Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Lovely Rita, the Legendary Moreno
Expanded Edition of 11-14-07 Windy City Times Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Moreno today as she appears in her new series, "Cane," hilarious and triumphant on stage and screen as Googie Gomez in 1976's
The Ritz, a love scene with former lover Marlon Brando on the set of 1968's The Night of the Following Day*, the iconic Anita,
Moreno's Oscar winning role with Natalie Wood as Maria in 1961's West Side Story
“This is Rita More-n-o,” the unmistakable Rita Moreno quickly corrects the properly chastised interviewer who has called asking to
speak to Rita More-een-o. That embarrassing gaffe out of the way, the sensational multi-talented Moreno is ready to talk about
some of the highlights of her incredible life. They range from her Oscar winning performance as Anita in 1961’s West Side Story to
her current role as the matriarch of a wealthy American-Latino dynasty in the CBS drama “Cane.” Moreno will be in town for one
night only concert on Saturday, November 17 at Centre East in Skokie at 8pm. 847-673-6300 or www.centreeast.org for tickets and
Highlights from her interview with Windy City Times:
WINDY CITY TIMES (WCT): Let’s start off with your show. Can you tell me about it?
RITA MORENO (RM): It’s a show that has a lot of Broadway in it. It has jazz, blues, standards and several wonderful numbers in
Spanish. I think what makes it special, also, are the anecdotes that I relate. Several of them have to do with the person who wrote
the music or the lyrics or the person who originally sang it. I do a tribute to Peggy Lee in a couple of songs.
WCT: What do you do of hers?
RM: I’m doing “Black Coffee” and “Fever” and “Fever” is wonderful because it’s kind of sexy and naughty and saucy and I do it on
top of the piano. It’s great fun.
WCT: And I assume you’re going to do something from West Side Story.
RM: Well, how do you do that by yourself? You can’t sing “America” by yourself.
WCT: Or “A Boy Like That” huh?
RM: You can’t and if I sing “Maria” they’ll think I’m weird. Actually I would love to sing “Maria” one day and I probably will. I think
it's perfectly legitimate for a woman to sing about another woman.
WCT: Sure. I’m all ears and I’d guess an audience would be, too.
RM: (laughs) Okay.
WCT: Well, speaking about West Side Story, it’s been 46 years—
RM: Imagine that!
WCT: Imagine that. 46 years since that fabulous movie. When you look back now what do you remember about the filming?
RM: I remember laughing a lot and never working so hard in my entire life. I remember coming home after rehearsals and coming
in the front door of my house and just leaning against the door and not being able to move another inch for, oh, 20 minutes, I was
just so tired. Rehearsals with Jerry Robbins are quite an amazing feat and worth every ounce and every calorie because he was
really just brilliant and I feel so honored to have been a part of that endeavor.
WCT: What do you remember about working with Natalie Wood?
RM: I remember that she was aloof and I think she was uncomfortable with all of us. I think that at some point – and it said so in
her biography, too – that she thought that she was way out of her league and, indeed, she was. I think she regretted taking the
role. So, she wasn’t terribly comfortable with any of us.
WCT: You also hear a lot of stories about Jerry Robbins being a very difficult guy.
RM: He was very difficult and he was very cruel and he was really rather sadistic but for whatever reasons, I never got the brunt of
that, I’m happy to say. I’m really not entirely sure why. I asked George Chakiris recently, “Why do you think he didn’t pick on me?”
and he said, “The only thing I can come up with is that you worked so hard.” I was the only one of this company that hadn’t danced
in forever and I had not and not only that, I had not ever done that kind of dancing. I was a Spanish dancer and at the point that I
got that role I hadn’t danced in about 15 years.
WCT: A long time.
RM: Oh yes which is why when I say I was tired, I killed myself. Possibly he really saw the hard work because whenever people took
breaks I never did. I was still practicing the steps. I guess that’s why I was so tired. I never, ever took a real break and that
happened also while we were shooting and I remember one of the extra dancers saying to me many years later, “I looked at you
and your feet never stopped moving. Everyone would take a break while they’d set up the lights and you’d sit for about five minutes
and then you’d get up again and go into a corner and practice.”
WCT: Is that because you wanted to prove yourself?
RM: I wanted to be as good as I could be and I thought I could never be as proficient as the other dancers were. They were
younger and they’d been dancing all their lives. I was the old lady of the troop and I had not. It just meant an awful lot to me to at
least try to keep up with the other kids.
