Rita Moreno

“Bigger than life is not difficult for me.”

Rita Moreno, Puerto Rican-born American actress, dancer, and singer, 1931-present

Rita Moreno’s star-making role was as Anita in the 1961 West Side Story movie. With a career spanning seven decades, she also appeared in Steven Spielberg's 2021 remake of the Broadway hit, this time as Valentina. She has been called “irrepressible,” and is one of very few performers to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award. 

Rita (Rosita) Moreno was born in a small Puerto Rican village to a seamstress and a farmer. When she was six, her mother took her to New York City, leaving behind her father and brother. Moreno began dancing professionally in nightclubs at age nine, and at 11, started doing Spanish voice overs of U.S. movies. MGM signed her briefly, changing her name from Rosita to Rita. Although often typecast as an “exotic,” two of her better roles were in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1956). She was the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar (for West Side Story, 1962) beating out America’s sweetheart Judy Garland. Her acceptance speech was one of the shortest in history: “I can’t believe it! Good Lord! I leave you with that.”

During that time, according to her eponymous memoir, she had a tumultuous eight-year affair with Marlon Brando and dated Elvis Presley to make him jealous. After she attempted suicide, she was introduced to therapy, which she does to this day.

In happier times, Moreno married Leonard Gordon in 1965, and they had a daughter, Fernanda. She continued to work, earning accolades for her appearances on children’s shows: she won a Grammy for a song from The Electric Company (1971) which she called “the most fun ever,” and an Emmy for The Muppet Show (2004). She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom that same year. The 2021 documentary about her life is called, fittingly, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It."


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