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Rita Moreno: Telling Her 'Story'
Extended Online Version
by Richard Knight, Jr.

This article shared 8354 times since Wed Nov 14, 2007
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'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 for tickets and further information.

Windy City Times: Let's start off with your show. Can you tell me about it?

Rita Moreno: 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: And I assume you're going to do something from West Side Story.

RM: No.

WCT: No?

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. Forty-six 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 [ director ] 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: I'm also a huge fan of your work in a little known movie you did, 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.

WCT: It's a film with great performances and that one's on DVD now so I'm hoping a new audience finds it.

RM: Finally!

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 Lovers.

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 ( interviewer laughing ) . 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.

WCT: Is there any chance you'll 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.

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: It's been a delight talking today. Thank you for all the entertainment you've given the world.

RM: It's my pleasure and thank you for your interest.

This article shared 8354 times since Wed Nov 14, 2007
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