Rita Moreno and Marlon Brando seemed as if they could be soulmates. She fell under his spell the moment she saw him, and he loved her Latin beauty. They kept their passionate rendezvous secret for years until their affair became something sinister.
His infidelity hurt her so much that she attempted to make him jealous, but the relationship left them both with more than emotional trauma. It almost took her life twice after a botched abortion and a suicide attempt.
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Rita and Marlon’s Careers
Ruby Dolores Alverio was born in Puerto Rico on December 11, 1931. She moved to the Bronx in 1937, becoming a professional dancer at New York nightclubs by the age of 9 and dubbing Spanish-language versions of US films at the age of 11. She made her Broadway debut on November 22, 1945, in the play Skydrift. Her film career began when she was discovered at the age of 16 by casting agent Bill Grady who bestowed upon her the stage name of Rita Moreno. Throughout her over 60-year-long career, she was the 9th performer and one of only 16 actresses to win the acting Triple Crown with an Oscar, Tony, and Emmy. She also became one of only a few performers to earn the coveted EGOT honor. This included 2 Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series for her role on The Rockford Files and Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music for her turn on The Muppet Show. She was honored with a Golden Globe for West Side Story, a Grammy for Best Recording for Children for The Electric Company, and a Tony for the play The Ritz. And at one point, she also held the record of achieving this honor the fastest until Robert Lopez earned it in 10 years in 2014.
Marlon Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 3, 1924. His mother was an amateur actress, and he developed an interest in acting from watching her. It was his only option as a high school dropout who was rejected by the military. He made his Broadway debut in the 1944 play I Remember Mama but left the Broadway stage in 1949. After that, he earned major roles in A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, and his final film Apocalypse Now. He’s listed as the American Film Institute’s 4th greatest male movie star but is often considered one of the greatest of all time behind Laurence Olivier. Despite his undeniable talent, he always thought that acting was a worthless career.
How They Met
Rita Moreno and Marlon Brando met on the set of the 1954 film Desiree, a biopic where he landed the lead role of Napoleon Bonaparte. The attraction was immediate, and she admits that seeing him made her temperature rise and sent her into a full-body blush.
Luckily for her, she also knew she was his type. He always had a fondness for Latin women, and he first noticed her beauty when she appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1954 at the age of 22.
Marlon took her to an all-star-Method-actor party for their first date. There, they met other famous names such as Paul Newman, James Dean, and Joanne Woodward. Rita felt out of her league among such star power but was glad to be there with her new beau.
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The Affair and How It Crumbled
Despite the passion they both felt for each other, Marlon was known for guarding his private life and once said “privacy is not something I’m merely entitled to, it’s an absolute prerequisite.” He wanted to keep his relationship with Rita a secret as much as possible. They rarely went out and, when they did, they only went to obscure restaurants where they weren’t likely to be seen.
This focus on privacy didn’t keep Rita from enjoying every moment with her sensual lover. She was entranced by and wanted to marry him, but that plan fell apart quickly due to his infidelity. During their on-again, off-again 8-year courtship, he even married and had children with two other women; Anna Kashfi in 1957 and Movita Castaneda in 1960.
Rita felt physically and emotionally betrayed but was still pulled in by the undeniable magnetism he displayed with her and on-screen. She became obsessed with the challenge of earning his affection, and the only way to win seemed to be giving him a taste of his own medicine. She began pursuing other men to make him jealous, including Dennis Hopper and, most famously, Elvis Presley.
One day, Rita was angry after finding lingerie that wasn’t hers in Marlon’s home. She got a call from the King’s manager the next day who said on his behalf that the major star “liked what he saw.” She has admitted that she chose him because she knew no one could possibly make Marlon more jealous. He already hated the King of Rock and Roll for his drug addiction and for his style of music which he felt he was copying from Black culture. He became angry when he found out about the relationship and began throwing chairs at Rita. She was pleased because she thought it would send him crawling back to her, but her attempt to use Elvis as a tool didn’t last long. She found him uninteresting and could only maintain the passionless relationship for three days.
Marlon and Rita reunited after that, but both parties could have saved themselves plenty of heartbreak and suffering if they’d permanently left each other then and there. That reunion was the moment the relationship turned deadly. She was surprised to discover that she was pregnant with his child. She hoped that would be enough to convince him to marry her, but his reaction was nothing like she’d expected it would be. It was one of the coldest and most thoughtless responses any potential father has ever given, in Hollywood or outside of it.
Marlon arranged for an abortion and found a third party to pick her up after it was done. The procedure was illegal at the time, and he couldn’t risk the damage to his reputation if they were found out. Complications left the dead fetus stuck in her body, and it had to be surgically removed to save her life. He once again reacted selfishly and focused not on her welfare but on his anger towards the doctors who performed the abortion and the money he’d lost.
Marlon went to film Mutiny on the Bounty while Rita was recovering from the ordeal. While he was there, he started a new relationship with his co-star Tarita Terripai. Another infidelity was too much to bear after the tragedy of losing a child. Feeling unworthy of life and love, Rita went to Marlon’s house and attempted to overdose on a large portion of his sleeping pills. Her assistant found her and rushed her to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. She escaped death at the hands of Marlon Brando’s cruelty once again.
This was the wake-up call that the passionate lovers needed to realize how toxic they’d become. A therapist recommended that they never see each other again, and they both agreed. Their last professional work together was in the 1968 film The Night of the Following Day. It contained a scene that required her to slap him, and it was the cathartic experience she needed.
After the Affair
Despite the pain of their relationship, the former lovers managed to remain friends after working out their emotional issues. Marlon even got along with her husband, Leonard Gordan. Her daughter Fernanda still remembers him as “the man with the drums” after the day he came to play congas at their house.
He was also the one who convinced Rita to get the therapy she so desperately needed. She finds it a bit ironic that he, with all the mental issues he suffered from, was telling her she needed to get help, but is still grateful for it. He initiated most of their phone conversations and often called her to say he loved her in his last days.
Marlon Brando died in 2004 from respiratory failure as a complication of pulmonary fibrosis. The film world will remember him forever, as will his many fans and lovers.
Today, Rita is 89 years old and leads a healthier life, but her past struggles are detailed in her biography and a documentary entitled Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It. She earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on July 20, 2005. She’s also currently working to help Steven Spielberg create a remake of West Side Story, the movie that gave her one of her most memorable roles. No matter what she does in her life, the memories of their tumultuous relationship with Marlon will last forever. She wore his favorite perfume, Balmain’s Vent Vert, for over 50 years. A photograph of them together from The Night of the Following Day was the only piece of film memorabilia he kept in his home, and it sold for $48,000.
Rita has also kept photos of her former lover. She calls him the lust of her life but refers to her late husband Leonard, who died at the age of 90 on June 3, 2010, as the love of her life. She also notes that she’d rather eat glass than get married again, which is understandable after all she’s been through in her past relationships.
The show business world almost seems to create an environment that encourages painful relationships marked by arguments and infidelity. Marlon Brando was known for his womanizing ways as much as his acting talents, but his tumultuous relationship with Rita Moreno nearly caused her death. Fans should be grateful that she survived with even one fond memory of the experience.
Have you seen any of the films that Rita Moreno and Marlon Brando worked on together? Let us know in the comments below. Give us a like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the most dramatic celebrity affairs of all time.