When is a Genius Not a Genius?

By Sherry Goldberg

Too often the title of Genius or Wunderkind is given to young people who have had success in movies. With all due respect to the great Orson Welles, he made one of the worst decisions in the late 1940s.

Orson Welles became famous and infamous for both Citizen Kane, and The War of the Worlds. He spent most of his life trying to reach the same level of fame and success in the rest of his endeavors that he had with his earlier work. Citizen Kane was applauded for its originality, but seriously outraged William Randolph Hearst when Hearst took offense because he felt that Kane was modeled after him. The War of the Worlds made the whole country feel like we were being invaded by aliens. Welles was to be respected, and held in awe for his power and talent.

Ah . . . perhaps we should not hold people in such awe. We can respect their talent, but all of us are mere mortals and Orson Welles proved himself to be just that. He married the one and only beautiful and unique Rita Hayworth in the late 1940s. I suppose he was infatuated with her beauty and talent, as was the whole world. But, why he felt it necessary to change her is the real question.

In 1947, Rita and Orson made a movie called The Lady from Shanghai. The movie was never equal to Citizen Kane, but the real tragedy was how Orson altered his exquisite wife. In the 1940s, Rita was the pin-up of the decade for the men fighting overseas in World War II. Her movies, like Gilda, Salome and Cover Girl, proved that she could carry a movie all by herself. With all due respect to Glen Ford, it was Rita’s Gilda that everyone remembers today. What was it about that image that Rita projected?
Besides having an exquisite figure, Rita was a dancer and knew how to move. She could also sing, but what made her truly unique was her long red hair which she tossed around while belting out sexy numbers like “Put the Blame on Mame”. When Orson and Rita made The Lady from Shanghai, he decided he was going to cut Rita’s hair, and dye it blonde. Not only was this not becoming, it devastated her fans and it was totally unnecessary. I sometimes wonder if Orson was jealous of Rita’s sexually charismatic persona. Maybe this was a way to tone her down.

Later on, Rita divorced Orson and went back to her original look which made her famous and memorable. But, Rita was a very sensitive person, and I have to wonder if even she felt that this was a serious mistake letting Orson control her career to this extent. Rita will always be Rita. Her posters are memorable, beautiful and explain the force that was Rita Hayworth. Though she has been gone for many years, to those who love her, she was as beautiful inside as she was outside.

Perhaps Orson’s mistake is a lesson for all of us. When is a genius not a genius? We are all human. We are all gifted with certain genius, and certain failings. Perhaps we should not label others or ourselves as being better than anyone else. Every day we are put to different tests and the choices we make will reflect on what happens in our lives. As a wise man once said, “The garbage man is just as important as the celebrity. I can live without a celebrity but I can’t live without my garbage man.”