Rita Moreno pops up on my pc display screen in a shiny pink hat, big pendant necklace and tortoiseshell glasses. “Properly, right here I’m in my full glory,” she says from her house in Berkeley, California. And wonderful she positive is. Moreno is a few weeks in need of her ninetieth birthday, however look at her and you’d knock off 20 years. Hear to her and you’d knock off one other 50.
Can I want you an advance joyful birthday, I ask. “Sure, you possibly can. Isn’t it thrilling?” Moreno is among the appearing greats. However she might have been a lot better. She is certainly one of solely six ladies to have bagged the Egot (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards), alongside Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg and Liza Minnelli. But she has spent a lot of her profession battling typecasting or just not being solid at all.
Nonetheless, her 80s have been golden years. She has been working recurrently in TV – notably because the fabulously flirtatious grandmother within the Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time. In the meantime, December marks two big occasions (aside from the massive day). Rita Moreno: Only a Lady Who Determined to Go for It, an excellent warts-and-all documentary about her, is launched within the UK on 6 December. It’s a testomony to her exceptional life and arresting honesty – and the inglorious historical past of sexual abuse and racism within the movie business.
A number of days later, she options in one of many cinema occasions of the yr – Steven Spielberg’s remake of the Bernstein/Sondheim traditional West Side Story, launched 60 years after Moreno mesmerised audiences as Anita, the girlfriend of the gang chief Bernardo. This time, she performs a personality specifically created for her by the movie’s scriptwriter, Tony Kushner – Valentina is the widow of Doc, who ran the candy store within the authentic.
Moreno was born in Puerto Rico to a seamstress and a farmer. When she was 4, her mom took her to the US seeking a greater life, forsaking Rita’s father (whom she noticed once more solely as soon as) and brother. They settled in Manhattan. From her earliest days, she remembers being known as a “spic”. Dancing was her salvation. At six, she made her skilled debut at Greenwich theatre. She dropped out of faculty at 15 and by 16 was the household’s breadwinner. In 1950, at 18, she signed to MGM; a yr later, she moved to twentieth Century Fox.
Moreno had a brutal introduction to showbusiness. As a young person, she was raped by her agent. The shameful factor, she says, is that she stored him on as a result of she thought he was the one individual within the business searching for her. Moreno met him lately for the primary time in 70 years. “After I noticed who it was, I went white. I froze. He mentioned: ‘My spouse would really like to meet you; would you could have lunch with us?’” For some motive, she mentioned sure. “I used to be inspecting each inch of his face and his soul and, when his spouse went to the toilet, he got here again to the day he raped me and mentioned: ‘, I at all times wished I had made you pregnant.’ She repeats his phrases, nonetheless shocked. “I used to be so horrified that every one I used to be ready to say was: ‘You’re a bit of labor,’ and I bought up and left.”
Quickly after being raped, she was launched to the infamous sexual predator Harry Cohn, the co-founder of Columbia Photos, at a celebration. “I had simply met the person and he mentioned, along with his spouse within the room, by the way in which: ‘You higher be careful – I’d like to fuck you.’ That will have been the third time I’d heard that phrase in my life, and I stood there and giggled. I didn’t know what to say. However I used to be horrified.” If Cohn was alive at present, does she assume he could be in jail for intercourse offences? “Sure, I believe Harvey Weinstein would have had firm. He had a dreadful repute.”
Then there was Buddy Adler, who ran twentieth Century Fox. “He discovered my telephone quantity and began to name me on a regular basis. It changed into a stalking state of affairs.” Did she realise beforehand what went on in Hollywood? “I had no thought.”
Nor did she have any thought concerning the roles she would find yourself taking part in. “Illiterate, immoral characters – males’s little island women,” Moreno says. Her pores and skin could be darkened; she could be instructed to converse traces equivalent to: “Why you no love me no extra? Why you want white lady?” in an “unique” accent. She discovered it humiliating. In 1952, she bought a cameo in Singin’ within the Rain because the silent film star Zelda Zanders. Moreno hoped this might be her escape, however she was quickly again taking part in dusky maidens.
In 1953, at 21, Moreno started a tumultuous on-off eight-year relationship with Marlon Brando, regarded by many at the time as essentially the most fascinating man on the earth. She was obsessive about him and has in contrast him to cocaine. “He had a beautiful intelligence. He was the funniest individual I’ve ever met in my life. He was not solely well-known, he was the king of attractive actors.” Was he a very good lover? “Oh sure! That a part of it was unimaginable. That’s all I’ll say. No different particulars.” Her greatest lover ever? “Ever!”
