Lovely Rita, memories made
Rockland — David Hoch will celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary on July 4, but the display cases at Rockland Public Library bear testament to an even longer-standing romance.
Through the end of the month, the cases will be filled with magazines, photos, books and videocassette cases featuring Rita Hayworth, a dancer, movie actor and motivating factor for many a soldier during World War II. The library is screening two films starring Hayworth and Fred Astaire this month;“1942’s “You Were Never Lovelier” will be shown Thursday, June 26, at 6 p.m. in the downstairs Friends Community Room.
“When I saw they were showing Rita’s movies, I thought, gee, I’ve had a collection for years, maybe they’d be interested,” Hoch said a week before the final screening.
They were, indeed — specifically librarian Patty King, who had just put out a call for art and collections to fill the public display cases, empty when Hoch made his inquiry. His collection began when he was 12 years old and his family moved to a ship captain’s home in Glen Cove. The house came equipped with a pile of Life magazines, which he perused. He came across, and cut out, a photograph of Rita Hayworth — and not just any photograph.
The black and white image from a 1941 issue of Life is considered one of the most famous pin-up photos of all time. It was taken by Bob Landry who has said his flash misfired, adding shadows that made the beautiful actress look even more voluptuous.
“Just about every GI in World War II had a copy of that photo! I still have it on the wall of my office; it might even be the one I cut out,” said Hoch, whose collection includes an un-clipped copy of that issue as well as the other three that featured Hayworth not only inside, but also on the cover.
“The only other person who appeared on the cover four times was Winston Churchill,” said Hoch.
Over the years, Hoch collected Hayworth-related memorabilia and was a member of the Rita Hayworth Fan Club started by a woman in the Midwest; Caren Robert-Frenzel's large-format book “Rita Hayworth: A Photographic Retrospective” is part of the library display. Eventually, he put his hobby aside; the Internet had made everything so easy to find. But in earlier days, people would send him things out of the blue because they knew of his collection. One thing Hoch never did was try to contact Hayworth herself.
“She had five husbands, you know, so she was busy,” he said.
Hayworth died in 1980 after suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. There is an annual Rita Hayworth Gala benefiting the Alzheimer's Association founded by Princess Yasmin Aga Kahn, Hayworth’s daughter with Prince Aly Khan. Hoch said she “took wonderful care” of her mother in the last years.
“Her personal history wasn’t that great,” he said of the star’s misfortunes. “But she really came to life when she was dancing.”
Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino to Latin dancer Eduardo Cansino and Ziegfeld showgirl Volga Haworth, and she was a professional dancer herself by age 6. She partnered with her father as a teen; they performed as The Dancing Cansinos, primarily in Mexico because she was so young. Her film career spanned almost four decades and she is one of six dancers to have danced on film with both Astaire and Gene Kelly.
While Hoch never contacted Hayworth directly, he did talk to another movie star about her. He read about the fact that Hayworth and Shelley Winters had attended some function together and he called Winters to get her take on Hayworth.
“She was very nice, said what a fun person Rita was,” he said.
Hoch said people he knows have been surprised to see his name on the display case, but it’s really no surprise how a 12-year-old boy would be so taken by the star.
“Well, she just looked good to me! And Isabel will be mad if I say this, but I think at a certain time in certain photos, she has kind of a Rita look,” he said of his wife, adding “well, she knows what I do by now.”
The public display cases are on the library’s first floor, a few steps from the main desk. Admission is free to the June 26 film screening.