More than 500 mourners, including film greats, fans, relatives and friends, crowded into the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills on Monday to hear film star Rita Hayworth eulogized as a “sweet, kind, gentle lady” who was actually shy away from the cameras.
This recollection of Miss Hayworth, the Spanish dancer-turned-love goddess and one of the favorite pinups of GIs of World War II, was given by Jane Withers, a child actress in the 1930s and a friend of Miss Hayworth.
Miss Hayworth, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, which destroyed her speech and memory during the last years of her life, died Thursday in the New York residence of Princess Yasmin Khan Embiricos, her daughter from her marriage to Prince Aly Khan. Film biographers listed her age as 68.
Withers, her voice cracking with emotion, said Miss Hayworth, who was to become one of Hollywood’s hottest properties, was actually trembling with nervousness before the two of them began filming “Paddy O’Day” in 1935. The musical was one of Miss Hayworth’s first films.
“When I found how painfully shy she was, I was startled,” Withers said. She said she told Miss Hayworth that she had nothing to fear. Then, just before filming started, Withers said she held Miss Hayworth’s hand and said a prayer: “Lord, this is Rita and she’s afraid. . . . Please be with her because she’s special.”
Miss Hayworth went on to make 61 films in a career that spanned 37 years.
Present at the services and the burial at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City was her first daughter, Rebecca Welles, of Tacoma, Wash., born during Miss Hayworth’s marriage to actor-director Orson Welles, and Princess Yasmin.
Pallbearers included actors Glenn Ford, with whom she teamed in films in the 1940s, Tony Franciosa, Ricardo Montalban and Cesar Romero; Hermes Pan, a choreographer, and Phillip Luchenbill, a family friend.