Rita Moreno

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Rita Moreno
Moreno in 2014
Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano

(1931-12-11) December 11, 1931 (age 92)
  • Actress
  • singer
  • dancer
Years active1943–present
WorksFull list
Leonard Gordon
(m. 1965; died 2010)
AwardsFull list

Rita Moreno (born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano;[1] December 11, 1931) is an American actress, dancer, and singer.[2] She has performed on stage and screen in a career spanning over eight decades. Moreno is one of the last remaining stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Among her numerous accolades, she is one of the few actors to have been awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony (EGOT)[3][4] and the Triple Crown of Acting, with individual competitive Academy, Emmy, and Tony awards. Additional accolades include the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, the National Medal of Arts in 2009, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2013, the Kennedy Center Honor in 2015, and a Peabody Award in 2019.

Moreno's early work included supporting roles in the classic musical films Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1956), before her breakout role as Anita in West Side Story (1961), which earned her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first Latin American woman to win an Academy Award.[5] Her other films include Popi (1969), Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Four Seasons (1981), I Like It Like That (1994), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), My Father's Dragon (2022) and Fast X (2023). Moreno portrayed the major supporting role of Valentina in the acclaimed and award winning 2021 remake of West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg.

In theater, she starred as Googie Gomez in the 1975 Terrence McNally musical The Ritz earning her the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She reprised her role in the 1976 film directed by Richard Lester which earned her a BAFTA Award for Best Actress nomination. She also acted in Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window in 1964 and in Neil Simon's The Odd Couple in 1985.

She was a cast member on the children's television series The Electric Company (1971-1977), and played Sister Peter Marie Reimondo on the HBO series Oz (1997-2003). She received two consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for her roles on The Muppet Show in 1977 and The Rockford Files in 1978. She gained acclaim for her roles in Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? (1994-1999), The CW series Jane the Virgin (2015–2019), and the Netflix revival of One Day at a Time (2017–2020). Her life was profiled in Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (2021).

Early years

Moreno was born in a Humacao, Puerto Rico hospital to Rosa María (née Marcano), a seamstress who was born in 1912, and Francisco José "Paco" Alverío, a farmer who was born in 1908. She was nicknamed "Rosita" and raised in nearby Juncos.[6][7] Her maternal grandparents were Justino Marcano (b. Puerto Rico) and Trinidad from Spain.[8] Moreno's mother moved to New York City in 1936, taking her daughter, but not her son, Moreno's younger brother, Francisco, whom Moreno would not see again until 2021.[9] Moreno adopted the surname of her first stepfather, Edward Moreno, Rosa Maria's second husband. She spent her teenage years living in the NYC suburb of Valley Stream on Long Island.[10]


1945–1959: Theater debut and early films

Rita Moreno in 1954

Moreno began her first dancing lessons soon after arriving in New York with a Spanish dancer known as "Paco Cansino", who was a paternal uncle of film star Rita Hayworth.[11] When she was 11 years old, she lent her voice to Spanish-language versions of American films. She had her first Broadway role, as "Angelina" in the 1945 production of Skydrift, by the age of 13, which caught the attention of Hollywood talent scouts. Moreno said she was raped by her agent while she was a teen actor.[12][13]

Moreno's film career began in the later years of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Moreno and her mother moved to a Culver City "cottage" within walking distance of MGM.[14] She acted steadily in films throughout the 1950s, usually in small roles, including in The Toast of New Orleans (1950)[15] In 1952, she appeared in Stanley Donen's musical comedy film Singin' in the Rain alongside Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. In the film she played silent film star Zelda Zanders. She described having gotten the role by Gene Kelly "wanting her in the movie" and that she "seemed to fit the role for him". Moreno praised Kelly for casting her in a non-stereotypical Hispanic role playing Zelda saying, "he never said 'Oh she's too Latina', he just thought I'd be fine for it". She called the experience working in the film as an "amazing experience" and a "privilege".[16]

