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Rita Moreno says she regrets staying with husband for 46 years

Rita Moreno says she regrets staying with husband for 46 years
Rita Moreno discusses her marriage to Lenny Gordon in a new documentary. File Photo by Steven Ferdman/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award-winning actor Rita Moreno is the subject of the new documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It.

In the film, Moreno opens up about many private moments, including her marriage to Lenny Gordon.

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"We had quite an extraordinary and successful charade for many years," Moreno said in a Zoom Q&A following the Sundance Film Festival premiere of the film.

Moreno met Gordon while she was on Broadway in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window in 1964. The show closed after a little over a month, and Moreno married Gordon in 1965. In the documentary, Moreno reveals she grew unhappy in their marriage.

"He died while we were still married and that was 46 years," Moreno said. "I couldn't find a way to leave."

Since Gordon's death in 2010, Moreno said she's realized she's too independent to be married. At 89 years old, she has not remarried.

"I didn't realize how desperately I needed to be on my own," Moreno said. "I was punishing myself by not being on my own. It was brutal."

In the documentary, Moreno also describes how her previous lover, Marlon Brando, encouraged her to begin therapy. During the Q&A, Moreno shared her therapist's assessment of her marriage, which was not included in the film.

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"The advice he gave me I ultimately didn't take, which was 'You should leave him,'" Moreno said.

Mariem Perez Riera directed Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It. Riera met Moreno on the set of her TV series, One Day at a Time. Riera's son, Marcel Ruiz, plays Moreno's grandson on the show. Ilia Velez and Brent Miller also produced the show with Norman Lear and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

When Moreno agreed to the documentary, the actor said, she promised herself she would be honest and candid. That included sharing her misgivings about her marriage, which appeared happy to others.

Gordon and Morena have a daughter, Fernanda Gordon, together. Moreno said she feels apprehensive about Fernanda seeing the film, but they plan to watch it together.

"I'm going to be sitting here with my daughter who was a real daddy's girl," Moreno said. "[He] was a wonderful parent. He was a wonderful person. It's just that our marriage didn't work out."

The documentary traces Moreno's life as far back to growing up in Puerto Rico and coming to New York at age 5. She had her first professional performing job at 6 and a contract with MGM as a teenager.

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A section covering her role in West Side Story, for which she won an Oscar, discusses a lyric changed between the stage musical and the movie. As Anita, Moreno sings the showstopping number "America." Anita sings how she prefers America to Puerto Rico.

On stage, her song begins, "Puerto Rico, you ugly island, Island of tropic diseases." In the movie, she sings, "Puerto Rico, my heart's devotion, let it sink back in the ocean."

"When I realized that that was the lyric to 'America,' I tell you the blood just left my body and landed in a pool around my ankles," Moreno said. "I thought, 'I can't do this.'"

Moreno said she considered leaving the film, even though it would mean breaking her contract. Coincidentally, directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins changed the lyric. She said they never even knew she had considered leaving.

The film follows Moreno's life through her activism for abortion right and protesting atom bomb tests. It catches up to her work on the HBO drama Oz and recent work on One Day at a Time.

The filmmakers were on set of the West Side Story remake with Moreno and director Steven Spielberg. Moreno plays the role of Valentina, a new role created for the remake. Disney postponed the release from December 2020 to Dec. 10, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"I said, 'Steven, I'm going to be 90 for Christ's sake,'" Moreno said. "He said, 'No, no, you're not going to be 90. It's coming out the day before you're 90.'"

A second showing of Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is available at the Sundance Film Festival through Tuesday.

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