Rita Moreno spoke at a panel in New York this week and reflected on the “big, deep lesson” she learned in her marriage to a “very controlling” Leonard Gordon and spilled some tea on her relationship with Marlon Brando.


“Things began to get very tense. And if it were not for my daughter, I probably would have left,” Moreno said, referring to her 45 year marriage to Leonard. She added that divorce, however, wasn’t an option, because she had no plans of living a life with someone else.

The couple remained married until Leonard’s death in 2010 and only shared the one daughter, Luisa. She spoke about the difficulties of marriage, saying it can be “very hard” and that there is an unspoken “deal” in most of them. 


“In my case, it was, ‘You'll be the daddy and take care of me. And I'll be your little girl and I'll make you very happy.’ There came a time when I didn't want that anymore,” the actress said. “And that's when the marriage got into trouble.”

Prior to marrying Leonard, she had an 8 year affair with Marlon Brando, who she credits with getting her into therapy, and calls the “lust of her life”, while referring to Leonard as the “love of her life”.

"We had a thing going," she said of her relationship with Marlon. "Oh, yeah, that was the crux of our relationship. It was really, essentially, very sexual, and he was amazing. So was I!"

As for her big, deep lesson? It’s one many other women in Hollywood know very well:

“This marriage taught me something about relationships that I didn't like, and that is having to be with somebody forever and ever is not necessarily a fabulous thing," she said. "Sometimes it is. But more often than not, it's not. That's something I learned — a big, deep lesson.”

Mary J. Blige is another Hollywood heavy hitter that spoke out about relationships this week, appearing on the TODAY show and speaking to Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager to promote her upcoming Strength of a Woman Festival. 


Mary J. endured a very tumultuous divorce from Kendu Isaacs, which she settled the night before the 2018 Oscars, after being wed since 2003 and filing in 2016. It was a two year long process that saw Kendu go to extreme lengths to try and secure financial support from her. 

Prior to their divorce being settled, she had been ordered to pay Kendu upwards of $30,000 a month. But when she initially filed for divorce, she asked the court to terminate spousal support, alleging he spent more than $400,000 on travel expenses during their marriage to facilitate the affair(s) he was having. 

She also requested she get her Mercedes that he was driving, which she prepaid for, and demanded that he turn over her “Grammy and other achievement awards”. She also let the court know that despite him being her manager, she was the only true breadwinner in the home and now found herself responsible for more than $10 million in debts. Ouch.

Back in 2020, she appeared as a guest on Peace of Mind With Tarajisaying:

"It gets lonely and it gets sad, but I just gotta thug this out until something excellent comes along. I don't know when that's gonna happen. But, I'd rather be myself than to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. I'm going to be patient and sift through this thing and love on me right now." Then, she added: "I'm not gonna deprive myself of living [and] I'm not gonna deprive myself of romance, if it ever shows up."


Essentially, she was expressing the same sentiment back then as she was in her more recent appearance on TODAY, discussing a song she released last year entitled “Still Believe in Love”, telling Jenna and Hoda that the lyrics “absolutely” capture how she views love, even after loss.

“I believe in love for myself, I'm not going to give up on love. I’m not going to let a bad relationship or a bad marriage stop me from having a good life and having romance and getting the hugs that I want and the desire and kisses."

What Mary J. is saying is so powerful, especially if you’re privy to just how awful her divorce truly was. The assertion that she still believes in love is a message to so many women who find themselves questioning their self-worth after a split, particularly one where there was infidelity involved.

In the wake of the Wendy Williams Lifetime documentary being released recently, the teaser for which I wrote about here, one speculation so many have made on social media is how much Wendy’s ex-husband contributed to her current deteriorating state, given the pain, trauma and heartbreak that he caused. 


This tweet and several others like it went viral, highlighting the importance of choosing your partner carefully.

In comparing Rita’s sentiments to Mary J.’s, you can really see the generational changes in these women. Rita, currently 92, makes it clear that she certainly would’ve left Leonard if it wasn’t for Luisa. But she never would’ve divorced him. And nearly 40 years her junior, Mary J. was the one that filed. And Wendy filed, too.

The shifting sentiments, behaviours and even desires toward marriage is something I’ve written about on this site extensively. Largely because as a [insert number] year old woman myself who has endured love, loss, heartbreak and infidelity, marriage is something I find myself questioning all the time. Do I want it? Am I convincing myself I don’t want it just because of the experiences I’ve had? And perhaps to Rita’s point, and that Twitter user’s point, can I really be with someone forever? It’s a heavy question. They’re all heavy questions. 

The other similarity that both these women had in their relationships is that at some point in time, their partners became their managers. I hardly see dynamics like this work out well for couples (Ike and Tina Turner, Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola, Tamar Braxton and Vincent Herbert). In most of these cases, the woman was the star. Leonard was cardiologist before he retired from the medical industry to manage the Rita Moreno. Letting your partner into that domain and start to exercise control and dominance in any form over it can poison not only your relationship to your work but also to your partner.


And lastly, both Rita and Mary, and Wendy, actually, make it clear that when they began to exercise agency over themselves, that’s when there were problems. Not that there weren’t problems before, but Mary J. refusing to keep fronting the travel costs for Kendu to go out and cheat was a huge factor in their divorce. And for Rita, not wanting to be Leonard’s “little girl” anymore prompted what she calls “trouble”. And when Wendy, God forbid, drew the line at her husband having a child with his side chick, things really started to fall apart for her.

By now, I hope you all know how much I love a lick back. And Mary J. certainly got hers. But not without some trials and tribulations first. Last year, she spoke about finally being financially free and not drowning in debt, which she says stemmed from her divorce.

“I owed so much money I never thought I’d ever get out of debt,” she said. “I’m out of debt…I realized that I put my life in someone else’s hands that wouldn’t take care of me. Now, I’m all over my business. I’m all over my finances.”

While Kendu was running around town claiming the stress from their divorce rendered him “unable to work”, she got right back in the saddle, going on tour to pay her way through that hefty alimony. And landed a role on Power, as a hardcore drug kingpin (queenpin, I should say) earning nearly half a million per episode, which is great. But even better is that none of that money goes to Kendu. 

It feels fitting that on International Women’s Day, we’re reflecting on the wealth of knowledge women like Rita Morena, Mary J. Blige and Wendy Williams have all shared, whether they intended to or not. Marriage is hard. Being with one person forever isn’t, as Rita says, “fabulous”. And no matter what you do, keep a watchful eye on your money and resources. But the biggest lesson we can take from each of them and their unique circumstances? The importance of loving yourself first.