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Also Known As: Rosa Delores Alverio, Rosita Moreno, Rosita Moreno Died:
Born: December 11, 1931 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Puerto Rico Profession: actor, singer, dancer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A much-loved star of the stage and screen, Rita Moreno achieved a rare feat in the entertainment industry by winning an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy Award throughout her illustrious career. From her early years in theater to the height of her film stardom, Moreno proved she was a force to be reckoned with, delivering scene-stealing performances in timeless classics such as "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), "The King and I" (1956), and "Carnal Knowledge" (1971). She also fell victim to blatant stereotyping in show business, often landing roles as a sexpot or foreigner in film and on television. Moreno challenged the system with her show-stopping performance in "West Side Story" (1961), one of the most loved film musicals of all time. The role earned Moreno an Academy Award in 1962, paving the way for Hispanic actors to land sizeable and profound roles, while also cementing the hardworking and multi-talented star's place as a shining legend of the stage and screen.Rosita Dolores Alverio was born on Dec. 11, 1931 in Humacao, Puerto Rico to a farmer and a seamstress. In 1937, she moved to Spanish Harlem in New York City with her mother, Rosa Maria, and shared a tiny apartment with their relatives....

A much-loved star of the stage and screen, Rita Moreno achieved a rare feat in the entertainment industry by winning an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy Award throughout her illustrious career. From her early years in theater to the height of her film stardom, Moreno proved she was a force to be reckoned with, delivering scene-stealing performances in timeless classics such as "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), "The King and I" (1956), and "Carnal Knowledge" (1971). She also fell victim to blatant stereotyping in show business, often landing roles as a sexpot or foreigner in film and on television. Moreno challenged the system with her show-stopping performance in "West Side Story" (1961), one of the most loved film musicals of all time. The role earned Moreno an Academy Award in 1962, paving the way for Hispanic actors to land sizeable and profound roles, while also cementing the hardworking and multi-talented star's place as a shining legend of the stage and screen.

Rosita Dolores Alverio was born on Dec. 11, 1931 in Humacao, Puerto Rico to a farmer and a seamstress. In 1937, she moved to Spanish Harlem in New York City with her mother, Rosa Maria, and shared a tiny apartment with their relatives. Moreno began her professional career before she reached her teen years. At 11, the future star earned money by dubbing Spanish-language versions of American films. Just a few days shy of her 14th birthday, Moreno (who had adopted her stepfather's surname) made her Broadway debut in the 1945 Belasco Theatre production of "Skydrift," opposite Arthur Keegan and Eli Wallach. Using the stage name Rosita Moreno, the young actress landed her first feature film role in the drama "So Young So Bad" (1950). This led to more musical film appearances for the up-and-coming star, including supporting parts in "The Toast of New Orleans" (1950), "Pagan Love Song" (1950), and a featured role as silent screen vamp Zelda Zanners in the what most consider the greatest musical of all time, "Singin' in the Rain."

In March 1954, Moreno graced the cover of LIFE magazine, posing in a seductive, over-the-left-shoulder profile along with the headline "Rita Moreno: An Actresses' Catalog of Sex and Innocence." Even though the article pushed Moreno's career to the forefront of the entertainment industry, it also glorified the Hollywood stereotype of Hispanic actresses as "sexpots." During a Miami Herald interview later on in her career, Moreno revealed she felt humiliated whenever she was offered a role as a "Conchita" or "Lolita" in Western films, where she was often asked to act barefoot. When Moreno was not cast in vampy roles, she played exotic characters, from an Indian exchange student on the television series "Father Knows Best" (CBS, 1954-55; NBC, 1955-58; CBS, 1958-1960), to the young Burmese wife Tuptim in the 1956 musical "The King and I." Moreno admitted she took on the roles, no matter how stereotypical and degrading they were, simply because she wanted to remain in show business.

Moreno finally broke out of the Hollywood mold when she was cast in the feature film adaptation of "West Side Story." The groundbreaking Broadway musical debuted in 1957 and retold William Shakespeare's classic "Romeo & Juliet" in an urban New York setting with rival street gangs the Jets and the Sharks. The 1961 film, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, wanted to cast actors who looked believable as teenagers. Moreno stepped in for the role of Anita - originally played on Broadway by Chita Rivera - the Puerto Rican girlfriend of the Sharks' leader Bernardo (George Chakiris). As Anita, confidante of the film's heroine Maria (Natalie Wood) and the equivalent of the Nurse in Shakespeare's play, Moreno stole every scene she was in, especially with her rendition of the song-and-dance number "America." She also delivered a moving performance in a scene in which rival gang the Jets assaults Anita, which was considered the film's climax. The role earned Moreno a well-deserved Academy Award in 1962 for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. "West Side Story" won several other Oscars that year as well, including Best Picture.