In March 1954, Moreno was featured on the cover of Life magazine with the caption "Rita Moreno: An Actress's Catalog of Sex and Innocence".[17] Moreno disliked most of her film work during this period, as she felt the roles she was given were very stereotypical. One exception was her supporting role in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I directed by Walter Lang. In the film she played Tuptim, a slave brought from Burma to be one of the King's junior wives.[18] She starred alongside Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. The film was a critical and financial success. It received nine Academy Award nominations including five wins including Best Actor, Best Art Direction - Color, Best Costume Design - Color, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Recording. In 1959, Moreno appeared as Lola Montez in Season 3, Episode 23, of the TV western Tales of Wells Fargo, episode title "Lola Montez".[19]

1960–1969: Breakout with West Side Story

In 1961, Moreno landed the role of Anita in Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's groundbreaking Broadway musical West Side Story, which had been played by Chita Rivera on Broadway. Moreno earned acclaim for her performance. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described Moreno's performance full of "spitfire".[20] Variety wrote, "Moreno...presents a fiery characterization and also scores hugely".[21] The film went on to win ten Academy Awards including for Best Picture. Moreno won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for that role.[22]

After winning the Oscar, Moreno thought she would be able to continue to perform less stereotypical film roles, but was disappointed:

Ha, ha. I showed them. I didn't make another movie for seven years after winning the Oscar.... Before West Side Story, I was always offered the stereotypical Latina roles. The Conchitas and Lolitas in westerns. I was always barefoot. It was humiliating, embarrassing stuff. But I did it because there was nothing else. After West Side Story, it was pretty much the same thing. A lot of gang stories.[23]

Moreno had a major role in Summer and Smoke (1961), released soon after West Side Story. She did appear in one film during her self-imposed exile from Hollywood – Cry of Battle (1963) – although it had been filmed directly before and after she won the Academy Award. She made her return to film in The Night of the Following Day (1968) with Marlon Brando, and followed that with Popi (1969), and Marlowe (1969) with James Garner. Moreno's Broadway credits include Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969), the musical Gantry (1970), and The Ritz, for which she won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. She appeared in the female version of The Odd Couple[18] that ran in Chicago, for which she won the Sarah Siddons Award in 1985.[22] Her costar Struthers later stated in an interview on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast that it was an unpleasant experience until Rita Moreno, who Struthers alleges was mean-spirited towards her, left the play and was replaced by Brenda Vaccaro.[24]

1970–1999: Established actress

Moreno in The Ritz in 1975

From 1971 to 1977, Moreno was a main cast member on the PBS children's series The Electric Company. She screamed the show's opening line, "Hey, you guys!" Her roles on the show included Millie the Helper, the naughty little girl Pandora, and Otto, a very short-tempered director. Moreno also starred in Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge (1971) alongside Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Ann-Margret, and Art Garfunkel. In the film she plays a prostitute named Louise, whom Jack Nicholson plays cards with. The film was a critical success. In 1976 she starred as Googie Gomez in Richard Lester's film adaptation of the comedy farce The Ritz alongside Jack Weston, Jerry Stiller, and F. Murray Abraham. Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film made the transition from the stage "surprisingly well, given the odds," with "two of the most flamboyantly entertaining and skillful comedy performances of the year" by Jack Weston and Rita Moreno.[25]

Moreno's appearance on The Muppet Show earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 1977.[26] As a result, she became the third person (after Richard Rodgers and Helen Hayes) to have won an Oscar (1962), a Grammy (1972), a Tony (1975), and an Emmy (1977), frequently referred to as an "EGOT". She won another Emmy award the following year, 1978, this time a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress - Drama Series, for her portrayal of former call girl Rita Kapcovic on a three-episode arc on The Rockford Files.

In the 1980s Moreno starred as Lucille in Richard Benner's comedy-drama film Happy Birthday, Gemini alongside Madeline Kahn. She was in Alan Alda's The Four Seasons (1981) which was a financial and critical hit and starred Alda, Carol Burnett, Len Cariou, Sandy Dennis, and Jack Weston. She was a regular on the three-season network run of 9 to 5, a sitcom based on the film hit, during the early 1980s.[27] Rita Moreno has made numerous guest appearances on television series in the 1980s, including The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, George Lopez, The Golden Girls, and Miami Vice.

