Before Rita Moreno’s rise to fame in 1961’s “West Side Story,” the actress had an eight-year affair with movie star Marlon Brando that almost cost Rita her life.
Seven years her senior, Rita met Marlon in 1954. Twenty-two-years old at the time, Marlon had an immediate effect on the young actress.
“Just meeting him that first day sent my body temperature skyrocketing as though I had been dropped into a very hot bath, and I went into a full-body blush,” Rita recalled in her 2013 memoir, Rita Moreno.
The 29-year-old actor captived Rita, and they started seeing each other shortly after. “Every aspect of being with Marlon was thrilling because he was more engaged in the world than anyone else I’d ever known,” she added.
Portrait of actress Rita Moreno as she appears in the movie 'Cattle Town', 1952. | Source: Getty Images.
But their affair took a turn for the worst after Marlon’s “insatiable sexual needs” led to his pursuit of numerous women which left Rita heartbroken.
“He broke my heart and came close to crushing my very spirit with his physical infidelities and, worse, with his emotional betrayals,” she wrote.
A portrait of Marlon Brando, circa 1951. | Source: Getty Images.
Despite his philandering and two marriages, from which he fathered children, during their affair, Rita couldn’t stay away from Marlon. I was becoming addicted to the challenge of winning him over and over again,” Rita added.
She won him back time and again by dating other men like Dennis Hopper and Elvis Presley. But Elvis had little interest in sex itself as “grinding” seemed to be his modus operandi, according to other girls.
“Maybe Elvis was inhibited by inbred religious prohibitions or an Oedipal complex, or maybe he simply preferred the thrill of a denied release. Whatever put the brakes on the famous pelvis, it ground to a halt at a certain point, and that was it,” she wrote.
The actress went back to Marlon and discovered she got pregnant with his child soon after. However, Marlon didn’t want the child and arranged for an abortion and a friend to pick her up afterward.
Once home, the horror continued when Rita began bleeding profusely. The botched abortion left the dead fetus inside her, and it quickly escalated to a life-threatening situation where she had to be rushed to the hospital so surgeons could remove the fetus.
Marlon felt cheated by the abortionist and even wanted his money back, with little regard to what the ordeal had caused Rita. He left and began filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” where Marlon fell in love with his co-star Tarita Teriipia, whom he later married.
After filming, Marlon returned to Rita. She had just finished filming “West Side Story” for which she won an Oscar, and had enough of his cheating ways, so the next morning she scoured through the medicine cabinet and found sleeping pills.
“I went to bed to die. This wasn’t a revenge suicide, but a consolation, an escape-from-pain death,” she wrote.
Marlon’s assistant found Rita in time, and she rushed to hospital where her stomach got pumped. The gravity of the situation caused Rita’s therapist to beg her to stop seeing Marlon, and finally, she agreed.
Then a friend set her up with a Jewish doctor, Lenny Gordon whom she later married. The couple stayed together until Lenny’s death in 2010.
During an interview with PEOPLE in 2017, Rita revealed that she kept a black-and-white photo of Marlon taken during the 1950s, in her bedroom as a momento of her affair with the actor. But made sure to distinguish between her feelings for Lenny and Marlon as she called Lenny “the love of her life,” while Marlon turned out to be “the lust of her life.”
Lenny and Rita had a daughter Fernanda Luisa Gordon, and in May 2019, Rita Moreno and daughter stepped out for a rare appearance when they attended the Peabody Awards.