Despite her breakout performance and Oscar win, it took a decade for Hollywood to cast Moreno in a role that truly showcased her depth and versatility as an actress. In the 1971 Mike Nichols-directed drama "Carnal Knowledge," Moreno played a hooker, starring opposite Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel as longtime friends faced with sexual and emotional issues concerning their relationships with various women. Moreno's career reignited even further that year when she appeared on the children's variety series "The Electric Company." The program employed sketch comedy and musical performances geared to help elementary age children improve their reading skills. Moreno was part of the original cast that also included Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby. At the height of its popularity, that included a Grammy Award and several Emmy wins during its run, "The Electric Company" was cancelled in 1977 because it could not generate profit, unlike its more successful counterpart "Sesame Street" (NET, 1969-70; PBS, 1970- ), which licensed its Muppet characters for merchandising.

Moreno continued working in the world of children's television, often appearing on "The Muppet Show" (ITV, 1976-1981) for which she won her first Emmy Award in 1976 and hosting "The Muppets Go Hollywood" (1979). Moreno made a triumphant return to Broadway in 1975, starring in Terrence McNally's play "The Ritz." Her portrayal of a gay bathhouse entertainer with Broadway aspirations earned her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. She reprised her award-winning role in the 1976 feature film version. Moreno continued to work steadily in feature films and on television, earning more accolades for her guest appearances on "The Rockford Files" (NBC, 1974-1980), and recurring roles on "American Family" (PBS, 2002-04) and the harrowing prison drama "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003). She solidified her status as a Hollywood icon when she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995. So moved was the actress at being recognized that she wept uncontrollably during the unveiling ceremony. U.S. presidents often recognized Moreno's contribution to the arts, as well, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2004 and a National Medal of Arts from Barack Obama in 2009.

By Marc Cuenco

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
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2.
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4.
 Open House (2003) Lydia
5.
 Casa de Los Babys (2003) Senora Munoz
6.
 Pinero (2001) Miguel'S Mother
7.
 Blue Moon (2000) Maggie
8.
 Rockford Files: If It Bleeds... It Leads, The (1999) Rita Capkovic Landale
9.
 Resurrection (1999) Mimi
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1935:
With her mother, moved from Puerto Rico to NYC at age four; father and brother remained in Puerto Rico
1936:
Made nightclub debut at age five (date approximate)
1945:
Broadway debut at age 13 in "Skydrift"
:
Joined MGM's starlet stable at age 17
1950:
Feature acting debut, "So Young, So Bad"
1952:
Had bit part dancing a tango in the classic movie musical "Singin' in the Rain"
1952:
TV acting debut, "Saint and Senorita" on "Fireside Theater"
:
Cast as Esmeralda in original production of Tennessee Williams' "Camino Real"; fired at the playwright's insistance
1956:
Played Tuptim, one of the monarch's wives, in the fi lm adaptation of "The King and I"
1961:
Attempted suicide when her multi-year affair with Marlon Brando ended
1961:
Won acclaim and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar playing the fiery Anita in the film version of "West Side Story"
1964:
London stage debut as Illona in "She Loves Me", directed by Harold Prince
1969:
Appeared opposite Alan Arkin in "Popi"
1969:
Played supporting role in "Marlowe", featuring James Garner
1970:
Returned to the Broadway stage as Sharon Falconer in the short-lived musical "Gantry", based on the novel "Elmer Gantry"
1971:
Co-starred in "Carnal Knowledge"
1971:
Was a regular on the children's series "The Electric Company"
1972:
Received Grammy Award for contribution to the recording "The Electric Company"
1974:
Earned first Emmy nomination for the variety special "Out to Lunch" (ABC)
1975:
Offered an hilarious, Tony-winning turn as entertainer Googie Gomez in Terrence McNally's "The Ritz"
1976:
Reprised Googie Gomez in the film version of "The Ritz"
1977:
Made Emmy-winning guest appearance on "The Muppet Show" (syndicated)
1977:
Introduced the character of Rita Capkovic in an episode of NBC's "The Rockford Files"; first of four appearances over the next two years; received second Emmy Award for a 1978 guest appearance
1978:
Starred in pilot for a proposed CBS sitcom, "The Rita Moreno Show"; show not picked up by the network
1981:
Last film for a decade, "The Four Seasons"
1981:
Appeared in the unsuccessful play "Wally's Cafe"
1982:
Received Emmy nod for her turn in the CBS movie "Portrait of a Showgirl"
:
Assumed role of Violet Newstead (played by Lily Tomlin in the film) for the ABC sitcom "9 to 5"; earned Emmy nomination
1983:
Began appearing in a one-woman show, mixing singing, dancing and storytelling
1985:
Starred on Broadway in a female version of "The Odd Couple" (reworked by Neil Simon) opposite Sally Struthers
1986:
Filmed unsold pilot for own CBS sitcom, "Rita"
:
Played regular role in a series of TV-movies for ABC starring Burt Reynolds as "B.L. Stryker"
1991:
Returned to feature films playing Jonathan Silverman's mother in "Age Isn't Everything/Life in the Food Chain"
1994:
Portrayed Jon Seda's highly critical mother in "I Like It Like That", helmed by Darnell Martin
1994:
Voiced the title character in the animated children's series "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?"
:
Had regular role as a ditsy landlady on "The Cosby Mysteries" (NBC)
1995:
Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
1995:
Appeared Off-Broadway in Anne Meara's comedy "After-Play"
1996:
Starred with Louis Zorich and Frank Whaley in the Off-Broadway show "The Size of the World"
1996:
Played Norma Desmond in the London production of "Sunset Boulevard"
1997:
Returned to series work as Sister Peter Marie Reimondo, the prison's psychological counselor, in the HBO drama "Oz"
1998:
Had small role as Alan Arkin's wealthy sister-in-law in "Slums of Beverly Hills"
1999:
Reprised her Emmy-winning role in the TV-movie "The Rockford Files: If It Bleeds ... It Leads" (CBS)
1999:
Made NYC cabaret debut at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel
2001:
Had co-starring role as the title character's mother in the biopic "Pinero"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

