Rita Moreno is a legend amongst legends. The EGOT winner is a cultural icon on the edge of 90 years old. She was also friends with Marlon Brando, and he gave her some interesting advice.
Early, Early Start
Moreno recently sat down with InStyle to discuss her entire career. She started dancing at 4 years old and moved to the United States a year later. She quickly stuck out and went to dance school. She was soon performing for audiences and dreamt of the big screen.
Her first idol was Elizabeth Taylor. Moreno says, “t didn’t occur to me that her skin was lighter or that she had violet eyes. We were around the same age, and she had such huge success, so my mom and I bought a waist cincher and did my hair and my eyebrows like hers.” The plan worked. When she met Louis B. Mayer of MGM he called her a “Spanish Elizabeth Taylor,” and was hired on the spot.
Tons Of Roles
Her early films didn’t set Moreno’s heart ablaze, although she did have a memorable role in the milestone film Singin’ In The Rain. “I accepted whatever parts were offered to me because there weren’t many roles for Latinas back then. Instead, they’d ask me to play a Native American or an Indian or an Arabian,” she says. She felt underestimated, and turned to Brando.
Brando and Moreno date off and on throughout the fifties and sixties. Quincy Jones later said the Godfather star would sleep with anyone, including James Baldwin, Richard Pryor, and Marvin Gaye. In any case, Brando told Moreno: “You really need to see a therapist.” Moreno laughs now, but says “he was absolutely right.”
Help Through Work
With therapy, Moreno was able to find life-changing help. Her next starring role in West Side Story earned her an Academy Award, becoming the first Latina to do so. Her community rejoiced, and she felt marvelous. When she meets folks touched by the film, like Angelina Jolie, Moreno says “I still find it astonishing.”
She’s Back To The Original
Moreno was asked to work on West Side Story’s remake by Steven Spielberg personally. Her thought was comical: “How am I still functioning in this business long enough to see a remake happen almost 60 years later?” Spielberg wanted to help correct the missteps of the original in terms of representation, so Moreno felt the project was in good hands.
West Side Story is receiving rave reviews, and Moreno both stars in and produced it. Brando’s advice is good for any of us, and it clearly helped Moreno out.
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