She may have other house keys, but Rita Moreno makes it clear where her heart resides.
“I have only one home and it is here. We have a little pied-à-terre in New York, but one of the happiest days of my life was when I moved here,” she says.
The “here” is the Claremont Hills section of Berkeley, where Moreno lives with her husband, retired physician Leonard Gordon. One of the many joys of Bay Area life, she says, is being near her daughter and grandchildren. “The kids stay with us about twice a week. It’s just ideal!”
Far from hiding out like reclusive movie star Norma Desmond, whom Moreno portrayed in “Sunset Boulevard” in London, the multiaward-winning actress and singer has jumped into local life with both feet from the day she moved here.
On Monday, she lends her talent to the all-star “All You Need Is Love II” benefit produced by the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation. It features Sharon Gless, Leslie Jordan, Kim Nalley and many others.
“My husband and I were just ‘up to here’ with L.A. It’s a fun place to visit, but not a place I like to live,” Moreno says. In addition to having family close by, she cites the proximity of Wine Country as another benefit of Northern California living.
A good neighbor, she can be persuaded to bring a zesty Cuban picadillo to a dinner party. “I love the women in our area. They’re opinionated and belong to boards and organizations. They write letters of protest and are generally just
bigmouths,” Moreno says, laughing.
When she’s not cooking, dining out is a favorite activity.
“We love Chez Panisse, and I’m so happy about Oakland having a renaissance. Have you been to Picán yet? Do it. It’s wonderful,” Moreno says. “Just because you live in The City doesn’t mean you can’t come over the Bay Bridge! I just don’t understand why people resist crossing the bridge for something wonderful. I do it all the time.”
Living outside Hollywood has not hampered the career of this still-busy performer, who made her Broadway debut in 1945.
“All you do is get on Southwest and you’re there in 50 minutes. It’s not a big deal,” she says.
Moreno’s also made a home for herself at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she earned raves for “Master Class” and has a one-woman show in development.
“I’ve lived a long time,” she says. “A teeny-bopper, I’m not. Your average housewife, I’m not. So we’re going to be working on this for awhile!”
IF YOU GO
All You Need Is Love II
Featuring: Rita Moreno, David Burnham, Sharon Gless, Tim Hockenberry, Nick Lazzarini, Leslie Jordan, La Toya London, Maureen McGovern, Maria Muldaur, Kim Nalley, Carly Ozard, Jeanie Tracy
Where: Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Tickets: $45 to $125; premium tickets include post-show reception
Contact: (415) 273-1620, www.helpisontheway.org