Friday, May 4, 2018

Before Duchess Meaghan, There Was Princess Rita!

by Denis Ferrara

“EVERY MAN I knew went to bed with Gilda, and woke with me.”

That was Rita Hayworth, late in life, mournfully commenting on the difference between her real self — painfully shy Margarita Cansino — and the image created for her by Hollywood — The Love Goddess.

In fact, even before the 1946 film “Gilda,” which crystalized her persona, Hayworth had been a dazzling fantasy figure — “Blood and Sand,” “The Strawberry Blonde,” “Cover Girl,” “Tonight and Every Night,” “Tales of Manhattan,” You Were Never Lovelier.”
As socialite Doña Sol des Muire in “Blood and Sand."
As chorus girl Rusty in “Cover Girl."
As as Rosalind Bruce in “Tonight and Every Night."
Long before she tossed that magnificent mane of hair, and stripped off her black satin gloves to the beat of “Put the Blame on Mame” Rita Hayworth’s screen presence had convinced her fans, and the men who encountered her that she was as glamorous, as self-assured, and as relaxed within her cocoon of fame as her screen characters and her publicity indicated.  Of course she was not.  (For my money, Hayworth is the most tragic of all the sex-symbols, with Harlow — dead at 26! — a close second.) 
I am thinking of Hayworth these days because nobody else in this time of impending regal wedlock seems to recall that it was she, not Grace Kelly, who was the first actress/star to become a foreign princess. 

In 1949, to tremendous publicity and notoriety, Hollywood’s Rita Hayworth became Princess Rita, wife to Prince Ali Salman Aga Khan, better known in tabloids and at racetracks and in nightclubs as Aly Khan.  Perhaps the marriage is not well remembered today because it only lasted three years? Perhaps because Aly was Muslim?  Or perhaps because Grace Kelly, unburdened by overtly obvious sex-appeal, coolly blonde, seemed more stereotypically “princessy.”  Also, that marriage — dreary as it was — lasted until Grace’s death in a car accident in 1982.
The marriage of Grace and Rainier is now being held up as an example/warning/playbook for Meghan Markle in her coming nuptials to England’s Prince Harry.  (Meghan will not become a princess.  She is expected to wear the title Duchess of Sussex.)

The Grace/Rainier connection is raised at least once, somewhere in Vanity Fair’s “Love and Royals” issue (more on VF later) and is prominent in Craig Brown’s unhappy piece in New York magazine “God Save Meghan Markle,” referring to the coming wedlock as “doomed.” But just to be on the safe side, there’s a question mark after “doomed.”  Nice.

Brown seems to think Markle is bound to tire of the tiresome duties required of a British royal, and like Grace, will restlessly wish to return to her career. (A wish never granted, as the subjects of insignificant Monaco protested.  Grace put away her dreams of returning to acting, although it is safe to say she deserved many awards for the performance she gave for the rest of her life.)
Sure, this is possible except ... Meghan Markle is no Grace Kelly. And she is certainly no Rita Hayworth, either.  She became well-known, but hardly “famous” via the is-it-still-on-the-air TV series “Suits.”  (It is still on the air.)  When the news broke that Prince Harry was dating an actress, I had to Google her name, and then recalled her from “Suits” which I hadn’t watched in a while.

Markle has something more than a minor career but considerably less than a major one.  Grace Kelly was a movie star, boffo at the box-office, an Oscar winner for “The Country Girl.” (Yes, yes, it should have gone to Judy Garland for “A Star is Born,” but Hollywood was really impressed that Kelly put her hair in a bun and wore glasses. Acting!)
Grace had worked — and slept with — many of Hollywood’s top leading men.   Her career was peaking and still had plenty of mileage. To give you an example of just how big a star Kelly was, director George Stevens wanted her for his epic film, “Giant.”  But she was busy preparing her royal trousseau and MGM preferred to cash in by casting in as a princess in the tepid “The Swan,” her penultimate film.  Stevens accepted Elizabeth Taylor, another MGM beauty, reluctantly.
Grace Kelly, for whatever reason walked away from a lot.  (As had Hayworth). Meghan Markle is beautiful and perhaps talented but she will leave no great hole in the Hollywood smog of fame.  I mean, it’s not like she’s Jennifer Lawrence (although Lawrence increasingly has the charisma of an underdone potato).

Even one of Andy Cohen’s grotesque “real housewives” would be abandoning more publicity, magazine covers and general trashy gossip than Markle generated before her involvement with Harry.  She seemed to exist pretty quietly as actresses go.
She wants to do good deeds in a naughty world, as does her intended.  Why wouldn’t this work out?  As for boredom, spend some time on a movie set — believe me, tedium has spawned more show biz alcoholics and drug addicts than a weak will.  And, unlike Rainier or even Aly Khan, Prince Harry is hot, although I prefer him clean-shaven. 

Let’s not rain on their parade, which begins its royal progress on May 19th. Let’s wish them well.
AH, back to Vanity Fair.  This was a pretty good issue, and not only because for the first time in ages there is no major story on the president to muck things up. (Although 45 is mentioned in the article on France’s President Macron.) 

I liked Laura Jacobs’ story on “Fascinators” (those odd little hats so dear to British ladies of fashion) and David Kamp’s profile on Emma, Viscountess Weymouth and Aatish Taseer’s deliciously bitchy little trip down the memory lane of his romance with Ella Windsor, daughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

But the very best of VF was James Wolcott’s “Confessions of a ‘Suits’ Fan.”  If the marriage of Meghan and Harry produces nothing else, there’s this wonderfully written love letter to a show that has a bit of a drawback, as he writes: “I have met civilians, many of them fine citizens in other respects, who not only have not watched ‘Suits’ but have never heard of it.”

Well, Mr. Wolcott clearly has watched “Suits” and this is the articulate, affectionate money review of all time, and just in time, as there may or may not be a season 8. Markle’s character, Rachel and her longtime boyfriend on the show Mike (Patrick J. Adams) were married and sent off to Seattle. Of course, who’s to say Rachel will like Seattle? Or like Mike, once she’s his Mrs?  Season 8 could open with sad, divorced Mike. (He’s always sad about something.)
Markle and Adams working late in a scene from Suits.
Photograph by Shane Mahood/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.
Anyway, everyone connected to “Suits” should read this article and send thank-you notes to Mr. Wolcott and to the future Duchess of Sussex, too.

Oh, only one complaint about Vanity Fair — the black and white cover photo of Meghan and Harry is shockingly dull.  This is not a cover that “pops.” 
Contact Denis here.