PBS's Emmy-winning American Masters series, which has been on since 1986, aired its Rita Moreno special, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, on Oct. 5, 2021. The documentary celebrates the EGOT winner's incredible 70-year career, all while highlighting the hardships she endured throughout her decades in the biz, which include relentless racism and humble beginnings.
The renowned actress, dancer, and singer — known for her roles in 1952's Singin' in the Rain and 1961's West Side Story — opened up about the struggles of constantly being typecast, sexism in the entertainment industry, and sexual abuse she suffered in her life. Rita tells all in this inspiring doc, leaving nothing to the imagination. Let's dive into the details regarding Rita's fruitful career, grandkids, relationships, and more.
Rita Moreno detailed her experiences with typecasting in Hollywood.
The star, originally named Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano, grew up on a poor Puerto Rican farm until she and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City for a better life when she was just 5 years old. In the documentary, Rita recalls the moment she realized typecasting, specifically based on race and ethnicity, was a serious problem in Hollywood. “I suddenly realized, ‘Wait a minute. Why do I always have to speak with an accent?” she stated, as reported by Deadline.
"'Why do I always have to wear dark, dark, dark makeup, which is not my skin color? Why am I letting these people tell me who I am?’ But that didn’t happen until much, much later. I can take full blame for accepting much of that for way too long. But I had no mentors," she continued. Though issues like colorism, racial typecasting, and representation are frequently discussed today, Rita felt alone in this, as if her identity was moldable.
See, according to PBS, Rita was given minority roles of all kinds when she first entered Hollywood, including but not limited to Polynesian, Native American, and Egyptian characters. It was as if she was seen as Hollywood's ethnically ambiguous prize. She didn't play a fulfilling non-Latina character until her portrayal of Zelda Zanders in 1952's Singin' in the Rain.
As for typecasting concerning ageism, Rita's got plenty to say on that controversial, age-old topic as well. "Why should I have to play a grandmother simply because I'm old? Can I be a lawyer? A scientist?" she questioned. "Hollywood suffers in a profound way from ageism," the 89-year-old told Variety.
Sadly, The Electric Company actress faced more than just racism, typecasting, and ageism throughout her seven-decade career (despite those hurdles causing enough trauma to last a lifetime). Rita also encountered devastating sexual harassment at the hands of male Hollywood bigwigs (which is still disturbingly vibrant in the entertainment industry today) and was raped by her agent.
And because the entertainment legend chose to bare her soul in the doc, she even opened up about her tempestuous, infidelity-laced relationship with Marlon Brando, which eventually caused her to attempt suicide one year before winning the 1962 Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story. She became the first Latina woman to ever win an Oscar.
“If I was going to do this project, it was important for me that I was going to make a promise that I would be as honest and truthful as possible. And that never changed, that objective,” she relayed to Deadline. “I think it’s probably one of the reasons, if not the reason, that this documentary has gotten such praise, because there’s no bull poop."
Rita Moreno has one daughter and two grandchildren.
Aside from her rocky life in the spotlight, Rita built a beautiful family. She wound up having one daughter, Fernanda Luisa Gordon, with her now-late husband Leonard Gordon, who she was happily wed to from 1965 to 2010. Fernanda, a jewelry designer, freelance graphic designer, and actress, gave Rita two grandchildren, Justin Gordon and Cameron David Fisher. She loves those kiddos so much that, while Leonard was alive, the two grandparents even moved from LA to Berkley to be closer to them.
“One of the best experiences of our lives, if not the best, next to our daughter’s birth, is helping birth our daughter’s baby. These little boys are our hearts and souls. They are the air we breathe," she told Grand Magazine on behalf of her and Leonard back in 2008. Not only is Rita Moreno a Hollywood and Broadway legend and an inspiration to women and minorities everywhere, but she's a gem of a granny.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is streaming on PBS's website as well as the PBS Video app.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
If you need support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit RAINN.org to chat online one-on-one with a support specialist at any time.