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Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno (born December 11, 1931) is a Puerto Rican actress, dancer and singer. Her career has spanned over 70 years; among her notable acting work are supporting roles in the musical films The King and I and West Side Story, as well as a 1971–77 stint on the children's television series The Electric Company, and a supporting role on the 1997–2003 TV drama Oz.

Moreno is one of the few artists[2] to have won all four major annual American entertainment awards: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony.[3] She is also one of 23 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.

Rita Moreno
Rosa Dolores Alverío

(1931-12-11)December 11, 1931
Humacao, Puerto Rico
OccupationActress, singer, dancer
Years active1943–present
Leonard Gordon
(m. 1965; died 2010)

Early years

Moreno (birth name: Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano [1])[4] 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.[5][6] 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, New York on Long Island.[7]


Early career

Rita 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.[8] 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 time she was 13, which caught the attention of Hollywood talent scouts.


Rita Moreno, 1963

Rita Moreno, 1963

Moreno acted steadily in films throughout the 1950s, usually in small roles, including in The Toast of New Orleans (1950)[9] and Singin' in the Rain (1952), in which she played the starlet "Zelda Zanders". 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".[10][11]

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 The King and I as Tuptim.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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), Marlowe (1969) with James Garner, Carnal Knowledge (1971) and The Ritz (1976). Another notable role was in the hit film The Four Seasons (1981). She has continued to work in film since then, including a small voice role in the 2014 film Rio 2, perhaps her most commercially successful film.

Moreno will star and executive produce along with Steven Spielberg the remake of West Side Story.[15]


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.

Rita Moreno has made numerous guest appearances on television series since the 1970s, including The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, George Lopez, The Golden Girls, and Miami Vice.

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.[16] 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.

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.[17]

During the mid-1990s, Moreno provided the voice of Carmen Sandiego on Fox's animated series Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?[18] In the franchise's 2019 animated series, Moreno voices the character Cookie Booker.

In the late 1990s, she gained exposure to a new generation of viewers when she 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.[19]

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.[20]

In 2014, Moreno appeared in the NBC television film Old Soul, alongside Natasha Lyonne, Fred Willard and Ellen Burstyn.[21] 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.[22]


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[12] that ran in Chicago, for which she won the Sarah Siddons Award in 1985.[13]

In 2006, she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's revival of The Glass Menagerie.

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.[10]


During the 1952 presidential election, Moreno supported Adlai Stevenson's campaign.[23]

In 1993 she was invited to perform at President Bill Clinton's inauguration and later that month was asked to perform at the White House.[3]

She released an eponymous album of nightclub songs in 2000 on the Varèse Sarabande label, with liner notes by Michael Feinstein.[24]

In 2017, she 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.[25]

Personal life

Moreno was romantically involved with actor Marlon Brando.[26] It was a tumultuous relationship due to his infidelity. When Moreno became pregnant, Brando arranged for an abortion.[27] After a botched abortion, Moreno tried to commit suicide by overdosing on his sleeping pills.[27]

In interviews with Good Day LA (2013) and Wendy Williams (June 28, 2018), as well as her biography, Moreno stated that Elvis Presley was not a good lover. They dated for quite some time, but whenever the opportunity presented itself to take the relationship to another level, she said Presley backed off,[28] "like a baby brother who couldn’t make interesting conversation."[29]

Moreno stated that theater critic Kenneth Tynan stalked her.[29][30]

On June 18, 1965, Moreno married Leonard Gordon, a cardiologist who was also her manager. He died on June 30, 2010.[31] They have one daughter, Fernanda Luisa Fisher,[13] and two grandsons, Justin and Cameron Fisher.[32] Moreno once considered leaving her husband but could not because she did not want to break up the family.[30]


Moreno in 2000

Moreno in 2000

Moreno with President Bush in 2004, prior to receiving the Medal of Freedom

Moreno with President Bush in 2004, prior to receiving the Medal of Freedom

Among Moreno's awards and recognition are the following:

  • Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (West Side Story), 1961

  • Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (West Side Story), 1961

  • Joseph Jefferson Award: Best Chicago Theatre Actress, 1968

  • Grammy Award for Best Album for Children (The Electric Company Album), 1972

  • Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play (The Ritz), 1975

  • Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, 1977

  • Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress – Drama Series (for The Rockford Files), 1978

  • 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

  • The Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) renamed their Award for Excellence in her honor (known as the HOLA Rita Moreno Award for Excellence since 2000)

  • Special Recognition Award from the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, 2001

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, June 2004

  • A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

  • Inducted into the California Hall of Fame, 2007[33]

  • National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, 2009[34]

  • Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) Lifetime Achievement Award, 2010

  • Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2012[35]

  • Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, 2013 (presented on Saturday, January 18, 2014)[36]

  • Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, 2015[37]

  • Honorary doctorate of music, awarded by the Berklee College of Music, May 7, 2016.[38]

  • Ellis Island Medal of Honor, May 11, 2018.[39]



