Rita Hayworth via Graham Greene

I started to cull my books recently. I find it is a trap, because once you start to pull them out of their hiding places, you are apt to find the going slow, and the dipping into books you have long forgotten can be like visiting an old friend.

One such book pulled from a dark corner was ‘Travels with My Aunt”, by Graham Greene. Greene died in 1991, and his reputation has not faded, so much as receded into the background. Easily pigeon-holed as a ‘Catholic writer’ he is so much more. Anyway, I happened on this book, and found myself drawn down an interesting rabbit hole. Bear with me as I re-trace my steps.

Reading about his fictional aunt reminded me of what might be called a meme now, maybe a theme then; that of the rogue maiden aunt, who is wild and free, against all expectations. We have one in our family, but that is another story!

The name Auntie Mame sprang to mind, and having a minute on my hands, I googled the term. Were the aunts connected, had Greene lifted the character, was there an original book or was it all based on a movie?

The first entry was a YouTube film clip. It was of Rita Hayworth dancing, and her dancing was, to my untrained mind, marvellous. But more spectacular was the fact that Rita Hayworth could actually dance at all. I’d heard of her, but she was of the distant past. The next video was of her dancing with Fred Astaire. We’ve all heard of him, but he is very definitely last century. You know, the 1950’s called, and they want their tap shoes back. The song is called “The Shorty George”, and I defy anyone with a pulse not to be gobsmacked by their virtuosity, and the swinging charm of it all. See it here:

By now I was wasting time, so I decided to waste some more. I looked Rita Hayworth up in Wikipedia. Her biography is relatively straightforward, but with profound and disturbing facts, which are treated as incidental, almost skipped over.

From a very early age she was sexually abused by her father, and the abuse appears to have continued until at least early adulthood. She seems to have, in some ways, overcome this horrendous start, however, and managed to build a very successful career, over a long time. She was the most successful female actor of her generation.

She was battling dangerous demons however, and the entry tells a tale of monumental rages, raging alcohol abuse, and mental deterioration. Alzheimer’s Disease appears, and is almost welcomed, as an explanation for the steady decline in her physical and mental health. There is no speculation about the effects of her early abuse. It is quite shocking to read, with such a gap in her biography, and no modern sensibility about PTSD.

Of course she has been dead for thirty years now, but it seems that history has treated her roughly, and without due care and consideration. Her tale, to me, smacks of courage, character and indomitable will. Who knew her story in full?

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