WCT: That was a real career change for you.
RM: It turned out to be, yes.
WCT: I’m also a huge fan of your work in a little known movie you did, The Night of the Following Day in 1969 with Marlon Brando.
RM: (delighted) Oh really? You like that movie?
WCT: Yes – you’re terrific in it. That’s a film that a lot of people don’t know about.
RM: I know; what a shame. It’s the last time, also, that Marlon really look beautiful. It’s the very last time. Right after that he
began to gain weight and balloon.
WCT: You were romantically linked with Brando at the time, right?
RM: Not at the time. We were together for about eight years prior to that. At the time that I did Night of the Following Day I was
already married and had a little girl.
WCT: So the romance was over. What was Brando like to work with as an actor?
RM: Well I loved it. He improvised a lot and all of the scenes that we did together were improvised and I really enjoyed that. The
dialogue that we made up, I felt, was better than what was on paper. But he could drive directors absolutely crazy. Inevitably
somewhere in the middle of the movie he would stop talking to them because he really hated what he was doing and these certainly
weren’t great films. He knew it in advance and he would do these films anyway. He literally did it for the money. In that particular
instance I became the go-between. I would go to the director and say, “Marlon says…” (laughs hard) and then I would go back to
Marlon and say, “The director says…”
WCT: Well it worked. It’s a film with great performances. The scene where he accuses you of being on drugs again (Moreno plays
a reformed drug addict in the movie).
RM: Wasn’t that a good one?
WCT: Yes, terrific and then when you fight when he comes in and you’re in that bathtub...
RM: Well he slapped me so hard that I got furious in the middle of the scene and let him have it and I attacked him and it’s funny,
because he has such a frightened look on his face. It was the last thing that he expected. I stayed in character but I really started
to scream at him and slap him and kick him and punch him (laughs). I mean he really slapped me so hard.
WCT: Well that one’s on DVD now so I’m hoping a new audience finds it.
WCT: Then you did another movie which so many gay men love, love, love.
RM: The Ritz!
WCT: Yes, yes. Googie Gomez is in the house.
RM: It’s on Broadway now with Rosie Perez in my part.
WCT: You won a Tony for that and got a Golden Globe nomination. Have you seen the new production? Do you plan to?
RM: No but only because I’m too busy doing my series here (in California).
WCT: Oh right, “Cane,” which I want to talk about in a minute. But can you talk about Googie Gomez for a moment, which is one of
your signature characters?
RM: Well Googie came about because at the time I was on Broadway with Jimmy Coco doing a play called “Last of the Red Hot
WCT: The Neil Simon play.
RM: Yes and Jimmy just thought that this character I had invented was so hilarious and she was born, by the way, sometime during
rehearsals for West Side Story. During breaks gypsies, particularly, tend to cut up. They light up a cigarette – it’s hard to believe –
and they start doing bits and I said, “Okay, here’s one. Here’s this Puerto Rican girl auditioning for the bus and truck of “Gypsy””
and then I did (DOES GOOGIE), “I had a dream” and everybody fell on the floor and I amused myself. She still strikes me funny.
Anyway, from then on I started to do her here and there, you know, just out of the blue or at a party or at dinner, whatever. I’d
suddenly find something that made me laugh that she could do and I used to do her backstage and Jimmy Coco just adored this
character and we were at a party that he gave at his apartment in New York and Terrence McNally who was a friend of his attended.
Jimmy said, “Do that crazy Puerto Rican” and I did “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and I did the Player King speech from “Hamlet”
which is really hilarious (SHE DOES SOME OF THIS AND I’M LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY). Then I did a little bit from “Hiawatha,” (“From
dee chores of Gitcheegoomeee…”). (NOW WE’RE BOTH LAUGHING).
Anyway, Terrence, who I didn’t even know, fell off his chair; he just thought that was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen. See,
most people don’t know that she’s my invention.
WCT: I didn’t know that, that’s lovely.
RM: He obviously doesn’t feel too free to say that either (laughs). So, at the end of the evening as I was leaving he came to me at
the door and said, “I am going to write a part for that character” and I thought, “Oh yeah, sure, I’ve never had that kind of luck.”
