Written By: Ben Cosgrove

With the possible exception of Betty Grable and her fabled legs no single Hollywood star was more popular with American troops during World War II than the actress and dancer Rita Hayworth. Thanks to a photo made by Bob Landry that ran in LIFE magazine in August 1941, months before the U.S. officially entered the war, Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn on Oct. 17, 1918) was the face and the lingerie-clad body of arguably the single most famous and most frequently reproduced American pinup image ever.

LIFE.com remembers the star of films as varied as Pal Joey, Strawberry Blonde, Orson Welles’s Lady From Shanghai and the 1946 noir classic, Gilda in which she played one of moviedom’s most devastatingly sexy femmes fatale. Hayworth could play comedy, was stellar in dramatic roles and danced well enough that none other than Fred Astaire, with whom she starred in two hits for Columbia Pictures in the early 1940s, asserted that she was as talented a partner as any he’d ever had.

Hayworth’s offscreen life, meanwhile, was frequently tough. She married five times; she struggled with alcoholism; and for the last years of her life she suffered from a disease that was only diagnosed (and given a name) a few years before she died: Alzheimer’s.

For countless Americans of a certain age, however, and for movie fans around the world, Rita Hayworth remains one of those rarest of creatures: a bona fide movie star from a classic era the Hollywood of the 1940s and ’50s that will never come again.


August 11, 1941 LIFE Magazine cover (photo by Bob Landry).

Rita Hayworth on August 11, 1941 LIFE Cover

Bob Landry (LIFE Picture Collection)

Rita Hayworth poses "on her own bed in her own home" (as LIFE magazine put it), 1941.

Rita Hayworth 1941

Bob Landry The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Rita Hayworth, 1945

Rita Hayworth, 1945.

Bob Landry (The LIFE Picture Collection)

Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth in Gilda, 1946

Columbia Pictures

Rita Hayworth on the beach, 1941.

Rita Hayworth 1941

Bob Landry The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Rita Hayworth on the beach, 1941.

Rita Hayworth 1941

Bob Landry The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Rita Hayworth, photographed through a car window, 1941.

Rita Hayworth 1941

Bob Landry (The LIFE Picture Collection)

Orson Welles, wife Rita Hayworth and daughter Rebecca at home in 1945.

Rita Hayworth with husband Orson Wells and daughter Rebecca, 1946

Peter Stackpole (LIFE Picture Collection)

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