Whether you know her from popular TV series to the widely acclaimed West Side Story, one thing is for sure, her talent is limitless. Before Rita Moreno came to be, she was born Rosa Dolores Alverío on December 11, 1931 in Humacao, Puerto Rico. Her childhood was spent on a farm, up until she was 5 years old when her mother had saved up enough money to move to New York. There, she took dance classes, and at the age of 11, she was hired to voice over for American children in film who’d appear in Spanish-speaking countries. Her first appearance on Broadway came at the age of 13 where she made her debut in Skydrift (1945). She had taken her stepfather’s surname, and at the time she was credited as Rosita Moreno, but soon she’d take the name everyone now knows her for, Rita. Her role in the film So Young, So Bad (1950), captured the attention of MGM Studios and she officially became Rita Moreno. Rita recalls being often type-cast into stereotypical roles that were often sexualized. She’d star in numerous notable films such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), and The King and I (1956). In 1954 she met Marlon Brando on the set of his biopic. There was an instant attraction from both parties and that marked the beginning of a tumultuous 8-year love affair. This relationship had a profound effect on her, so much so, that it nearly drove her to suicide.
Even though Rita continued to accept stereotypical roles, she knew that one day she’d finally land a role befitting of her talent. The fateful day finally came in 1961 when she was cast as Anita in the iconic West Side Story. Rita made history when she won an Academy Award for her performance and gained international acclaim. This trailblazing moment marked a shift and created waves among many Latino actors. Though this should have marked a new dawn for her acting career, her agents continued to push for stereotypical “exotic” roles for Latinas. Rita was heartbroken at the continuous dismissal of her talent even after one Oscar and a Golden Globe. The roles that were continuously offered by Hollywood were those that she had played before highly stereotypical and offensive. For the next seven years, she would not make a film, and instead, she took her talent to the theater. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that she’d make a remarkable return to the infamous industry where she’d go on to star in popular films like The Night of the Following Day, Carnal Knowledge, and Marlowe.
In 1965, she married Leonard Gordon a cardiologist who became her manager. They had a daughter together, Fernanda Luisa Fisher, and were married for 46 years when he passed away in 2010. In a 2018 interview when asked about her dating life and possible marriage she said “married?..I’d rather eat glass”. While she loved her husband, the last 15 years of their marriage were difficult, and she said that she would’ve left if she had had to courage to do so.
Rita Moreno, a trailblazer and one of the most revered women in the industry was not handed her success. When her mother brought her to New York she was called racial slurs she did not know the meaning to, but she understood she was not liked. As her career progressed, she understood how much value she brought to the industry. This could not have been made anymore clearer when in 1977 she received an Emmy for an appearance on The Muppet Show. With this win, she became the second woman and the third individual who achieved the highly coveted EGOT, an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony win. Her recognition for her talent did not end there, in 1978 she claimed a second Emmy! In 2009 the White House acknowledged Rita Moreno’s contributions and awarded her with the Presidential Freedom of Honor.
Rita Moreno knew the door of opportunity was closed, yet she went for it. While the door isn’t closed anymore, it isn’t completely open but because of her, there are many who have benefited from decades of work.
We cannot capture the magnitude of this iconic woman in a short blog, but we hope you understand the important role she played for the future of many. After all, aren’t we all “just going for it”?
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