The 89-year-old EGOT-winning screen legend opens about numerous struggles through her celebrated and often-troubled life and career, from leaving her brother behind when her mother moved them from Puerto Rico to New York, facing harassment from Old Hollywood suits, being raped by her agent, having a botched abortion after being impregnated by Marlon Brando, and attempting suicide as a result.
“I made a promise to myself that I would be as honest and truthful as I could possibly be, and that’s exactly what happened,” Moreno tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview (watch above).
In the film, directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, Moreno bemoans the fact that after signing a contract with MGM as a teen, she was cast only in “island girl” and “dusky maiden” roles because of her ethnicity. She was only looked at as a sex object, she says, which drew her unwanted attention and assaults from powerful men in the business.
“The truth is, it never occurred to me not to withstand it,” Moreno says now. “I figured, and I was right, that that was how Hollywood was run and how it functioned. And I just went with the flow, as they say, not happily. And it’s the very thing that eventually drove me into psycho therapy, which is probably the best favor I ever did myself. You know, if you’re Latina, things are never great. At least then, especially. You just expect that.
“You hate it when they call you a sex object. And here’s the truth, and this is something I didn’t mention [in the film] only because I didn’t think about it. I would dress up in a very, very provocative way. I always wore tight, tight little dresses with my cute little bum. Too much makeup, usually. And the earrings and stuff, and I somehow never acknowledged that that wasn’t helping. On the other hand, as the #MeToo movement would say right now: Well, f**k them! ... You can dress any damn way you please. You can wear as many loop earrings, and as low-cut a neck as you want, and that’s also true.”
Despite the ethnic denigration and limitations she faced, Moreno eventually became one of Hollywood’s most treasured stars thanks to roles in films like The King and I (1956) and West Side Story (1961) and a surging late-career bounty of diverse roles. In 1977, Moreno became the first Latina (and at the time only third person ever) to achieve the vaunted EGOT, winning an Oscar for West Side Story in 1962, a Grammy for The Electric Company in 1972, a Tony for The Ritz in 1975 and an Emmy for The Muppet Show in 1977. (She’d win a second Emmy a year later for The Rockford Files.)
Moreno told us it’s the “O” that means the most.
“It has to be the Oscar, it has to be the Oscar for all the obvious reasons,” she says. “It’s the iconic support that you receive from your own industry. And that a Puerto Rican girl got this was really, really meaningful.”
Still, Moreno notes bias was so overwhelming and opportunities so limited in the industry that she couldn’t find work after winning an Oscar for playing Anita in West Side Story because she was only offered “gang things on lesser scale.”
“It broke my heart, it really broke my heart,” she says. “I thought, ‘Well, obviously it has nothing to do with talent.’”
As for her greatest triumph? “That I’m still alive and working, as a working actress,” says Moreno, who co-starred on the Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time from 2017 to 2020, will appear in a role specially created for her in Steve Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story (which she also executive produced) this fall and just filmed a cameo in a TV production of Wicked.
“That’s what’s so wonderful.”
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It is now playing.
—Video produced by Nurys Castillo and edited by Jimmie Rhee
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