“My delight in dating Elvis hinged entirely on one fact,” Moreno wrote in her memoir, “I knew that no one could possibly make Marlon Brando more jealous.”

By Isabel Jones
Feb 04, 2021 @ 5:15 pm
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Rita Moreno & Marlon Brando
Credit: Getty Images

Who: Two-time Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando, who passed away at the age of 80 in 2004, and EGOT-winning actress Rita Moreno, 89.

How They Met: In Rita Moreno: A Memoir, the actress wrote that Brando's interest in her was first piqued when she appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1954. She was 22 at the time. 

Moreno described the actor as "swaggeringly irresistible, with a profile that should be on a Roman coin."

She wrote that upon meeting him for the first time on the set of his film Désirée, she felt "as though I had been dropped into a very hot bath, and I went into a full-body blush."

"From the moment we met, I felt that a web had been spun between us, drawing me to Marlon," she went on. "Amazingly, he felt the same way, and made no secret about it."

Brando took Moreno to an "all-star all-Method-actor party" on their first date, where they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Paul Newman, James Dean, and Joanne Woodward. "I felt awed and out of my league," Moreno wrote of the evening, but she was "thrilled to be there, especially with him." 

Despite the breadth and intensity of the affair, it remained relatively unknown to the public. 

"People for the longest time didn't even know that Marlon and I were seeing each other," Moreno told Vulture in 2017. "He was an absolute lunatic about that. And we went out very little. We were always going to little obscure restaurants."

The relationship carried on for around eight years, on-and-off — all the while, Brando continued to date myriad women, and even married two of them. 

Why We Loved Them: Though Moreno describes her time with Brando as "eight years of tumult," she also credits the actor with making her "politically conscious." 

"I saw him doing things, getting involved in events to raise awareness about Native Americans and other causes, and I would realize there was a lot going on in the world that I'd never thought about," she wrote in her 2013 memoir. "It was Marlon who awakened me to things beyond myself."

The effects of the relationship were lasting.

In her memoir, Moreno revealed that she'd been wearing Brando's favorite perfume (he preferred women's perfume to men's cologne), Balmain's Vent Vert, for over 50 years. 

"When I inhale it, I inhale the memory of Marlon," she wrote, "and I can almost feel his smooth, polished skin and taste his sweet breath."

Decades after the relationship ended, both Brando and Moreno's homes bore vestiges of their romance. 

Upon Brando's death in 2004, it was reported that there was only one piece of movie memorabilia on display in his home: a still of him and a nude Moreno from when they were filming The Night of the Following Day in 1968. 

As of at least 2017, Moreno's Berkley Hills home displayed a black-and-white portrait of the Godfather star.

"Why that picture of Marlon Brando? Because he was a big love of mine in my life," Moreno told People. "This one, it almost seems like a vignette out of a movie, so that's why it's there. He was the lust of my life."

When They Peaked:

If there was one aspect of the relationship that wasn't lacking, it was passion — for better or worse.

"To say that he was a great lover — sensual, generous, delightfully inventive — would be gravely understating what he did not only to my body, but for my soul," she wrote in her memoir. 

"He was the king of everything. Everything," Moreno dished on The Wendy Williams Show in 2018. "He was really one of the most sexual men on earth."

Moreno told the host that she wanted to marry Brando, but he wasn't interested. The actor continued to see other women, and Moreno was devastated to find lingerie that didn't belong to her in Brando's home. The next day, the West Side Story star received a call from Elvis Presley's manager: the king of rock 'n' roll wanted to meet.

"My delight in dating Elvis hinged entirely on one fact," Moreno wrote in her memoir, "I knew that no one could possibly make Marlon Brando more jealous."

News of Elvis and Moreno's date made instant headlines, and Brando was "furious."

"He was the one who'd been cheating, but [Brando] was furious," Moreno told Williams. "That man threw chairs," she remembered, adding, "It was wonderful."

Things didn't last long with Elvis, as by Moreno's estimations he was "not interesting." She told The San Francisco Chronicle it "lasted three days."

The Breakup:

Moreno discovered she was pregnant with Brando's child, and the actor arranged for her abortion.

"I think I had some hopes that he would say 'Oh, well, in that case, let's get married,' but it didn't happen that way," Moreno explained in the 2021 documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, which recently premiered at Sundance Film Festival.

"He asked somebody and somebody found a doctor for me who would do it — obviously subrosa," she said of the procedure. "He put me to sleep and did the deed. Well, actually he didn't really do the deed. He disturbed the pregnancy is what I found out when for days and days I kept bleeding," Moreno said. "Very scary, because I could've died."

Brando's infidelity continued, and it took a serious toll on Moreno's mental health.

Things reached a breaking point in the early '60s when Brando developed a relationship with his Mutiny on the Bounty co-star Tarita Teriipaia. 

"I was alone in his house, waiting for him to arrive, when my pain became intolerable," Moreno recalled in her memoir. "How can you keep taking him back? I asked myself. He hasn't just had one woman. He's had legions! It will never stop!"

Moreno attempted suicide in Brando's home by swallowing a bottle of pills.

"When I tried to do away with myself, I wanted to do it because I couldn't take the pain anymore of the relationship I had with Marlon Brando," Moreno said in the documentary. "It was humiliating and I was letting him step all over me."

After she survived the suicide attempt, Moreno went to therapy until she thought she'd thoroughly "exorcised this man from my life."

Much to Moreno's dismay, seven years later she was cast alongside Brando in The Night of the Following Day.

Rita Moreno and Marlon Brando - The Night of the Following Day
Credit: LMPC via Getty Images

In Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, the actress recounted filming a scene with Brando in which their characters are fighting.

"We do this scene and we do the dialogue, and I haul off and smack him in the face, and he hauls off and smacks me back," she remembered. "That opened an old scar of when he'd take advantage of me, of when he had other women. Pond scum came to the surface and I started screaming at him and they never stopped filming."

It was a cathartic experience for Moreno.

"I think it gave me closure," she said, " because I at least was able to get even with him, in my very childish way."

Still, to this day Moreno considers Brando her "absolute favorite" scene partner

Brando and Moreno remained friends through the decades. In 1975, Moreno told People that Brando was visiting her house (which she shared with then-husband Leonard Gordon) when her daughter Fernanda found the actor playing the congas in their living room. "She still calls him 'the man with the drums,'" Moreno said. 

Moreno wrote in her memoir that in the years leading up his death in 2004, Brando would periodically call and whisper "I love you."

Where They Are Now: 

Brando wed Teriipaia, his third wife, in 1962 — they welcomed two children together: Simon, 57, and Cheyenne, who died by suicide in 1995 at the age of 25. The couple split in 1972 and Brando later adopted Teriipaia's children Maimiti, 44, and Raiatua, 38

The acclaimed actor passed away in 2004 from respiratory failure brought on by pulmonary fibrosis. 

Moreno married Dr. Leonard Gordon in 1965 and they remained together until the latter's death in 2010. They share a daughter: Fernanda Gordon. 

#TBT: Check in every Thursday as we throw it back to some of our favorite celebrity couples of all time.