Rita Moreno Has Time Only for the Truth

When Rita Moreno was sixteen, her mom introduced her to the Waldorf-Astoria to satisfy Louis B. Mayer, the omnipotent head of M-G-M. They had been advised to go to the penthouse, however, she recollects, they didn’t know which elevator button to press. “P.H.,” the concierge suggested. Moreno had dressed like her function mannequin, Elizabeth Taylor, with a cinched waist and manicured eyebrows. It labored: Mayer eyed her and exclaimed, “She looks like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor!” He signed her to a seven-year contract.

Since then, Moreno has change into certainly one of a handful of individuals with an EGOT: an Emmy (two, truly), a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. The Academy Award, after all, is for taking part in the sharp-tongued Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), and her exceptional profession stretches from the golden age of film musicals (“Singin’ in the Rain”) to Norman Lear’s latest reboot of his sitcom “One Day at a Time,” wherein she performed a bawdy Cuban grandmother. At eighty-nine, Moreno seems and acts half her age, and he or she’s not slowing down. In December, she seems in Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story,” and this week marks the launch of a documentary about her life, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” directed by Mariem Pérez Riera and executive-produced by Lear and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“I’d made a big promise to myself that, if I was going to do this, I was going to be as honest as I possibly could be,” Moreno advised me just lately, of committing her life story to movie. That meant revisiting its unhappier elements. When she bought to Hollywood, she was solid as one ethnic stereotype after one other—not simply spicy Latinas however easy Native American maidens and the Burmese ingénue in “The King and I.” Decades earlier than #MeToo, she was groped and harassed by {powerful} males and handled as a intercourse object onscreen. And, throughout her tumultuous eight-year affair with Marlon Brando, she survived a suicide try and a botched abortion. But Moreno has lived lengthy sufficient to inform the story her manner—and to see Hollywood reckon with its demons. We spoke just lately at The New Yorker Live, a month-to-month virtual-event collection for subscribers, and once more by Zoom. Our conversations have been mixed and edited for size and readability.

How has the pandemic been treating you?

I’m certainly one of the fortunate ones. It’s been a daunting yr, however it’s additionally been a solution to uncover issues like hummingbirds in my backyard, and gardening. I stay on a fantastic hill in Berkeley that overlooks all of the bridges, so I get the sunsets. And I’ve gotten rid of plenty of crap, as a result of I’m a collector. How did such a bit girl get a lot crap in her life?

What do you’ve got?

Clothing. Earrings. Necklaces. Accolades—and I’m truly eliminating a few of that stuff, too. Some awards are fairly ugly, you haven’t any thought. The ugliest ones are often fabricated from marble. I can simply see the garbageman saying, “Is she serious? I’m taking this home!”

Just a few years in the past, you wore your Oscar dress from 1962 once more at the Oscars. Do you save costumes and issues?

Yeah. What are you going to do with an Oscar costume, throw it away? It simply sat there in the closet. It didn’t actually have a plastic cowl over it. I did have it altered, as a result of I’m wider than I was. I believed I might get criticized. To my shock, lots of people simply liked it.

Where did you get it again in 1962?

I had it made in Manila once I was doing a film. It was after “West Side Story,” and it was a kind of World War Two motion pictures, the place I used to be taking part in one more unhappy island individual, a Filipina this time. I do not forget that MacArthur—Helen Hayes’s son? I can’t keep in mind his first title. That’s what occurs once you get to be this age—nouns have change into my mortal enemy. What did you ask me?

We had been speaking about your Oscar costume.

Oh, yeah. Anyway, it bought tons of publicity. And, now that the Academy Museum is about to open in L.A., I provided it to them, and it’s going to be on show.

At this yr’s Academy Awards, you bought the Elizabeth Taylor slot, presenting Best Picture. It was a very strange ceremony.

Wasn’t it weird? I watched the first half in one other room. My daughter and I, we had been on this superbly adorned foyer at the prepare station. I feel change is a good suggestion, however to alter it a lot, I feel, did it hurt. And then they modified the place of Best Picture, which is generally final, as a result of I suppose they had been pondering that Chadwick Boseman was in all probability going to win [Best Actor]. They took an enormous gamble that didn’t repay. I felt sorry for Anthony Hopkins, who the subsequent day did this apologia from Wales.

And now you’ve got this documentary. What does it really feel wish to be in your living-legend victory-lap section?

It doesn’t really feel like a victory lap, as a result of that’s not my factor. I don’t wish to get even with anyone. I’ve had plenty of unhealthy issues occur to me in the enterprise, even forgetting being Puerto Rican on this nation. But I made up my thoughts—and solely with psychotherapy, which I credit score for serving to me straighten out my sense of who I actually am—that I don’t wish to take pleasure in that form of “Well, what do you think of me now?” Actually, that felt good!

You left Puerto Rico once you had been a small youngster. Do you keep in mind something about the journey?

I keep in mind all the pieces. I keep in mind the storm at sea, quickly after we left Puerto Rico. Everybody in guidance went upstairs, pondering that we had been going to really feel higher, and in reality it was worse. I keep in mind a really younger girl singing to her child as the ship was rolling. And I keep in mind throwing up quite a bit.

You’ve described New York City as a reverse Oz, since you got here from lush Puerto Rico and out of the blue it’s the Depression-era Bronx. What was life like?

It was tough. The Puerto Rican diaspora had not occurred but, so there have been only a few Latino youngsters. When my mom put me into kindergarten, I didn’t know a phrase of English. I didn’t know what the hell was happening.

Growing up, do you keep in mind seeing any Hispanic actors onscreen, like Lupe Vélez?

I keep in mind seeing Lupe Vélez—the “Spitfire.” [Vélez starred in eight “Mexican Spitfire” films, playing the hotheaded Mexican singer Carmelita.] That’s what she was doing. I keep in mind pondering, I don’t suppose that’s humorous. My mother and I nonetheless went to see Spanish motion pictures in Spanish, so Vélez was in these. Dolores del Río, who was staggeringly lovely. A comic book actor named Cantinflas. And Pedro Armendáriz, Mr. Sexy—if there ever was an attractive Mexican man, ooh! He did Mexican Westerns, with the sombrero and the jangling spurs. But I used to be seeing largely American motion pictures.

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