They had met, by chance, before either was famous. But when Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth were cast as two trouble-causing lovers in 1946’s Gilda, they fell in love and began a relationship that was more enduring than the passionate one they shared on-screen.
That sizzling film-noir earned Rita the title of “Hollywood’s Love Goddess.” But Glenn, who had appeared with Rita in 1940’s The Lady in Question, called her something else: the love of his life.
Despite their mutual adoration, the celebrated duo never managed to make a traditional relationship work together. “They never married because either one or the other was married to someone else,” Peter Ford, Glenn’s only child and the author of Glenn Ford: A Life, exclusively tells Closer. But that didn’t really matter. “It was a relationship that lasted many, many decades.”
Rita, who was born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn, married five times, most famously to Prince Ali Salman Aga Khan, vocalist Dick Haymes and the legendary filmmaker Orson Welles, who was so taken with her beauty that he vowed he was going to wed her before they even met.
Meanwhile, Glenn, who was born in Canada but raised in Santa Monica, had four wives, including Peter’s mother, dancer Eleanor Powell and, later, soap actress Kathryn Hays. The list of famous women with whom he is said to have been involved reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Gene Tierney, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe and over a hundred more beauties supposedly succumbed to Glenn’s charms.
“He was a bad boy,” Peter admits. “He got involved with a lot of the ladies he worked with. That’s not anything that I’m proud of, but that’s the reality.”
A LASTING LOVE
Through all the affairs, however, Glenn’s love for Rita never died, and his unflagging adoration showed itself in audacious ways. In 1960, he bought the lot next to the Beverly Hills home Rita shared with her last husband, screenwriter James Hill. The actress is believed to have tipped Glenn off to the property’s availability — and possibly her own!
“That’s where he built his dream house,” Peter says. “The day after he finished that house and moved into it, she filed for divorce. The two of them were back together again. He installed a little gate in the back of his property so she could come from her house over to his. She would spend a lot of time at my dad’s house sitting by the pool. They were constantly together.” Rita, quite publicly in 1972, called Glenn “the best neighbor a woman ever had.”
It’s little surprise that although Glenn starred in many movies in his six-decade career, Peter says Gilda remained his father’s favorite. “It was the film that gave him stardom, and he used to say that any film with Rita Hayworth in it he liked doing.” In a 1990 documentary on Rita, Glenn admitted, “I loved her very deeply at that time.”
That feeling never faded, even after Rita was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that became public in 1981. “Glenn, I know, helped her out in the later stages,” says Adrienne McLean, author of Being Rita Hayworth: Labor, Identity, and Hollywood Stardom. When Rita died in 1987 of complications from the disease at age 68, Glenn was among the pallbearers who laid her to rest.
“He was very protective of her,” McLean said. “They were allies.” As Rita declared to Glenn in Gilda, “There’s never been anybody but you and me.”
— Frank DeCaro, with reporting by Katie Bruno