In 1993, Moreno was invited to perform at President Bill Clinton's inauguration and later that month was asked to perform at the White House.[28] During the mid-1990s, Moreno provided the voice of Carmen Sandiego on Fox's animated series Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?[29] In the franchise's 2019 animated series, Moreno voices the character Cookie Booker. In the late 1990s, Moreno played Sister Pete, a nun trained as a psychologist in the popular HBO series Oz, for which she won several ALMA Awards. She made a guest appearance on The Nanny as Coach Stone, Maggie's tyrannical gym teacher, whom Fran Fine also remembered from her school as Ms. Wickavich.[30]


Moreno at the Walk of Fame ceremony in 2022

She released an eponymous album of nightclub songs in 2000 on the Varèse Sarabande label, with liner notes by Michael Feinstein.[31] In 2006, she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's revival of The Glass Menagerie. She had a recurring role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent as the dying mother of Detective Robert Goren. She played the family matriarch on the 2007 TV series Cane, which starred Jimmy Smits and Hector Elizondo. She played the mother of Fran Drescher's character in the 2011–13 TV sitcom Happily Divorced.[citation needed]

Since then, she has continued to work in film, including a small voice role in the 2014 film Rio 2, perhaps her most commercially successful film. In September 2011, Moreno began performing a solo autobiographical show at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup written by the theatre's artistic director Tony Taccone after hours of interviews with Moreno.[17] In 2014, Moreno appeared in the NBC television film Old Soul, alongside Natasha Lyonne, Fred Willard and Ellen Burstyn.[32] The film was intended as a pilot for a television series, but it was not picked up.

Moreno plays the matriarch of a Cuban-American family in the Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time, a remake produced by Norman Lear of Lear's 1975–84 sitcom. The first season premiered in January 2017. Critics overall praised the show, and especially the performances of Moreno and the series' star, Justina Machado.[33] Also that year, Moreno and others contributed to Lin-Manuel Miranda's single "Almost Like Praying" where proceeds from the song went to the Hispanic Federation's UNIDOS Disaster Relief program to benefit those affected by Hurricane Maria that devastated the island of Puerto Rico.[34]


In 2020–21, Moreno starred in and executive-produced the Steven Spielberg–directed adaptation of West Side Story.[35] Moreno plays a newly created character, Valentina; she famously won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing Anita in the 1961 original movie. The film was released on December 10, 2021. Justin Chang of NPR wrote, "Sixty years later, Moreno is an executive producer on Spielberg's West Side Story. She also gives a poignant performance in the new role of Valentina, the widow of Doc, the drugstore owner. By her presence, Moreno teaches us how to approach this movie, as both an affectionate tribute and a gentle corrective."[36]

On August 29, 2021, Moreno took part in the "Wicked in Concert" special on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video App, performing "The Wizard and I".[37][38]

Moreno's life was profiled in the feature documentary entitled Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It which was produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received positive reviews. The Guardian declared, "Overall, she emerges just as vampish, feisty and fun as you’d expect, and as a gracious giver of speeches at ceremonies where she collects endless lifetime achievement awards".[39]

In 2023, Moreno starred in the sports comedy 80 for Brady about four elderly women who travel to see Tom Brady and the New England Patriots play at the Super Bowl LI. Moreno co-starred alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Sally Field, and played Abuelita Toretto, the grandmother of Dom (Vin Diesel), Jakob (John Cena), and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in Fast X, the tenth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise. Moreno played Angelica in Family Switch.

Personal life

From 1954 to 1962, Moreno was in an on-and-off relationship with Marlon Brando.[40] She revealed in her memoir that she became pregnant by Brando and he arranged for an abortion. The abortion was botched, she went home and bled as the fetus died inside her and she had to be rushed to the hospital to have it surgically removed. Soon after, Brando fell in love with his co-star on Mutiny on the Bounty, yet returned to her; Moreno attempted suicide by overdosing on Brando's sleeping pills.[41]

In 1965, Moreno married cardiologist and internist Leonard Gordon,[42] who became her manager after he retired from medicine.[43][44] In 1995, they relocated to Berkeley, California.[45] They remained together until his death in 2010.[46] Moreno and Gordon have one daughter, Fernanda Gordon Fisher, and two grandsons.[47] Moreno said she once considered leaving her husband, but did not to avoid breaking up the family.[48]

Acting credits and accolades

Photograph of President George W. Bush stands with Rita Moreno
Moreno with President Bush in 2004, prior to receiving the Medal of Freedom