1950So Young, So BadDolores GuererroCredited as Rosita Moreno
The Toast of New Orleans
1950Pagan Love SongTerru
1952The RingLucy Gomez
1952Singin' in the RainZelda Zanders
1952The Fabulous SenoritaManuela Rodríguez
1952Cattle TownQueli
1953Fort VengeanceBridget Fitzgibbon
1953Ma and Pa Kettle on VacationSoubretteUncredited
1953Latin LoversChristina
1953El AlameinJara
1954The Yellow TomahawkHoney Bear
1954Garden of EvilCantina Singer
1955Seven Cities of GoldUla
The Lieutenant Wore Skirts
Sandra Roberts
The King and I
The Vagabond King
1957The DeerslayerHetty Hutter
1960This Rebel BreedLola Montalvo
1961West Side StoryAnita
1961Summer and SmokeRosa Zacharias
1963Cry of BattleSisa
The Night of the Following Day
1969MarloweDolores Gonzáles
1971Carnal KnowledgeLouise
1976The RitzGoogie Gomez
  • Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
  • Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1977Voodoo Passion
The Boss' Son
Esther Rose
1980Happy Birthday, GeminiLucille
The Four Seasons
Claudia Zimmer
1991Age Isn't EverythingRita
1993Italian MovieIsabella
1994I Like It Like ThatRosaria Linares
1995Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My BusinessHerselfDocumentary
1995AngusMadame Rulenska
1998Slums of Beverly HillsBelle AbromowitzNominated—ALMA Award for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film in a Crossover Role
1999Carlo's WakeAngela Torello
The Puerto Ricans: Our American Story
2000Blue MoonMaggie
2001PiñeroMiguel's Mother
2003Casa de los BabysSeñora Muñoz
2003Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of MexicoDona Dolores and Woman No. 3 (voice)
2003Beyond Borders: John Sayles in MexicoHerselfDocumentary
2004King of the CornerInez
2006Play It By EarRuth
2014Rio 2Mimi (voice)
2014Six Dance Lessons in Six WeeksIda Barks
2020West Side StoryValentinaFilming; also executive producer


1958Father Knows BestChanthiniEpisode: "Fair Exchange" (November 24, 1958)
1960Bourbon Street BeatManuela RuizEpisode: "Suitable for Framing" (May 16, 1960)
1963Burke's LawMargaret CowlsEpisode: "Who Killed Julian Buck?" (October 18, 1963)
The Electric Company
Otto The Director
Pandora the Little Girl, Millie the Helper
Cast member
1974Dominic's DreamAnita Bente
1974Out to LunchVariousNominated—Emmy Award for Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music
1975Mister Rogers' NeighborhoodHerselfEpisode #1399
The Muppet Show
  • Episode #1.5
  • Emmy Award for Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music
The Rockford Files
Rita Capkovic
  • 3 episodes
  • Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
  • Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
1979Anatomy of a SeductionNinaTV movie
The Muppets Go Hollywood
1981Evita PerónRenata RiguelTV movie
1982–19839 to 5Violet Newstead
  • Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
  • Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
1982Portrait of a ShowgirlRosella DeLeonNominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1986The Golden GirlsReneeEpisode: "Empty Nests"
The Cosby Show
Mrs. GrangerEpisode: "You Only Hurt the One You Love"
1989Miami ViceCongresswoman Madelyn WoodsEpisode: "Miami Squeeze"
1989–1990B.L. StrykerKimberly Baskin2 episodes
1994The NannyMiss Wickervich/Mrs. StoneEpisode: "The Gym Teacher"
1994–1998Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?Carmen Sandiego (voice)Nominated—Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program (1995, 1996, 1997)
The Cosby Mysteries
Angie Corea16 episodes
The Wharf Rat
The Magic School Bus
Dr. Camrina Skeledon (voice)Episode: "The Busasaurus"
1997–2003OzSister Peter Marie Reimondo
  • 55 episodes
  • ALMA Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series (1998–1999, 2002)
  • Nominated—ALMA Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series (2000–2001)
1998The SpreeIrma Kelly
2003The GuardianCaroline NovakGuest stars as Louisa Olsen's (Wendy Moniz) mother
2004CopshopMary Alice
2005Law & Order: Special Victims UnitMildred QuintanaEpisode: "Night"
2005Law & Order: Trial by JuryMildred QuintanaEpisode: "Day"
2006–2007Law & Order: Criminal IntentFrances Goren3 episodes: "Endgame"; "The War at Home" and "Brother's Keeper"
2007George LopezLuisa DiazEpisode: "George Testi-Lies for Benny"
2007Ugly BettyAunt MirtaEpisode: "A Tree Grows in Guadalajara"
2007CaneAmalia Duque13 episodes
2010In Plain SightRita RamirezEpisode: "Coma Chameleon"
2011Special Agent OsoAbuela (voice)Episode: "For Tamales with Love/Pinata Royale"
2011–2013Happily DivorcedDori Newman
2013Welcome to the FamilyLitaEpisode: "Date Night"
2013Nicky DeuceTuttiTV movie
2014Old SoulRitaTV movie
2015Getting OnSister Lily ClaireEpisode: "Reduced to Eating Boiled Magazines and Book Paste"
2015–2019Jane the VirginLiliana De La Vega5 episodes: "Chapter Eighteen", "Chapter Thirty-Three", "Chapter Thirty-Two", "Chapter Thirty-One", "Chapter One-Hundred"
Online Film & Television Association Award for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series[40]
2015–presentNina's WorldAbuelita (voice)
2015A Gift of MiraclesBeverlyTV movie
2016Grey's AnatomyGayleEpisode: "Odd Man Out"
2016Grace and FrankieLucyEpisode: "The Vitamix"
2017–presentOne Day at a TimeLydiaMain cast
2018Elena of AvalorQueen Camila (voice)2 episodes
2019Carmen SandiegoCookie BookerVoice role


See also

  • 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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