However he was additionally monstrous. Moreno thought he couldn’t love anyone else as a result of he liked himself a lot. When she turned pregnant, he made her have an abortion. Through the course of their relationship, he had quite a few affairs and married twice. He seduced everybody he met, she says – even his psychiatrist.
She tried to get her revenge by dating 25-year-old Elvis Presley. “I used to be nonetheless seeing Marlon. I used to be attempting to make him jealous after I discovered some lingerie in his home.” Was Elvis as attractive as Brando? “Not in 1,000,000 years. He was very candy, however no.” She says he was shy and bumbling. Their evenings would inevitably conclude with a slipshod fumble on the ground, as a totally trousered Presley gyrated in opposition to her whereas Moreno waited for extra. She gave up on him. In the meantime, Brando was unchanged.
Was Elvis as attractive as Brando? Not in 1,000,000 years. He was very candy, however no
Her self-belief, already low, reached a nadir. Shortly after filming West Side Story in 1961, Moreno tried to kill herself at Brando’s house. She would have succeeded if Brando’s assistant hadn’t discovered her and rushed her to hospital. “I used to be instructed I used to be crying on a regular basis I used to be unconscious,” she says. Did she actually need to die? “It wasn’t carried out for drama, that’s for positive. What I actually needed to do was kill the dangerous Rita who was at all times getting me in bother, nevertheless it turned out should you’re going to kill the dangerous Rita, you’re additionally going to kill the nice one.” She selected life and dumped Brando.
West Side Story was big and Moreno was phenomenal as Anita. Right here was a girl forward of her time within the macho ganglands of New York – attractive and sexual, proud and principled, advanced and compromised. It’s not possible not to fall in love along with her.
Moreno says she fell in love with Anita, too. “I believed: ‘Wow – she’s what I’ve at all times needed to be!’” I assumed you had been like her, I say. She laughs and insists she was weak and subservient and couldn’t have been extra completely different. However I’ve seen chatshows from then during which you appear so positive of your self. “You might be perceiving that Rita Moreno I introduced to the world. What was I gonna do, say: ‘Actually, I’m a weak individual’? No, that was the persona. I’m now that individual, nevertheless it took me a really, very very long time to grow to be her.”
She gained an Oscar for West Side Story and was satisfied she had lastly cracked the movie business – then she didn’t make one other film for seven years. That’s unbelievable, I say; was it your alternative? “It was my alternative, as a result of I used to be being supplied such crappy stuff. I used to be solely supplied gang films on a approach lesser scale and it was like the identical fucking battle once more. I couldn’t consider it. And it broke my coronary heart. It. Completely. Broke. My. Coronary heart. I believed: ‘I’ll look forward to one thing higher,’ and one thing higher stored not coming. It was horrific.”
Have issues improved for Latino actors? “Latino persons are nonetheless horribly under-represented. It has modified, however nowhere close to as a lot as for the black group. The black group in movies has carried out an unimaginable job of getting themselves within the image and we have now a great distance to go.”
Why have Latinos struggled a lot? “I believe a part of the reason being as a result of, in contrast to the black group, we don’t primarily come from America. We come from every kind of nations and we’ve siloed ourselves relatively than supporting one another, as we should always have. We nonetheless consider ourselves as Argentinian or Puerto Rican or Mexican relatively than Hispanic. Till we recover from that and grow to be one huge great group, we’re nonetheless going to have issues.”
Moreno was focused lately by Latino activists after defending her good friend Lin-Manuel Miranda from criticism that he had not solid sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latinos within the movie of his musical Within the Heights. “I mentioned: boy did they decide on the mistaken individual, ’trigger that is the man who wrote a play known as Hamilton the place a lot of the solid was black and tan.” Equally, it felt as if they’d picked on the mistaken lady – in any case, Moreno has campaigned for minorities all through her grownup life, marched on Washington in 1963 and stood only some metres from Martin Luther King when he made his “I’ve a dream” speech.
However she took on board what her critics mentioned. “I believed their timing sucked and they had been strident, however they did have a degree.” As a completely fashionable lady, she apologised on Twitter with grace and humour for failing to acknowledge the necessity to be “extra inclusive of the Afro-Latino group”, concluding: “See, you CAN train this previous canine new tips.”
Maybe those that attacked Moreno weren’t absolutely conscious of how intently the problem resonates along with her. After West Side Story, and regardless of the Oscar, she roughly gave up on the flicks as a result of her alternatives had been so restricted. As a substitute, she centered on theatre, TV, one-woman reveals and activism. The breadth and piecemeal nature of her profession are mirrored within the different awards that make up her Egot – a Tony for enjoying the talentless singer Googie Gomez in The Ritz, two Emmys for The Muppet Present and The Rockford Information and a Grammy for the youngsters’s TV present The Electrical Firm.
