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Rita Moreno has been an outspoken political advocate. She has used her celebrity to amplify causes like abortion rights, as well as opposing atom bomb testing. In the new documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, the One Day at a Time star opens up about sexual abuse she also experienced in her career. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

[Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual harrassment, assault and rape.]

One Day At a Time: Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno | Mike Yarish/Netflix

Rita Moreno experienced sexual harassment in the ’50s

The documentary follows Moreno from childhood past One Day at a Time. Moreno recalls a publicity party in the 1950s. The studio sent Moreno to network and appear in photographs, but the situation quickly turned bad. 

“The host, a man who ran a big whisky distillery, comes over to me and says, ‘Come on, I’ll introduce you to people,’” Moreno said in the film. “He introduced me to Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Studios, a distinctly vulgar and crude man. Before I knew it, he actually said to me, ‘I’d like to f*ck you.’ That may have been the third time in my life I heard that word used.”

Moreno regretted that she did not confront Cohn on his inappropriate comment. 

“What did I do?” Moreno said. “I giggled like an idiot and just backed away.”

The sexual harassment continued that evening 

Moreno’s story did not end at Cohn. She also described a physical assault that followed. 

“The host of the evening, Mr. Distillery, Mr. Whisky comes over to me and says, ‘Why don’t you dance with me?’” Moreno said. “I said sure. We started to dance and he began to press against me very, very hard. Before I knew it, he started to get a little bit of sweat beads on his upper lip and he started to breathe heavily. He wasn’t pressing against me, he was grinding against me and he actually said, ‘You’re a sexy little bitch, aren’t you?’”

Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno | Sundance Institue/Getty Images

Moreno bolted from the party. She thanked the groundskeepers for helping her escape. 

“I went out into the garden where I found Mexican gardeners because this was an afternoon party,” Moreno said. “Tears again, I started to say I need your help. I have to go home. They didn’t need an explanation, they kind of knew. They put one of their jackets on me and took me home to my little cottage in Culver City and those were the first gentlemen I had seen that whole afternoon.”

Rita Moreno alleges her agent raped her 

Some time after the party, Moreno told another story about her agent. She did not name him, and he no longer represents her, but Moreno alleged a previous agent raped her. 

Actually, my agent raped me and I didn’t even realize that he had done that. I was in his apartment because we were going to go somewhere. He was going to take me somewhere, maybe it was even to dinner or something. I was all dressed up and he said something about how pretty I was and how I looked beautiful. Before I know it, he’s kissing me, forcing himself on me actually. I’m not kissing him. He pushes me, because it was a couch, and he actually raped me. It was a terrible story because I was also menstruating and I pushed him away and I ran out of there. 

Rita Moreno, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It
Rita Moreno documentary
Rita Moreno | Sundance Institute

‘West Side Story’ Director Steven Spielberg Gave Rita Moreno This Heartwarming Gift

Again, Moreno had regrets beyond the attack itself. 

“Here’s what’s terrible,” Moreno said. “I still let him be my agent because he was the only one I knew who was helping me in my so-called career. That’s what astonishes me, that I thought so little of myself.”

How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.