin, plus $8,000 a year maintenance.
After several high profile romances with Joan Fontaine and Gene Tierney, Aly seemed to settle down. He was chosen as the Pakistan delegate to the UN and took his duties seriously. Aly Khan died in a car accident in 1960. After two more marriages that ended in divorce, and public embarrassment when she was accused of neglecting her two daughters, Rita was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer's in her later years. She spent the last years of her life being taken care of by her daughter Princess Yasmin, who created a foundation to find a cure for the disease.
On paper, it was a storybook romance, the lovely flame-haired movie star and her handsome prince, but neither Rita nor Aly were emotionally equipped to sustain a long-term relationship. Rita had a deep emotional hole in her that couldn't be filled, no matter how the man she loved reassured her of his devotion. She needed constant attention, not just because as a movie star she was used to it, but because her own childhood had been so devastating. An alcoholic mother, a father who emotionally and physically abused her, forcing her to project a sexual allure at very young age, completely messed her. Aly spent his life trying to please his notoriously prickly father. But their romance has gone down in the history books as one for the ages.