Margarita Carmen Cansino was born on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother was of Irish descent, her father, Spanish. She would later shorten her first name to Rita and use her mother’s maiden name, Hayworth as her own.
As a child (and later as an adult) Rita was extremely shy. The only time she really came out of her shell was when she was dancing (or, later, acting).
Along with her dad, she danced as part of “The Cansinos” – and was apparently unusually talented, even as a pint-sized beauty. I have read so many varied accounts about the relationship between Rita and her dad: Some say he was overly-domineering, basically “pushing” her into entertainment. Others say she called her own shots and he was a kindly man who allowed her to make her own mind up. Me? I think it was closer to the first than the second. I believe it was his presence that accounted for her shyness and insecurities – she never seemed to think she was good enough for him.
It was while performing with Eduardo at The Caliente Club that she caught the eye of a vice-president at Fox Film Corporation. He invited Rita to join him and his dinner companion, columnist Louella Parsons. Louella would later refer to Rita as a “Painfully shy” girl who “couldn’t look strangers in the eye” and whose voice was so low it could hardly be heard. Sheehan (which is why he was the vp instead of Parsons!) saw the remarkable beauty and potential star quality in Rita and set her up with a screen test.
After several such tests, she was signed to a contract and began taking acting and diction lessons. The rest is, of course, film history.