In April 1951, Rita Hayworth arrived back in her native New York after nearly three years abroad. As she disembarked the French liner De Grasse with her two young daughters, the actress nicknamed “The Love Goddess” told reporters she was looking forward to seeing a Broadway show and eating a hot dog. 

During her two-month visit, Rita often denied that her marriage to international playboy Aly Khan was in trouble, but she was lying. Their divorce would be the end of a heartbreaking but ultimately transformative period for the actress. “It is so easy to say she was a victim, but she always left her husbands,” notes Adrienne McLean, author of Being Rita Hayworth: Labor, Identity, and Hollywood Stardom. “She had a lot more strength than we’d like to think she had.”

Rita developed this inner steel through painful experience. The daughter of a Spanish flamenco dancer and a Ziegfeld Follies girl, Rita, born Margarita Cansino, began performing as a child. “Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, that was my girlhood,” said Rita, who was taken out of school at age 12 to become her father’s dance partner. 

Inside Rita Hayworth’s Marriage to Her Third Ex-Husband Prince Aly Khan

Beginning with her father, Rita’s life was ruled by assertive men. Her first husband, Edward Judson, changed her appearance and name and squandered her money. Her second, actor-director Orson Welles, refused to be tied down. “[He] told me he should never have married me in the first place, as it interfered with his freedom in his way of life,” said Rita.

In the wake of Rita’s separation from Orson, Aristotle Onassis, the Shah of Iran, and other wealthy men tried to court her. But Aly Khan, the son of an Italian actress and the most powerful leader in the Muslim world, charmed Rita the most. They met at a party on the French Riviera and spent the night dancing. “The prince was immediately smitten,” said Rita’s friend Shifra Haran. 

He mounted a campaign to win Rita’s love with expensive gifts, jaunts around Europe and a daily barrage of red roses. Aly also secretly hired a fortune teller to find Rita at her hotel and tell her she was on the cusp of the greatest love of her life. Despite these lavish trimmings, if Rita hadn’t become pregnant, she might not have wed Aly. “I think she was always trying to get back with Orson,” says McLean. 

Days before her wedding to Aly, Rita begged Orson to visit her in France and opened the door to her hotel room clad in a negligee. Orson, who was living with another woman, calmed Rita down and explained that it was too late for them. “She was marrying the most promiscuous man in Europe,” Orson said, “just the worst marriage that ever could have happened. And she knew it!”

Seven months after she wed Aly, Rita gave birth to their daughter, Yasmin. Unfortunately, neither their wedding nor the baby changed Aly’s playboy ways. “Once he found out that Rita was an ordinary woman – no Hollywood star is how they appear on screen – he was off and running to the next thing,” says McLean. 

On her visit to America, Rita retained a divorce lawyer and quietly began negotiating a new studio contract in Hollywood. It was a turning point for her. “As she became stronger, she became less attracted to domineering men,” says McLean. Rita reclaimed her life, career and self-respect, although lasting love would always remain elusive. “All I wanted was just what everybody wants,” Rita said. “To be loved.”