Moreno has achieved what is called the Triple Crown of Acting, with individual competitive Academy, Emmy and Tony awards for acting; as well as the EGOT. In 1962, she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story. When Ariana DeBose won Best Supporting Actress for the same role in the 2021 adaptation of the film, Moreno and DeBose became the third pair of actors to win separate acting Oscars for portraying the same character. In 1972, she received a Grammy Award for Best Children's Album for The Electric Company. In 1975, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Ritz. She won her Primetime Emmy Awards in 1977 and 1978 for her performances in The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, respectively.[49]

She has also received a Golden Globe Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she was Inducted into the California Hall of Fame, 2007[50] In 2013, she received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award which was presented to her by Morgan Freeman.[51]

She has won numerous other honors, including various lifetime achievement awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. In 2009, President Barack Obama presented her with the National Medal of Arts.[52] In 2015, she was awarded a Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award for her contribution to American culture, through performing arts.[53] She was awarded the Peabody Career Achievement Award in 2019. She also received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2013, and was awarded the Peabody Award in 2019.[54]

See also


  1. ^ Gettell, Oliver (January 18, 2014). "SAG Awards 2014: Rita Moreno receives lifetime achievement award". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 14, 2021. Retrieved October 25, 2021.
  2. ^ "Rita Moreno | Biography, West Side Story, Movies, Oscar, & Facts". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on October 11, 2021. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
  3. ^ "16 stars who are EGOT winners". Entertainment Weekly. July 27, 2020. Archived from the original on July 27, 2020. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  4. ^ Nicole Lyn Pesce; Joe Dziemianowicz; Margaret Eby (March 3, 2014). "Oscars 2014: Bobby Lopez becomes youngest person to get an EGOT with Best Original Song win for 'Let It Go'". Daily News. New York. Archived from the original on March 6, 2014. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  5. ^ "Rita Moreno becomes the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar". History Channel. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  6. ^ Rita Moreno: A Memoir. Celebra (Penguin Group). 2013. ISBN 978-0-451-41637-7.
  7. ^ filmreference.com blacklisted
  8. ^ Rita Moreno: A Memoir. Celebra (Penguin Group). 2013. ISBN 978-0-451-41637-7. Archived from the original on October 25, 2021. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  9. ^ "Rita Moreno Says It Was "Spooky" Working Alongside New Anita in "West Side Story"". YouTube. December 1, 2021. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  10. ^ "Rita Moreno joining Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' remake". Newsday. November 27, 2018. Archived from the original on November 28, 2018. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  11. ^ Rita Moreno Interview 2000 on YouTube.
  12. ^ Article from 2022 in The Mercury News
  13. ^ Interview in 60 minutes from 2021 on CBS
  14. ^ Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For ItAmerican Masters Season 35, Episode 19 (documentary)
  15. ^ Schallert, Edwin (March 22, 1950). "TV Tempts Crawford' Betty Garrett Ending MGM Pact; "Mother" Set". Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ "Rita Moreno & SINGIN IN THE RAIN". Youtube. November 27, 2006. Archived from the original on February 29, 2020. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Rita Moreno's life laid bare in 'Life without Makeup'". Berkeleyside. September 8, 2011. Archived from the original on September 10, 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  18. ^ a b Rita Moreno at IMDb
  19. ^ "Lola Montez". IMDb. February 16, 1959. Archived from the original on February 9, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  20. ^ "REVIEW - WEST SIDE STORY". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2023.
  21. ^ "West Side Story". Variety. September 27, 1961. Retrieved August 28, 2023.
  22. ^ a b "Rita Moreno fan site". Archived from the original on December 23, 2013. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  23. ^ "Rita Moreno overcame Hispanic stereotypes to achieve stardom". The Miami Herald. September 14, 2008. Archived from the original on August 23, 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  24. ^ soundcloud.com
  25. ^ Champlin, Charles (October 6, 1976). "Gays and Gags in 'The Ritz'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV: 1. Archived from the original on October 25, 2021. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  26. ^ Green, Elon (August 7, 2018). "'I Can't Stop Laughing': Rita Moreno Remembers Singing with Animal". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on September 29, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  27. ^ Rita Moreno at IMDb
