Does Hilaria Baldwin want to be Rita Hayworth?

The controversy over Hilaria Baldwin misrepresenting herself as Spanish reminds us that the United States is the country of reinvention and performers – she’s a former dancer – like to recreate their images.

But it’s also ironic. Today people are proud of their heritage, whatever it is, or try to copy those who are not white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.

In the old days, however, the opposite was true. Witness Marguerita Carmen Cansino, a Brooklyn-born brunette whose Spanish father and Irish-English-American mother were dancers. Marguerita would follow in their footsteps, then eclipse them as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, the “love goddess” of the 1940s and No. 1 GI pinup in World War II.

What’s that? You don’t recognize the name? That’s because Columbia Pictures’ head Harry Cohn thought it – and her brunette beauty – too Mediterranean, too exotic, too limiting for motion pictures. So the studio lightened her tresses to auburn, plucked her hairline to give her a higher forehead and changed her name to her nickname and her mother’s maiden name – Rita Hayworth.

But Hayworth – memorable as the femme fatale or, at least, the woman men never understood and thus could never attain (“The Lady From Shanghai” with former hubby Orson Welles, “Gilda” and four other films with Glenn Ford) – had her revenge in the nonoperatic movie of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” also with Ford. In “The Loves of Carmen,” she tosses off Spanish phrases and flamencos her way through any number of dances – proving that what you really are always shines through.

– Georgette Gouveia

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