Hollywood’s leading ladies are often referred to as “goddesses.” It is surprising that very, very stars have actually been cast a goddesses of mythology in movies. It wasn’t until the 1950s when Italian production companies filmed some myths as muscle-action epics that those stories finally made it to the silver screen. But a decade earlier, two film musicals were made that did star Hollywood goddesses as goddesses of myth. Coincidentally they were released within a year of each other, “Down to Earth” in 1947 and “One Touch of Venus” in 1948.
Rita Hayworth was publicized by her studio, Columbia, as “The Love Goddess.” Her glorious Technicolor beauty and considerable dancing talent warranted the title. She was truly typecast as Terpsichore, the Goddess of Dance and perhaps never looked more breathtaking. The movie’s plot is simple, just an excuse for lots of entertaining musical numbers. Looking down from heaven, Terpsichore is appalled by jazzy dance, particularly by a honky-tonk Broadway show in production being directed by Larry Parks (of “The Jolson Story” fame). She decides to descend to earth, pass herself off as a mere mortal (but no moral was ever so stunning!) and uses her influence to class-up the show, replacing tap dancing with modern ballet. You guessed it. Such high tone dance flops and Terpsichore comes to realize that low-brow song and dance is not all that bad, after all. Rita’s dancing is energetic and sexy as always. Her wardrobe by Jean Louis is as glamorous as fashion gets. Advertisements for “Down to Earth” proclaimed that it starred “The Screens’ Most Gloriously Gorgeous Goddess.” For once, the ads didn’t exaggerate.
“One Touch of Venus” should have been a huge hit but it flopped. The 1948 film was ostensibly based on the Broadway hit of 1943 starring Mary Martin, but, as so often happens, the film version lost a lot in translation. For one thing, only a handful of the original 16 hit songs by Kurt Weill made it to the screen, and only one had the original lyrics. The show’s plotline was a sophisticated, witty variation of the Pygmalion theme. It was simplified into the tale of a wimpy window-dresser (played by Robert Walker) who kisses a statue of Venus, Goddess of Love, thus bringing her to life. Of course Venus has trouble adjusting to modern life, but her troubles are not amusing or interesting enough to make the movie sparkle. The only reason to view “One Touch of Venus” today is to worship the goddess-like good looks of Ava Gardner. Her acting leaves a lot to be desired. Her singing was dubbed. But that face and that body are nature’s great achievements.
Both Hollywood goddesses, Rita and Ava, were iconic beauties in their day and so it should be no surprise that both were subjects for paper doll books. Rita, in fact, inspired several paper doll books and a coloring book, too. Collectors take note: the Rita Hayworth book has been re-published and is available from Paperdollreview.com. Audiences today continue to worship stars on the screen. But where are the goddesses? Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Lopez cannot challenge Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner, the goddesses of Hollywood myth.