In 1965, she married Leonard Gordon, a heart specialist. That they had one daughter, the actor Fernanda Gordon, and stayed collectively till he died in 2010. Probably the most shifting, and surprising, a part of the documentary is when Moreno talks about what a beautiful man Gordon was – then says she ought to have left him lengthy earlier than he died, as a result of he was so controlling. “I used to be with him to the final, together with a month in hospital the place I slept on a cot and was with him 24/7,” she says now. “It’s what you do once you love and respect any individual.” However she admits that, as quickly as he died, she felt liberated.
“I bought up, reduce a lock of his hair, which I nonetheless have – lovely silver hair – and as I left I finished at the door and I regarded at him. He was so small and slender and white, and I believed: ‘How is it that little wizened individual made me so sad? The place did he get that energy?’ It was a thriller to me.”
When she bought house, she requested her assistant, Judy, to pour her an enormous glass of wine. “I sat on the patio, took within the solar and there was this enormous sense of aid. After I awakened the following morning in mattress and turned on the information on the TV, I mentioned to myself: ‘Oh my God, I can do that for the remainder of the day if I would like to. I can simply rise up and go to the toilet and pour myself a cup of tea and get again into mattress and keep right here.’ I used to be astonished and I liked each second of it. I revelled in it.”
What had been stopping her doing this beforehand? “It was in my husband’s head and in my head. I’ve at all times been a newshound, so I had the information on continually and it drove him loopy. I believe it was additionally a approach of getting firm.
“He didn’t just like the raucous aspect of me and I like that aspect of me. I believe I’m humorous as hell and I believe I’m cute and I believe I’m mischievous. I know I’m mischievous. And that’s the sort of factor he discouraged, and that makes me very unhappy, as a result of he was lacking out on one thing fairly great about me.” It’s nice to hear you speak about your self, like this, I say. “, I believe I owe an enormous debt to psychotherapy. With out that, I wouldn’t be the Rita you understand and love.” She giggles.
It took her years of remedy to begin liking herself, she says. “You probably have been traumatised from the time you had been a baby to consider you had been a ‘spic’, that you simply had been a garlic-mouth, that you’re not worthy, it takes a very long time to eliminate that. That’s why remedy so usually takes so lengthy, since you’re attempting to eliminate that trash earlier than you possibly can cope with the you that wishes to get higher. I went into remedy wanting to get higher, understanding that ultimately I had a illness. And the illness was Rita hates Rita.”
These days are lengthy gone. These days, she will be able to settle for how particular she is and how a lot she has meant to so many individuals. After her relationship with Brando ended, they rebuilt their friendship and remained in contact all through his life (a lot to her husband’s chagrin). “There was at all times this attachment between us until he died. Each now and then, he’d name me and he would say to me: ‘You had been the one lady in my life who was ready to make that proper flip.’” What did he imply? “That I didn’t want him any extra. That I discovered a way of dignity about myself.”
She stops speaking, seems slightly distant for a second, then smiles contentedly. “Oh boy!” she says. “I do know now that he did truly love me. And after I realised that, I used to be so joyful. It meant a lot to me.” When did she realise? “Oh, approach after it was over. Then, if I wanted proof, it was within the newspapers that there was just one image of a girl in his bed room and that was me.” She is nearly proper. The New York Publish reported that the one piece of film memorabilia present in Brando’s house after his demise was an image of him within the 1969 movie The Night time of the Following Day, locked in a passionate embrace with a unadorned Moreno.
Since her husband’s demise, she has carried out simply as she fancies and is getting to be extra herself by the day. Within the documentary, her daughter mentions the time they had been at a fundraiser and no cash had been raised, so Moreno supplied to prepare dinner for 4 individuals and flash her breasts for $10,000. She bought the $10,000. When requested in 2017 to play the grandmother in One Day at a Time, she agreed on the proviso that they made the character sexual. Why was that so essential to her? “Being attractive? As a result of no person my age is ever regarded as any individual who has ovaries. You’ll be able to’t have a child, however you possibly can nonetheless play for attractive.”
She has lived by herself for a decade. It amazes her how many individuals assume she is lonely. “I like being on my own,” she says. “It’s not onerous to be alone. The truth is, it’s nice, should you just like the individual you reside with.”
Rita Moreno: Only a Lady Who Determined to Go for It’s obtainable on digital obtain from 6 December. West Side Story is in UK cinemas from 10 December
Within the UK and Eire, Samaritans could be contacted on 116 123 or by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]. Within the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is on 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the disaster help service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Different worldwide helplines could be discovered at befrienders.org