  28. ^ "Speakers on healthcare". Archived from the original on October 4, 2013.
  29. ^ Mangan, Jennifer (May 4, 1994). "'Educating Rita". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on September 15, 2011. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  30. ^ "Rita Moreno". All American Entertainment Speakers. All American Speakers Bureau. Archived from the original on April 10, 2016. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  31. ^ Rita Moreno, Varèse Sarabande 302 066 189 2 (2000)
  32. ^ Nellie Andreeva (February 8, 2014). "Rita Moreno to Co-Star in Amy Poehler's NBC Comedy Pilot 'Old Soul'". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on March 1, 2014. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
  33. ^ "One Day at a Time: Season 1". Rotten Tomatoes. January 2017. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  34. ^ Villafañe, Veronica. "Lin-Manuel Miranda Releases Star-Studded 'Almost Like Praying' Song For Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief". Forbes. Archived from the original on October 11, 2017. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  35. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 27, 2018). "Rita Moreno Returns to 'West Side Story': EGOT Winner to Play the Role of Valentina in Steven Spielberg's Remake". Deadline. Archived from the original on February 20, 2019. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  36. ^ "Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' will make you believe in movies again". NPR. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  37. ^ "Rita Moreno to Perform in PBS' "Wicked in Concert" Special". August 9, 2021. Retrieved October 24, 2021.
  38. ^ "Photos-See-Idina-Menzel-Kristin-Chenoweth-Amber-Riley-Gavin-Creel-Ali-Stroker-Alex-Newell-More-in-Photos-From-WICKED-IN-CONCERT". August 25, 2021. Retrieved October 24, 2021.
  39. ^ "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It review – vampish and sharp as a stiletto". The Guardian. December 2021. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  40. ^ "After Trying Hollywood, Brando and Suicide, Rita Moreno Has Settled Down". People. April 21, 1975. Archived from the original on January 23, 2010.
  41. ^ Cahalan, Susannah (February 17, 2013). "Rita Moreno tells all about her 'near-fatal' affair with Marlon Brando in memoir". New York Post. Archived from the original on January 28, 2018. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  42. ^ "Leonard Isadore Gordon Obituary". Los Angeles Times. July 11, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  43. ^ Brunati, Bryan (December 11, 2019). "Who Is Rita Moreno's Husband? Get to Know the 'West Side Story' Star's Late Spouse Leonard Gordon". Closer Weekly. Archived from the original on October 8, 2021. Retrieved October 13, 2021.
  44. ^ Johnson, G. Allen (June 15, 2021). "Review: 'Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It' a feisty documentary that matches its fascinating subject". Datebook. sf chronicle. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  45. ^ Guthrie, Julian (September 18, 2011). "Rita Moreno reflects on her remarkable career". SFGATE. Retrieved October 26, 2021. "I would call my story an American story," Moreno said, sitting in her Berkeley hills home, where she has lived for the past 16 years.
  46. ^ "Gordon, Leonard". San Francisco Chronicle. July 11, 2010. Retrieved July 13, 2010.
  47. ^ "Leonard Isadore Gordon". Los Angeles Times. July 11, 2010. Archived from the original on March 6, 2019. Retrieved February 10, 2020 – via Legacy.com.
  48. ^ McElwaine, Sandra (January 15, 2014). "Rita Moreno, SAG Life Achievement Award Winner, Talks Brando, Elvis And West Side Story". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on June 7, 2015. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  49. ^ "Rita Moreno". Television Academy. Retrieved December 10, 2021.
  50. ^ Moreno inducted into California Hall of Fame Archived January 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, California Museum. Retrieved 2007
  51. ^ Rita Moreno Honored With SAG Life Achievement Award during the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Archived September 30, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved January 19, 2014
  52. ^ White House Announces 2009 National Medal of Arts Recipients Archived May 5, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  53. ^ Viagas, Robert. "Carole King, Cicely Tyson, Rita Moreno and More Named 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees" Archived December 27, 2020, at the Wayback Machine Playbill, July 15, 2015
  54. ^ "Rita Moreno to Receive Peabody Award for Career Achievement". TheWrap. March 28, 2019. Archived from the original on May 10, 2021. Retrieved May 8, 2021.

External links