Bookmark and Share

CHAMPAGNE SAFARI: Hollywood Goddess' short-lived Honeymoon with the Persian Prince




with the Persian Prince



" Every man I knew went to bed with Gilda... and woke up with me. "

-Rita Hayworth


" After all, a girl is - well, a girl. It's nice to be told you're successful at it. "

                                                                                                            -Rita Hayworth


In an age where old Hollywood glamour is being gradually superseded by the cheap and often vulgar portrayals of overnight Reality TV starlets like Paris Hilton, the simple evocation of the quintessential Hollywood Star Rita Hayworth should strike every movie buffs imagination. Hayworth was certainly one of the most photogenic Stars whose presence in the Charles Vidor's  Gilda opposite Glen Ford  hypnotized generations of movie goers in her black leather dress, swinging her gloves to the tune of Green Moon. No other Love Goddess of the Silver screen has matched her since nor has Sharon Stone's performance in Basic Instinct crossing her pretty legs truly outshined the class and beauty of Hollywood's Forbidden Fruit whose love story with an exiled Persian Prince was too make headlines in the International press. The dreamlike romance with an exotic touch contrasted so radically with the gloomy news of a  Post WWII World about to be once again divided by the new East-West rivalries of the upcoming Cold War...

First attracting the attention of film producers as part of the dance team The Dancing Cansinos, Hayworth was signed first by Fox Studios in 1935, then freelanced for several years before signing with Columbia Pictures. After a name change from Rita Cansino to Rita Hayworth, and painful electrolysis to raise her hairline, Rita made a splash as part of the ensemble cast in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939). The Strawberry Blonde with James Cagney followed in 1941. Finally her sizzling "other woman" part in Rouben Mamoulian's Blood and Sand (1941) with Tyrone Power solidified her new-found stardom.


Leading lady in many films co-starring with Glen Ford in "Gilda", Orson Welles
( former husband) in the "Lady of Shangai", and Cary Grant in "Only Angels
have Wings."


Hayworth's fame as a beautiful redhead arose from this Technicolor film. The "love goddess" image was cemented with Bob Landry's Life Magazine photograph of her (kneeling on a bed in a nightgown), which caused a sensation and became (at five million copies) one of the most requested wartime pinups. During World War II she ranked with Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, Hedy Lamarr, and Lana Turner as the pinup girls most popular with servicemen. Rita would soon become Columbia's biggest star of the 1940s, under the watchful eye of studio chief Harry Cohn.

Her erotic appeal was most notable in Gilda (1946), a film noir directed by Charles Vidor, which encountered some difficulty with censors. This role - in which Hayworth performed a legendary one-glove striptease - made her into a cultural icon as the ultimate femme fatale. Other films include The Lady from Shanghai (1948) with husband Orson Welles, The Loves of Carmen (1948) with Gilda costar Glenn Ford, Salome (1953) with Stewart Granger, and the 1953 remake of Miss Sadie Thompson. Rita left her film career in 1948 to marry Prince Aly Khan son of Aga Khan III (1877-1957), the head of the Ismaili Muslims, whose ancestor was no other than the infamous 12th century zealot Hassan Sabbah leader of the Sect of the Assassins. The Ismaili's had long given up on religious zealotry and preached a more tolerant and philanthropic Islam. Combining a spiritual philosophy with a pragmatic approach to business they were more often associated to the Jet Set than a truly reigning royal family. Married several times and subsequently divorced  Prince Aly Khan had the reputation of an insatiable playboy running several horse races including the prestigious Prix D'Ispahan. Little could he imagine that his heart would once again be enchained by that of a Hollywood Goddess.

The love affaire had all the ingredients of a Hollywood movie too and soon Hollywood Publicists were to spread the rumor of a movie being shot on the glamorous couple.