Then about a year later my husband ran into Jimmy Coco on the street in New York and Jimmy said, “Did you get the script yet of
“The Tubs?” and he said, “The what?” and Jimmy said, “The Tubs, The Tubs, Terrence wrote this part for Rita.” Well, about three
days later we received the script and it was called “The Tubs” then and her name then was Rita “Googie” Gomez and he did a work in
progress production of it at Yale and I wasn’t available so Carmen DeLavallade did it. Then he got the backing to do a Broadway
show and asked if I would do it and I said, “you betcha!”
WCT: Do you do any Googie in your show?
RM: I stuck her in my act about two years ago and took it out again but she’s fun to do. It’s hard to do without those two, horrible
boy dancers and by the way, that was my own choreography! I think it takes a real dancer to destroy dancing (laughs).
WCT: My best friend loves Googie more than anything and years ago, on Halloween, he got dressed up as guess who?
RM: That’s not unusual and you know what, I hope you will encourage the gay community to come and see the show.
WCT: Well speaking of gay men and the gay community as a whole. Has the support of the gay community been important to your
career; does it continue to be important?
RM: Well, let’s say that I’ve been important to them as well. I did one of the original, first time AIDS benefits at the Hollywood
Bowl. I don’t even remember the date of it anymore but I do remember that a year later Elizabeth Taylor became involved in the
cause and that was a wonderful thing. But it was such an unusual thing at the time. Can you imagine this now that all the press
showed up to ask me, “Why are you doing this?” (laughs) and of course my answer was, “Why wouldn’t I do this?” So, I think we’ve
been mutually beneficial to each other over the years.
WCT: I’ll second that. You’re one of the nine folks to win the quartet – Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Oscar. How does it feel to be in
such elite company?
RM: I think it’s pretty fabulous but I think it’s especially fabulous that I’m also a member of a minority, a Latina. That is what
makes it really, really special. I’m very, very proud of that. I am not casual about it. Maria Shriver called me a couple of weeks
ago and asked if they could induct me into the California Hall of Fame this December. She and her husband get very involved in it.
They did it last year with Clint Eastwood and Billie Jean King. I was thrilled because along with myself, they’re honoring Tiger Woods,
Robert Mondavi, Steve Jobs, Willie Mays, and Elizabeth Taylor. That’s on December 5th. Isn’t that amazing?
WCT: It’s a well deserved honor.
RM: It’s lovely what they do – aside from inducting you they have a museum which is the California Museum for History, Women &
the Arts. They have these wonderful glass showcases where you give them your memorabilia for a year. They’re going to have my
Oscar gown and my costume from “America” and all my awards and there are plenty of those.
WCT: Is there any chance where you look over this memorabilia that it sparks a desire for you to write your memoirs?
RM: Yes. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off. It’s just so daunting. Just the thought of it makes me weary but somebody
convinced me recently that I really owe it to my community. That’s the way they put it and when they put it that way I thought,
“Well, I guess that’s true.” Because in my community, the Spanish community I’m known as “La Puenerea, La lande” – the legend
and the pioneer. I was there way before people like Jennifer Lopez. She doesn’t have a clue how hard it was to be Latina when I
came into films and television. None of these people have a clue.
WCT: I don’t think people realize that you were there 10, 12, 15 years BEFORE West Side Story.
RM: Exactly. I understand that Jennifer Lopez constantly refers to me and that I’m kind of an icon with her. Every time she’s
received an award she says, “If it hadn’t been for Rita Moreno…” which I think is very generous.
WCT: And well deserved, too. Perhaps you’ll meet at some point.
RM: Yes, someday maybe.
WCT: She’ll come to one of your shows; you’ll go to one of hers…
RM: (laughs) Perhaps!
WCT: One last thing, let’s talk quickly about your new series “Cane” which I haven’t seen but sounds terrifically entertaining.
RM: Oh God, it’s a marvelous show. I’ve never been able to say that about anything I’ve done on TV. It’s really good and now,
what’s scary is that the strike just may kill it. I hope not. It’s got the most gorgeous cast you’ve ever seen in your life all of whom
are fabulous actors. It’s really a good show. It’s a combination of something like “Dynasty” and “Dallas.” So, there you go.
WCT: Now I’ve got to check it out. It’s been a delight talking today. I’m sort of beside myself with a legend. I get a little
verklempt (she laughs) but just thank you for the privilege of watching you work all these years and for all the entertainment you’ve
given the world.
RM: It’s my pleasure and thank you for your interest.
*The original of this photograph of Moreno and Brando filming a scene from The Night of the Following Day was sold at auction in
2005 as part of the personal effects of Marlon Brando. It was the only item from Brando's acting career that was displayed in his