American actress Rita Moreno has managed to have a thriving career for the better part of six decades despite the institutional racism that has plagued the entertainment industry, particularly the anti-Hispanic bias that stereotyped Hispanic women as "spitfires" and sexpots. Moreno, one of the very few (and very first) performers to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy, was born Rosita Dolores Alverío in Humacao, Puerto Rico on December 11, 1931. She moved to New York City in 1937 along with her mother, where she began a professional career before she was a teenager. The 11-year-old Rosita got her first movie experience dubbing Spanish-language versions of American films. Less than a month before her 14th birthday on November 11, 1945, she made her Broadway debut in the play "Skydrift" at the Belasco Theatre, co-starring with Arthur Keegan and the young Eli Wallach. Although she would not appear again on Broadway for almost 20 years, Rita Moreno, as she was billed in the play, had arrived professionally. It would take her nearly as long to break through the forces of institutional racism and become the first Hispanic woman to win an Academy Award.
The cover of the March 1, 1954 edition of "Life Magazine" featured a three-quarters, over-the-left shoulder profile of the young Puerto Rican actress/entertainer with the provocative title "Rita Moreno: An Actresses' Catalog of Sex and Innocence." It was sexpot time, a stereotype that would plague her throughout the decade. If not cast as a Hispanic pepper pot, she could rely on being cast as another "exotic", such as her appearance on "Father Knows Best" (1954) as an exchange student from India. Because of a dearth of decent material, Moreno as an actress had to play roles in movies that she considered degrading. Among the better pictures she appeared in were the classic Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1956).
Filmmaker Robert Wise, who was chosen to co-direct the movie version of the smash hit Broadway musical West Side Story (1961) (a retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" with the warring Venetian clans the Montagues and Capulets re-envisioned as Irish/Polish-American and Puerto Rican teenage street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks), cast Moreno as "Anita", the Puerto Rican girlfriend of Sharks' leader Bernardo, whose sister Maria is the piece's Juliet. A seasoned singer and dancer, Moreno delivered a superb performance that completely overshadowed the Maria of the movie, the non-singer (and non-Hispanic) Natalie Wood, the only movie star in the ensemble cast.
Moreno was unforgettable in a harrowing scene where she had to deliver a message from Maria to the Romeo of the piece, the Jets' member Tony, and is assaulted by his fellow gang-members. This is the real climax of the film, as the degradation of Anita proves that the machinations of fate are in full gear, and that the players will not be able to escape their destinies whatever their intentions. For her performance, Rita Moreno won a well-deserved Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. Her performance was an integral component of one of the most successful film musicals in history, and a movie that has transcended the class "classic" to become legendary, a film (like Moreno's favorite, Citizen Kane (1941)) that can never be remade.
However, despite her proven talent, roles commensurate with that talent were not forthcoming in the 1960s. The following decade would prove kinder, possibly as the beautiful Moreno had aged and could now be seen by filmmakers, TV producers and casting directors as something other than the stereotypical spitfire/sexpot that Hispanic women were supposed to conform to. Ironically, it was in two vastly diverging roles -- that of a $100 hooker in director Mike Nichols brilliant realization of Jules Feiffer's acerbic look at male sexuality, Carnal Knowledge (1971) (1971) and that of Milly the Helper in the children's TV show "The Electric Company" (1971) (1971) -- that signaled a career renaissance.
During the seventies, Moreno won a 1972 Grammy Award for her contribution to "The Electric Company" soundtrack album, following it up three years later with a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for The Ritz (1976), a role she would reproduce on the Big Screen. She then won Emmy Awards for "The Muppet Show" and "The Rockford Files".
Thereafter, she has continued to work steadily on screen (both large and small) and on-stage, solidifying her reputation as a national treasure, a status that was officially ratified with the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in June 2004.
|Lenny Gordon||(18 June 1965 - 30 June 2010) (his death) 1 child|
Cites Citizen Kane (1941), as her all-time favorite film.
Is one of the only 12 people who are an EGOT, which means that she won at least one of all of the four major entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. The other ones in chronological order are Richard Rodgers, Barbra Streisand, Helen Hayes, Liza Minnelli, John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tunick, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Whoopi Goldberg and James Earl Jones. Liza Minnelli won a Special Grammy, and James Earl Jones won a Special Academy.
