Wednesday, March 14, 2012

FRank Langella Remembers His Rita Hayworth

Frank Langella Remembers His Rita Hayworth From The Daily Beast

It is 2 a.m. and I am alone in the dark with her again.

by Frank Langella | March 12, 2012 1:00 AM EDT
On my television set tonight, in the black-and-white movie Gilda, Rita Hayworth is seducing Glenn Ford, heartbreakingly refuting the old adage “the camera never lies.” It is close to 40 years now since last we were together, and the woman I had known in real life is, for me, still the single most tragic example of how far from the real person an image can be.

She was a Goddess on screen, about as desirable a woman as any man could want—perfection in feminine allure. From the moment I saw her, she haunted my imagination. And from the moment we met in the lobby of a small hotel in the tiny town of Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1972, until her death from Alzheimer’s disease 15 years later, she continued to haunt it, eliciting a far more profound emotion than lust.

My agent at that time, David Begelman, had talked me into a Western titled The Wrath of God—aptly named—to be shot entirely in Mexico. It would star Robert Mitchum, with Rita in the “and” position, set off in a billing box at the end of the actor credits. She was by then finished in pictures and the word was that Mitch had insisted on her, possibly for old times’ sake, the rumor being they had once had a tumble or two.

Mitch would play a runaway priest. I would be the town’s despot, who swears revenge on all priests for murdering my father, and Rita would be my mother, a God-fearing matron who never lets go of a set of rosary beads. What was I thinking? Well ... I was thinking: Rita/Gilda.

And there she is, tiny and scattered, standing in front of me, a rain hat on her head. She shoots out her hand and smiles. “Hey, I know you,” she says. “I’ve seen ya in the movies. You’re gonna be my son.” I spout all the clich├ęs: how excited I am to meet her and work with her, etc.

She tears off the rain hat, frantically runs her fingers through the once-lustrous auburn hair, now shorter and more sparse, shakes it out, pulls at it, and whips her head back and forth in an exaggerated “no,” flailing her hands in the air as if shooing away an army of flies.

“Oh, cut it out. Cut it out,” she says in a high-pitched, impatient tone, jamming the hat back on and fleeing the lobby.

Once on the set she is a total pro. Ready to go, eager to do her best. But the lines won’t come. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t retain the simplest phrase. In our first scene together, I approach her at prayer in a church and ask, “Why are you here?” Her line is “Because God is here.” But she can’t do it. Take after take she is unable to retain those four words. Oblivious to the rising tension and unkind remarks from the crew, she presses on. “Let’s do it again,” she says. “I’ll get it.”

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Ben Boulden said...

THE WRATH OF GOD is also one of Jack Higgins' better novels. It was published during Higgins' golden era between EAST OF DESOLATION (1968) and THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1975), and it is very much worth searching out.

Jeff P said...

What a sad, yet fascinating story.