Rita Moreno (born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano;[nb 1] December 11, 1931) is a Puerto Rico-born American actress, dancer, and singer. Known for her notable work across different areas of the entertainment industry, she has appeared in numerous film, television, and theater projects throughout her extensive career spanning over 70 years. Her vast work includes supporting roles in the musical films Singin' in the Rain (1952), The King and I (1956) and West Side Story (1961), as well as a 1971 to 1977 stint on the children's television series The Electric Company, and a supporting role as Sister Peter Marie Reimondo on the HBO series Oz from 1997 to 2003. Her other notable films include Popi (1969), Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Four Seasons (1981), I Like It Like That (1994) and the cult film Slums of Beverly Hills (1998). She voiced the titular role of Carmen Sandiego in Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? from 1994 to 1999. For theater, she is best known for her role as Googie Gomez in The Ritz.
Among her numerous accolades, Moreno is one of a few performers to have won the four major annual American entertainment awards: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She is also one of 24 people who have achieved what is called the Triple Crown of Acting, with individual competitive Academy, Emmy and Tony awards for acting; she and Helen Hayes are the only two who have achieved both distinctions. She has won numerous other awards, including various lifetime achievement awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. In 2015, she was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor for her contribution to American culture through performing arts. She was awarded the Peabody Career Achievement Award in 2019.
Moreno was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, to Rosa María (née Marcano), a seamstress, and Francisco José "Paco" Alverío, a farmer. She was nicknamed "Rosita". Moreno, whose mother was 17 at the time of her birth, was raised in nearby Juncos. Her maternal grandparents were Justino Marcano (b. Puerto Rico) and Trinidad from Spain. Moreno's mother moved to New York City in 1936, taking her daughter, but not her son, Moreno's younger brother, Francisco. Moreno adopted the surname of her first stepfather, Edward Moreno, Rosa Maria's second husband. She spent her teenage years living in the villages of Valley Stream on Long Island, part of the town of Hempstead bordering New York City.
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. 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 Skydrift, by the age of 13, which caught the attention of Hollywood talent scouts.
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. She acted steadily in films throughout the 1950s, usually in small roles, including in The Toast of New Orleans (1950) 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".
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. 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 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 won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for that role.
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.
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.
Moreno's Broadway credits include Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969), the very short-lived 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 that ran in Chicago, for which she won the Sarah Siddons Award in 1985.
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 Louise, who 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.
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. 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. 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.
During the mid-1990s, Moreno provided the voice of Carmen Sandiego on Fox's animated series Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? 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.
She released an eponymous album of nightclub songs in 2000 on the Varèse Sarabande label, with liner notes by Michael Feinstein. 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 short-lived 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.
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 Rep (theater) in Berkeley, California, Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup written by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone after hours of interviews with Moreno. In 2014, Moreno appeared in the NBC television film Old Soul, alongside Natasha Lyonne, Fred Willard and Ellen Burstyn. 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. 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.
In 2020–21 Moreno starred in and executive produced the Steven Spielberg–directed adaptation of West Side Story. Moreno plays a newly created character Valentina; she famously won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Anita in the 1961 original movie. The film is due to be released on December 10, 2021.
In 1965, Moreno married cardiologist and internist Leonard Gordon, who became her manager after he retired from medicine. In 1995, she relocated to Berkeley, California. They remained together until his death in 2010. Moreno and Gordon have one daughter, Fernanda Gordon Fisher, and two grandsons. Moreno said she once considered leaving her husband, but did not to avoid breaking up the family.
Awards and honors
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. 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.
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 In 2013, she received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award which was presented to her by Morgan Freeman.
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. In 2015, she was awarded a Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award for her contribution to American culture, through performing arts. She was awarded the Peabody Career Achievement Award in 2019.
Since 2000, The Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) renamed their Award for Excellence in her honor, known as the HOLA Rita Moreno Award for Excellence.
Among Moreno's awards and recognition are the following:
- Joseph Jefferson Award: Best Chicago Theatre Actress, 1968
- Sarah Siddons Award for her portrayal of Olive Madison in the female version of The Odd Couple, 1985
- Library of Congress Living Legends Award, April 2000
- Special Recognition Award from the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, 2001
- Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) Lifetime Achievement Award, 2010
- Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2012
- Honorary doctorate of music, awarded by the Berklee College of Music, May 7, 2016.
- Ellis Island Medal of Honor, May 11, 2018.
- Grand Marshal of the 2020 Rose Parade
- List of Puerto Ricans
- List of Puerto Ricans in the Academy Awards
- List of people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award
- List of Puerto Rican Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients
- History of women in Puerto Rico
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- Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It—American Masters Season 35, Episode 19 (documentary)
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- 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.
- "One Day at a Time: Season 1". Rotten Tomatoes. January 2017. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
- 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.
- 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.
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- "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.
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- "Leonard Isadore Gordon Obituary". Los Angeles Times. Legacy.com. July 11, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
- "Who Is Rita Moreno's Husband? Get to Know the 'West Side Story' Star's Late Spouse Leonard Gordon". Closer Weekly. December 11, 2019. Archived from the original on October 8, 2021. Retrieved October 13, 2021.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Gordon, Leonard". San Francisco Chronicle. July 11, 2010. Retrieved July 13, 2010.
- "Leonard Isadore Gordon". Los Angeles Times. July 11, 2010. Archived from the original on March 6, 2019. Retrieved February 10, 2020 – via Legacy.com.
- 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.
- Moreno inducted into California Hall of Fame Archived January 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, California Museum. Retrieved 2007
- 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
- White House Announces 2009 National Medal of Arts Recipients Archived May 5, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- 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
- "Luz Casal, Leo Dan, Rita Moreno, Milton Nascimento, Daniela Romo, Poncho Sanchez, and Toquinho to Be Honored with the Lation Recording Academy® Lifetime Achievement Award" (Press release). LARAS. September 13, 2012. Archived from the original on October 29, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
- Rita Moreno honored at commencement Archived June 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Berklee College of Music official site, May 2016.
- "Congratulations to our 2018 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Recipients". Archived from the original on September 9, 2018. Retrieved September 9, 2018.
- Actresses, gymnast named grand marshals of 2020 Rose Parade Archived October 20, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, AP, October 15, 2019
- Rita Moreno at the Internet Broadway Database
- Rita Moreno at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Rita Moreno at IMDb
- Rita Moreno interview, Downstage Center XM Radio interview by the American Theatre Wing, January 2007; March 2007
- Rita Moreno interview on PBS NewsHour, October 1, 2013 (0:48:28), at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting
- Rita Moreno at The Interviews: An Oral History of Television
- TonyAwards.com Interview with Rita Moreno
- Rita Moreno; video produced by Makers: Women Who Make America
- Image of the United Civil Rights Committee with actress Rita Moreno at a march against de facto school segregation in Los Angeles, California, 1963. Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive (Collection 1429). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.