The Playboy Prince Aly was related to many celebrities before meeting Rita Hayworth,
such as
Gene Tierney, Maria Callas, or Yvonne De Carlo and was an avid horse
race investor creating the world famous Ispahan tournament. Rita's marriage to
Aly Khan led to a daughter Yasmin and made world headlines.

Nowadays known as "The Lost Film of Rita Hayworth", Champagne Safari (also known as Safari So Good) came about when Prince Aly Khan invited film director Jackson and Lola Leighter along on he and Rita's extended trips through Africa to keep Rita company. They were old friends of Rita's, and Aly and Jackson got the idea of making a documentary film. Jackson brought his equipment and filmed their travels throughout Africa and the Far and Middle East. This is not a movie. They are like home movies, originally shot in color (though now available only in black and white due to film deterioration). You don't hear them speaking. Instead, there is narration as you see footage of Rita, Prince Aly Khan, The Leighter's and the natives of the places they visit. There are no glamorous costumes, there's Rita looking comfortable in jeans and a sweater, sightseeing, there's Rita joking around for the camera, and showing ! that she was just as beautiful off screen as she was on.


Champagne Safari was released a year prior to the 1953 Blockbuster Mogambo
a love triangle with Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly also set in a Safari.
Prince Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth's courtship was the cover story of the
1949 n°9 issue of Paris Match. ©MGM & ©Paris MATCH  

The Champagne Safari begins through Pompeii and continues in Athens, where they view the Acropolis. Next the travelers are off to Egypt to meet Prince Aly Khan. Nairobi is the next stop, where they meet Aly's people and see how the natives live. After that they visit various Ismaili communities where the Prince and Princess are paid homage everywhere they go. Later, the journey continues with the Leighter's going to Kenya. Aly and Rita are supposed to meet them there but by then their personal problems had escalated, and she stayed behind while Aly went to Kenya. The documentary ends with Rita and the Leighter's heading back to America. The marriage was over. Rita ended the more than three month long trip and headed back to Hollywood.



Hollywood Goddess : Rita's Femme Fatale Image was enhanced dramatically through her films. An image that ultimately also hurt her love life.  


Unfortunately, Rita and Aly's marriage reached the end of the road during the making of Champagne Safari. Rita sailed back to America. Her ship docked in New York harbor on April 2, 1951. Even though the marriage had ended, the footage Leighter photographed was later made into a 60-minute color documentary film and given limited theatrical release. Given the advertising campaign of "The Second Honeymoon of the two most talked about lovers in the world!", it played for a time in a few theaters. It didn't do very well, but it's interesting footage of one of the century's most celebrated couples.  

Beauty and Happiness do not rhyme and tragically both the Persian Prince and the Hollywood Goddess were to die in different yet tragic circumstances.


After about 1960, Hayworth suffered from extremely early onset of Alzheimer's disease, which was not diagnosed until 1980; she continued to act in films until the early 1970s and made a well-publicized appearance on The Carol Burnett Show near the end of her career. Lynda Carter starred in a 1983 bio pic of her life. She lived in an apartment at the San Remo in New York City.


Following her death from Alzheimer's in 1987 at age 68, she was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. As for Prince Aly his death in 1960 followed an  absurd automobile accident. His death resembled his own life that of a Fast and Furious playboy.  His girlfriend, the French model Bettina (Simone Micheline Graziani), was with in the car at the time of the crash and survived. His remains were removed to Damascus, Syria, on July 11, 1972.


Yasmin Aga Khan daughter of Rita and Aly


There is nevertheless a happy conclusion to the doomed marriage in the  person of Princess Yasmin the only daughter of Rita and Aly. Originally  interested in operatic singing, the young princess  later influenced by her mother's death from Alzheimer's disease, and her father's family's philantropic concerns serves on the Board of Directors, as Vice Chairman, of the United States Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Association.


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian. He also operates as Paris based PR & Press for WAALM® 2nd annual Awards 2006.



© Copyright 2006 (All Rights Reserved)