: Rita Moreno says resilience and therapy helped her endure racism and sexual abuse in Hollywood
““I think I owe an enormous debt to psychotherapy. Without that, I wouldn’t be the Rita you know and love.” ”
That was acting legend Rita Moreno speaking to the Guardian. Moreno, 89, is running the media gauntlet this week ahead of the “West Side Story” remake hitting theaters on Dec. 10, as well as the documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” now playing on Netflix
In fact, the EGOT winner (as in, scoring Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards) who turns 90 the day after Stephen Spielberg’s anticipated “West Side Story” musical hits theaters, was trending among real-time Google searches for most of Monday morning thanks to her viral interviews on “60 Minutes” and the “Today” show, as well as a lengthy profile in the Guardian.
And this is likely because Moreno has been sharing candid accounts of her 70-year career, including the racism and sexual abuse that she endured, as well as her tabloid-ready relationships with icons like Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley.
“If you have been traumatized from the time you were a child to believe you were a ‘spic’, that you were a garlic-mouth, that you are not worthy, it takes a long time to get rid of that,” she told the Guardian. “I went into therapy wanting to get better.”
Her traumas included being raped by her agent when she first came to Hollywood as a teen. She said that she kept him on as her agent, however, because she was the breadwinner for her family — and she had to be able to keep working.
She also recalled being stalked by 20th Century Fox honcho Buddy Adler and the late Harry Cohn, the co-founder of Columbia Pictures — stories of sexual harassment by powerful men that resonate even more in light of the 2017 #MeToo movement revival. Indeed, sexual harassment at work has helped drive the gender wage gap, and can cost survivors $600 to $1.3 million over the course of their lifetimes, according to the Time’s Up Foundation and Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“I want women to know that all the awards in the world will never make up for the things I have experienced in my life,” she told “60 Minutes” interviewer Bill Whitaker. “The be-all and end-all is respect and self-respect, which took me a long time to earn.”
She also shared her frustration with being typecast in a series of roles that she described as “dusky maidens” or “men’s little island girls,” where her skin was darkened, and she was asked to speak in heavy, exotic accents.
“It hurts me to watch me doing stuff that is humiliating,” she told Whitaker. “I accepted a lot of those, because there was nothing else. And I took them with a lot of shame.”
““I want women to know that all the awards in the world will never make up for the things I have experienced in my life.””
And her Academy Award-winning role as Anita in the 1961 film adaptation of “West Side Story” still saw her typecast afterward. She said she was offered roles in lesser gangster movies.
But she was able to came out of “West Side Story” with the confidence to be more selective about which roles she took, she said. And this led her to take more roles in theater, television and one-woman shows — leading to her eventual EGOT status.
She also became an activist for women’s rights and the rights of minorities. She joined the 1963 March on Washington and attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Today, she’s a producer on Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” with music and lyrics written by the late Stephen Sondheim, and also plays a role in the movie that was written for her: Valentina, the widow of Doc, who was the candy store owner in the original film.
She said she sees signs that Hollywood is becoming more inclusive, although there is still a long way to go. “It’s important to make a note of the fact that [Tony] Kushner and [Steven] Spielberg made a huge deal of the fact every person playing a Latino had to be a Latino” in the “West Side Story” remake, she noted on “Today” on Monday.
“I think Hollywood has changed. I think there are still things yet to be addressed. The representation that Hispanics get is almost nil,” she told “60 Minutes.”
Moreno has also been dishing on some of her relationships, including her tumultuous time with Brando, who was an “incredible” lover, she told the Guardian — and dating Elvis Presley to make him jealous.
But she’s enjoying being alone in her 80s. “I love being by myself,” she told the Guardian. “It’s not hard to be alone. In fact, it’s great, if you like the person you live with.”