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The news sent photogs rushing to the Santa Monica Courthouse on Sept. 7, 1943. “I’m going to marry Orson Welles!,” Rita Hayworth had announced that morning on the set of the musical Cover Girl, in which she was starring with Gene Kelly.
Sneaking away during her lunch hour, Hayworth, 24, first stood in line with Welles, 28, to apply for a marriage license and then they were married by Superior Court Judge Orlando Rhodes. “Both were visibly nervous in the marriage license bureau,” the United Press reported. “After filling out the application they started to leave, and Welles went back sheepishly when the clerk suggested he take the license along.”
The proceedings concluded, and with Welles’ pal Joseph Cotten by their side as best man, the happy couple greeted the assembled press as if replaying the scene in Citizen Kane in which Welles’ ebullient Charles Foster Kane marries Dorothy Comingore’s Susan Alexander in a hasty City Hall ceremony. There would be no immediate honeymoon: “I gotta get back to the studio,” Hayworth laughed. “I never saw a happier, more tickled, more delighted, adorable couple in the world,” Welles secretary Shifra Haran told his biographer Barbara Leaming.
But as a somewhat more skeptical Associated Press put it, “The marriage of Orson Welles, star of stage, screen and radio, to Rita Hayworth, one of filmdom’s leading glamour gals, came as a surprise, especially in view of the fact that until recently Miss Hayworth had been reportedly engaged to Victor Mature, now in the Coast Guard.”
In fact, it was a second marriage for both —the press quickly dubbed them Beauty and the Brain. Welles had first spotted Hayworth on the cover of Life magazine while he was filming in Brazil and upon his return to the States sought her out. When he and Cotten produced The Mercury Wonder Show, a magic show staged to entertain service members during World War II, he recruited Hayworth to play his stage assistant who got sawed in half until Hayworth’s possessive Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn stepped in and told her to quit the act or risk breach-of-contract.
The surprise marriage didn’t last long. In March, 1946, Hayworth separated, moving with their young daughter Rebecca into a home of her own. The two did reunite to film their 1947 film noir The Lady from Shanghai. But by that November, Hayworth was back in court, officially filing for divorce.
According to Leaming, Hayworth later told Welles, “You know the only happiness I’ve ever had in my life has been with you.” But a saddened and guilty Welles would say,“If this was happiness, imagine what the rest of her life had been.”
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