She made a guest appearance on the "Father Knows Best" (1954) episode, "Father Knows Best: Fair Exchange (#5.10)" (1958), originally telecast Nov. 24, 1958. Rita played "Chanthini", an exchange student from India, who spends a weekend at the Anderson home with her college classmate, Betty (Elinor Donahue).
Appeared in the pilot for the TV series "Empty Nest" (1988), which was an episode of "The Golden Girls" (1985). The premise was changed in the final version of "Empty Nest" (1988), in which she did not appear.
When her star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she fell on top of it, openly and uncontrollably weeping. She later commented, "I had been dreaming of this day since I was six!"
Is a key spokesperson in raising the awareness of osteoporosis and, in 2000, was presented with an award from the National Osteoporosis Foundation for her work.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush [June 2004].
During the first season (episode 19) of "The Electric Company" (1971), she was in a sketch in which she yelled "Hey, you guys!" repeatedly. It became so popular with the show's producers that they decided to use it as the catchphrase in their opening, starting with season two.
In 1977, she became the ninth performer to win the Triple Crown of Acting: (Oscar: Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story (1961), Tony, Best Featured Actress, The Ritz (1975) and Emmy 1977 ("The Muppet Show" (1976)) and 1978 ("The Rockford Files" (1974)).
Daughter, Fernanda Luisa Gordon (Fernanda Gordon), was born in 1967. A successful jewelry designer, she founded Nandiz Design. She is married to David Fisher and they have two children named Justin and Cameron.
In 1975, she won Broadway's Tony Award as Best Supporting Actress (Drama or Comedy) for her riotous performance as "Googie Gomez", a fifth rate Latin torch singer relegated to singing in a gay bathhouse in "The Ritz," a role she recreated in the hilarious film version, The Ritz (1976).
When filming her final scene in West Side Story (1961) in which her character "Anita" is harassed and nearly raped by New York street gang members "the Jets", she was reduced to tears, as it brought flashbacks of similar real life childhood experiences. When she broke down, the other actors nobly stopped and comforted her, helping her to get through the scene, pointing out that the audience was going to hate the gang members for what they were doing, as "Anita" was well meaning in what she was doing, and the sequence set up a critical plot element.
Of the nine people who won all four major entertainment awards (Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy), Moreno won all four awards in the shortest amount of time within a 16 year time frame. Winning the Oscar in 1962, Grammy in 1972, Tony in 1975 and her first of two Emmys in 1977. Composer Richard Rodgers is second, winning his four awards within a 17 year time frame.
Husband Dr. Lenny Gordon was a internist and cardiologist.
Portrayed Amanda Wingfield from Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie at the Berkeley Reperatory Theater in Berkeley, California (July 2006)
Mother of Fernanda Gordon.
She was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts on February 25, 2010 at the White House in Washington D.C. for her services and contributions to the arts.
Is one of twelve actresses to have won the Triple Crown of Acting (an Oscar, Emmy and Tony); the others in chronological order are Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, Shirley Booth, Liza Minnelli, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Audrey Hepburn, Anne Bancroft, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith and Ellen Burstyn.
Was the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar when she won for West Side Story (1961). She was not the first Hispanic entertainer to win an Oscar, however. That was fellow Puerto Rican José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950).
Bigger than life is not difficult for me. I am bigger than life.
It is very important that women of this country be made aware of the dangers of osteoporosis in the sense that it is a silent and invisible disease with no symptoms whatsoever.
[Her Oscar acceptance speech] I can't believe it! Good Lord!... I'll leave you with that.
A lot of young Latino actors have said to me: 'Why can't we get an Oscar? Why can't we be nominated?' And the terrible truth is that if you don't get the right parts-you're not going to be. Are you going to get an Oscar nomination for one of those Judd Apatow movies? Not likely-no matter what nationality you are. And I think that until we as Latino actors get to do roles that have really serious meaning, it's going to be impossible to get nominated.
(April 2002) Lives in Berkeley, California.
(February 2009) Performed her one-woman cabaret show at the Conga Room in Los Angeles.
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