Rita Moreno Finding Life Rewarding — And Oh So Busy — At 80

Rita Moreno in “Singin’ in the Rain”

The legendary Rita Moreno reveals she is working hard on her memoirs, which “are going to be published in the spring.  It was my personal manager who just kept pushing and saying, ‘You know, there’s a great book in you,'” says the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner.  What a life saga – including blasting to movie stardom — and immortality — with “West Side Story,” a tumultuous six-year relationship with Marlon Brando, Broadway success with shows including The Ritz, and television acclaim.

            Moreno, widowed two years ago after 46 years of marriage to cardiologist Leonard Gordon, says that working on her book has been “revelatory.  I figured some things out that I couldn’t find answers to — I mean some really, really deep-seated memories of things I just couldn’t figure out.  And a number of times of course I wept copious tears.”
            Asked if her writing is helping to fill the hours since she lost her husband, Moreno smiles and says “Oh, my dear — I barely have time to eat!  I’m redecorating the house now, my way.  That’s just one thing.”  She laughs slightly, then notes that she was at a party the other day, and found herself talking to a group of divorced and widowed women who were “relishing their freedom. That happened to me as well.  I was married a long time, and there’s something pretty fabulous about not having to explain anything.  This is unexpected.  Boy, I sure hope that doesn’t sound callous, but I was so surprised when the other widowed woman there said the same thing.”
            Her  days truly are full, including her current TV gig, on TV Land’s “Happily Divorced.”
           “I’m 80 years old, I’m playing Fran Drescher’s mama, I look really good in the series — thanks to the glories of makeup and lighting — and I adore her.  What could be bad?  We have a fabulous chemistry, she and I.”
            Moreno is also helping promote the special, 60th year anniversary video release of “Singin’ in the Rain” — which ends an 18-month moratorium July 17 with the debut of a three-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and DVD Pack from Warner Home Video.  The classic musical marked one of her first film roles.
            “It was one of the happiest times of my life.  I was working with my icon, my hero, my idol, Gene Kelly.  I mean, you have to put yourself in my place, this little girl from Puerto Rico and New York, suddenly, there I am — my God — with Gene Kelly, who actually cast me in the movie as Zelda Zanders.”
            She recalls that casting session “was an amazing experience, but then he said, ‘I want you to cut your hair.’  And like a good Latina, I said, ‘No, I won’t cut my hair.’  I went home and thought, ‘What have I done?’  But he finally acquiesced and he said, ‘Okay, we’ll put a wig on you.'”
            She goes on, “I only had about four scenes, maybe five, but I attended every shooting day of that movie.  I had to be there.”
            Kelly’s beloved title number was the last sequence shot, she says, because he and co-director Stanley Donen knew how difficult his singing and dancing in the rain was going to be.  “They wanted to be able to control the way things looked, so they had a huge, huge four-sided black tent.  And every so often they would have to roll up the sides to let in some air because the camera lens would fog up.  They used cold water, which was very important, and I saw him splish and splash for days on end.  I don’t know how he did it, because he was just sopping wet.  He caught a terrible cold after that.”
            Moreno also fondly recalls being on hand when Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor shot their bouncy “Make ‘Em Laugh” number.  “It’s sort of a play on ‘Be a Clown.’  I remember someone told me that the songwriter who actually wrote ‘Be a Clown’ was not thrilled because it was such a ripoff, an absolute knockoff of ‘Be a Clown.’ They got away with it because it was not the same melody, but it had many similarities musically.  Many people think of it as the ‘Be a Clown’ number.  ‘Be a Clown’ goes like this,” she says, and demonstrates, voice soaring.  “And ‘Make ’em Laugh’ goes like this,” she says, and sings part of the familiar tune. “It’s the melody turned on its side.”
            According to the marvelous-looking Moreno (and no, it’s not all due to makeup and lighting magic) the film team knew “Singin’ in the Rain” was special, “but only in that it was going to be another great Gene Kelly MGM musical.  I don’t think anyone really thought it would be the classic it’s become.”
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This entry was posted in The Hollywood Exclusive by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and tagged , , , , on by .

About Stacy Jenel Smith

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley when it was a kids' Shangri La in the 60s and we had Fabulous Eddie's miniature golf and trampolines on Ventura Boulevard. My big brother frequented The Third Eye psychedelic shop back in the day, but he wound up turning out anyway. Dad was an NBC video man who worked on "Laugh-In," Dean Martin's show, and specials by everyone from Sinatra to Fred Astaire. Mom was a first class home maker and PTA and GCA volunteer. They're still doing great. Anxious to get going in life, I quit college and jumped into journalism when I was still a teenager, and was writing for the New York Times syndicate and People magazine before turning 20. But that was a long time, many adventures, lots of traveling around the world and thousands of interviews ago. I go back to the very last days of hot type and getting to talk to Henry Fonda and Bette Davis, and Sammy Davis at the old Brown Derby...What a ride. That's in no small part thanks to my amazing writing partner, Marilyn Beck, one of the grand old-school Hollywood columnist stars -- a true star -- who knows how to do it right. I'm lucky, for sure. Now is fun, too. I love going out to events with my 17-year-old daughter (Jonas Brothers!). Seeing everything fresh through her eyes renews my excitement about the game. In-between I went back and finished school -- University of Redlands -- married, divorced, and at long last found my true love. My favorite things outside of the show business realm are being with my family, my faith and spiritual growth, learning new things (from doing Qigong to uploading stuff on Facebook), and running. See you on the trail.

One thought on “Rita Moreno Finding Life Rewarding — And Oh So Busy — At 80

  1. dian

    I bought her book on Kindle, and right from the start she creates a vivid mind picture of what her life was like at an early age. Usually I’m leery of female writers, since they “overdue” their descriptive words, and go on and on. But so far,its good.
    I think she’s wonderful on Happily Divorced, as the part of a Jewish mother. I hope when I’m her age, I can not only look that good, but have that kind of an outlook on life.

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