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Finding Rita Hayworth
By Fredrica Wagman,
Author of The Lie: A Novel

My fascination with Rita Hayworth began when I was very young because my mother was so enthralled with Rita Hayworth herself that she named me Rita, and although she polished my name off with the name Fredrica in the middle, it was the name Rita that profoundly connected me to my mother -- to my childhood and to that exquisite creature who ruled the sliver screen for all my growing years.
  
People do things like that. Pick the name of presidents and movie stars whom they admire for their newborn babies, hoping, preposterously, that the name of the famous person they admire will evoke the same magic on some poor unsuspecting little child.

I use the word "poor" because the child in full innocence sallies forth into life burdened with a name and a namesake she knows nothing about. In this case, what glowed in my mother's esteem couldn't be denied -- Rita Hayworth was a goddess, worshiped by men and women alike. She was the quintessential pin-up girl of World War II. She was the epitome of glamour and elegance. One of her five husbands was a prince and the others were iconic movie stars themselves. She had everything -- she was gorgeous; she had astounding beauty. She had children and wealth and jewels and clothes and incredible fame so that all-in-all she was a living breathing testimonial of immensely enviable success. But that wasn't all she had. She also had a secret. Buried deep within her was the knowledge of a terrible tragedy, the effects of which she bore silently her whole life; she was the victim of severe abuse -- physical, emotional and sexual, vested on her by her father while her lackluster, impoverished mother turned a blind eye to the devastation that was her daughter's fate.
     
The research that went into writing The Lie, dealt extensively with understanding the lives and struggles of many famous movie stars, a fascinating subject itself -- what makes them, what drives them -- but I settled finally on Rita Hayworth, not only because our names are the same, and not only because my mother thought "she was the most exquisite thing that ever lived or breathed," but because her story was the most clear-cut and the most brutal.

She was born Margarita Consuelo, the granddaughter of a great and famous flamenco dancer, so great and so famous that he was part of the court of the King of Spain. His son, Rita Hayworth's father came to this country speaking no English and earning his meager living, paltry as it was, by giving dancing lessons with his young, exquisite daughter as his partner. Fred Astaire, speaking once of Rita Hayworth said she was the best partner he ever danced with, and that statement included all his partners -- even the remarkable Ginger Rodgers. In the days of prohibition, because this country was dry with no liquor being sold, Rita's father took his young, beautiful and extremely talented daughter to Mexico, frequenting cheap night clubs and filthy dance halls where the liquor was flowing so they could eek out a bit of money on which to live by dancing for "tips". Things were so bad at times that Rita was forced by her father to catch fish off of wooden piers, often kneeling for hours in order to catch them with her bare hands and if that day she caught nothing, her father would beat her within an inch of her life, all the while introducing her as his wife and using her sexually.

This is not an unusual story. Neither for movies stars nor for the vast throngs who watch them. It is a common secret tragedy for men as well as for women, and as fascinated as I am with what makes movie stars tick -- their stories and struggles, I am even more concerned with the subject of childhood sexual abuse -- how to bring it out of the darkness and into the light for the millions of people like Rita Hayworth who have been so deeply scarred.

©2009 Fredrica Wagman, author of The Lie: A Novel

Author Bio
Fredrica Wagman, author of The Lie: A Novel, is the author of six previous novels. She has four grown children and lives with her husband in New York City.

For more information please visit www.fredricawagman.com