Friday, May 25, 2012

Lovely Rita, 40s Queen of the Silver Screen


I am about to do something that I swore over and over that I would never do, namely to write down my memories of the Love Goddess of 1940s Hollywood, Miss Rita Hayworth. You see, I worked for Miss Hayworth - well, for lawyer Leonard Monroe - in the capacity of daytime driver/escort from fall 1978 - fall 1979, before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. I was a fresh face in Hollywood, just out from New York, trying to make my way as a new actor in town. I was 32, and, attractive enough, to be labeled by many, an up and coming leading man. At a meeting of the Film Advisory Board, a group of film aficionados who supported family-friendly GP-rated movies for TV and the big screen, I was introduced by President Elayne Blythe, who was a dear friend at the time, to a lady I will refer to as Christine Doe, protecting her anonymity, the woman who served as house companion/maid to the declining Miss Hayworth. These caretakers had been seeking out someone 'trustworthy and kind' who was willing to spend a few hours each week visiting the former star, for the purpose of keeping her busy, in the hopes of making her existence happier. The money wasn't much, but it was an opportunity for a young actor to get to know, befriend one of the great actresses of all time, a legend. Who could argue with that? Wouldn't I have been a fool to turn it down? Particularly, since I did have time on my hands between interviews and auditions and had a nice car. Oh, I guess I also ably fit the bill of 'trustworthy and kind', meaning I would keep what I encountered to myself: not tip the paparazzi as to her whereabouts or report activities to the tabloids such as the National Enquirer, which had been looking for the slightest bit of off-color behavior to pin on a former star like Miss Hayworth, anything to sell papers. From what I had been told, Rita was fresh out of rehab in Long Beach, as she had been suffering from the effects of alcoholism. What I saw was a lovely, lovely lady around 60, who was terribly alone, lonely and in need of friendship. She was still quite beautiful - with or without makeup - bright, quiet yet talkative and pleasant company - this was on most days I visited. But, out of the blue, as if a volcano had erupted, the calm would suddenly turn to terror, as the ravages of whatever was ailing the lady took almost total possession of her - kind of like the demon over Regan in The Exorcist - causing her to become confused, volatile and 'difficult' to handle. I didn't know what to say or do; in fact, I felt helpless and worried, not for myself, but because I could not help her understand my good intentions, or simply help her. I repeat, this was a year or two before Miss Hayworth was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and I can tell you first hand, what I witnessed scared and horrified me. The disease takes right and turns it terribly wrong, it turns beauty into ugliness and twists normal sane behavior patterns into ones that can only be described as frighteningly out of control, demented. No one deserves this disease, least of all the lovely Rita Hayworth, who fell as one of its very first victims in 1979.

On the pages that follow I will attempt to share some stories/lessons I learned from my visits with Rita Hayworth - not concentrating on the negative, unhappy times, but rather on the fun, more upbeat meetings. I came to care deeply for Rita Hayworth in the brief time that I knew her. She influenced my experiences, my way of thinking and my assessment of others ... assuredly altering my life for the better.
- don grigware
   May, 2012