“I’m going to talk to Lifetime about it”

“I’m going to talk to Lifetime about it”

From l to r: Emily Kinney, Rita Moreno, Gary McGuire and Marissa Jaret Winokur star in Lifetime's holiday movie, Santa Bootcamp.  (Photo: Lifetime)

From l to r: Emily Kinney, Rita Moreno, John Schuck and Marissa Jaret Winokur star in the Lifetime movie Vacation, Santa Bootcamp. (Photo: Lifetime)

The holiday season is always a treat for Christmas movie fans, as cable channels like Lifetime and Hallmark and streamers like Netflix and Hulu roll out dozens of shiny new movie treats for viewers. But some of December’s other festivities — including a world-famous Festival of Lights — end up getting short shrift. The lack of Hanukkah-themed holiday movies has been much noted in recent years, with Jews and non-Jews alike (including Stephen Colbert) agreeing that we need at least eight nights of quality Hanukkah fare.

If anyone can do it, it’s screen legend Rita Moreno. Although she grew up in a home that celebrates Christmas, the EGOT-winning stage and screen legend married into a Jewish family when she married New York cardiologist Leonard Gordon in 1965, and has celebrated both holidays ever since. And as the star of Lifetime’s new Christmas movie, Santa Bootcampis in the unique position to land some Hanukkah programming on the network’s slate for 2023.

“What a great idea,” Moreno tells Yahoo Entertainment with a gleeful laugh. “I don’t know why we don’t have more Hanukkah movies. I think it would be great. We could make a movie about two different families from two different places. Oh, I’m going to talk to Lifetime about it!”

While we await Lifetime’s inevitable announcement of a Hanukkah movie starring Moreno, viewers can tune in to its first Christmas movie on November 19. Directed by Melissa Joan Hart, Santa Bootcamp features it West Side Story stars as Belle, the no-nonsense head of the titular school for would-be Santas. That’s where Christmas’s dubious event planner, Emily (who plays The Walking Dead‘s Emily Kinney), is enlisted to learn how to recruit the perfect Santa Claus for a big party he’s throwing on behalf of a demanding client. Along the way, he also learns to stop worrying and love the season…as well as strap on training (Justin Gaston).

According to Moreno, there’s a simple reason why she waited so long to make a Christmas movie. “I’ve never been asked before—how’s that for plain speaking?” says the 90-year-old actress, laughing. “But I’m really glad this was my first because I had such a good time. I loved the costumes and the story is very Christmassy, ​​as it should be. And Melissa did a great job as a director. It’s just a woman doll.”

Construction Santa Bootcamp it evoked Moreno’s memories of her early childhood in Puerto Rico, where celebrating Christmas was a door-to-door affair. “We did all kinds of wonderful things,” he recalls. “We take it very, very seriously in a religious and celebratory way. We would say these things though where people gathered with instruments — some real and some cookie tins you can roll into. Then we would go to someone’s house at 1 am. and we were singing and making a lot of noise, and he would have to open the door and invite you in for coquitoa great coconut rum drink.”

Emily Kinney and Rita Moreno at Santa Bootcamp.  (Photo: Lifetime)

Kinney and Moreno in a scene from Lifetime’s latest Christmas movie, Santa Bootcamp. (Photo: Lifetime)

“We loved it on the outside — I don’t know how people feel inside the houses,” Moreno continues. “I can hear them saying, ‘Oh my God, he’s here!’ But I liked this one. And the food was divine — it was Caribbean food from Puerto Rico, which was a big part of Christmas. The table was full and it made you think about love, harmony and affection. All good things we are in desperate need of right now.”

When she was five, Moreno moved to New York with her mother and encountered new Christmas traditions, most notably that bearded present known as Santa Claus. “In Puerto Rico, we didn’t have a Santa — we had the Three Kings,” he explains. “Sometimes people dressed up like royalty, and we had parades. It was very beautiful.”

But as a child, Moreno immediately saw the upside of Santa’s big role in the American Christmas season. “He’s the guy who brings the presents to this country, so I love Santa,” he jokes. “I remember sitting on Santa’s lap as a kid, and then I still had an accent because I was still learning English. He’d say, ‘Well, what do you want?’ And I’d say, ‘I want those little dolls with lots of curly hair!'” .

LOS ANGELES - JULY 21, 1954: Rita Moreno at Ciro's in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Moreno photographed at Ciro’s in Los Angeles, California in 1954. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

After marrying Gordon, Moreno was introduced to a whole new holiday menu thanks to her Jewish in-laws. “The first Christmas after we got married, his family came and I hadn’t had dinner with extended family for years and years because my mom came to this country by herself and there were very few family members living here. I was excited to have a new family.”

“I remember we made a lot of Jewish food, which was part of the fun of eating it,” Moreno continues. “I had some Jewish music to get them dancing, and I would serve some nice, sweet Manischewitz wine, and everyone would get slightly drunk. After that, they were just happy and cheerful and we were all singing. it was wonderful.”

Like her Santa Bootcamp alter ego, Moreno says she is the drill sergeant at her own parties. “I’m going bananas,” he admits. “I decorate everything! If you stay long enough, you will too. I’m really like a kid, I’ve always had a huge Christmas tree and it’s jammed with ornaments I’ve collected over the years. Since COVID is still around, I don’t put mistletoe anymore , unfortunately. But other than that, everything in my house is Christmas.”

(Original Caption) 6/18/1965-New York, New York-: Rita Moreno, 33, who won a

Moreno and her husband, Leonard Gordon, on their wedding day in 1965. (Photo: Getty Images)

And thanks to Santa Bootcamp, Moreno was able to check another Christmas tradition off her list. In one scene, Belle and Emily get up close and personal with a reindeer. And Santa’s favorite sleigh driver made an unforgettable introduction. “He was great – the first thing he did was pee,” she says of her animal co-star. “Some of us had never seen a reindeer that close, and while we were all looking at him, all of a sudden there was this river of pee! And it didn’t smell great, I mean, these guys don’t take baths.”

It looks like the poor reindeer won’t be participating in any of Moreno’s reindeer games.

Santa Bootcamp premieres November 19 on Lifetime

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