Although the name Rosita Moreno appears in the credits for the films "The Scoundrel" (1935) and "A Medal For Benny" (1945) and some sources attribute these films to her, it is not Rita Moreno but another actress, Rosita Moreno, who appeared in Hollywood films from the 1930s on. Rita Moreno made her film debut in 1950 in "So Young, So Bad" (1950) as Rosita Moreno. She changed her name to Rita Moreno for her second film, "Toast of New Orleans" (1950).

Moreno was one of 32 private citizens named by President Bill Clinton to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities

Moreno remains tightlipped about her relationship with Marlon Brando, the breakup of which led to a 1961 suicide attempt. As she told People (September 12, 1998): "I don't talk about him. We went together for [almost] 10 years. That's as much as I say."

"I am Latin and know what it is to feel alone because you are different. When you are ignored, you lose your sense of identity. So I can be the Latin on television in 'The Electric Company', and my presence can tell a lot of children and some adults, 'We do exist, we have value.'" --Moreno quoted in InTheater, November 8, 1999.

About the perils of her career, Moreno told Jan Breslauer in Los Angeles Times (November 21, 1996): "Now, not only being Hispanic but older really compounds the problems. Yes, I've had to spend a good deal of my life putting up with the whole business of the stereotype."

About acting on stage: "I always get nervous ... What I love is the immediacy of a live performance. In concerts, of course, I can be much looser, because it can go almost any way I want. But there is something absolutely fabulous about interacting with wonderful actors on stage, and it all comes back so fast, it's amazing: 'Oh, that's what I have to do. I have to find my light.' You can't drop the ends of sentences in an ensemble piece." --Rita Moreno quoted in TheaterWeek December 25-31, 1995.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Marlon Brando. Actor. Had highly publicized multi-year on-again, off-again relationship from the 1950s to 1961.
companion:
Marlon Brando. Singer. Abandoned her career when she married.
companion:
Elvis Presley. Lutheran minister. Died when Sommer was 11.
companion:
Elvis Presley. Singer, actor. Dated.
husband:
Leonard I Gordon. Married; wife survived him.
husband:
Leonard I Gordon. Retired cardiologist, lighting designer, road manager. Born c. 1920; met in December 1964; married on June 18, 1965.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Rosa Alverio. Seamstress. Born c. 1917; divorced from Moreno's father; died in October 1999.
mother:
Rosa Alverio. Had four.
daughter:
Fernanda Luisa Gordon. Actor, singer. Born c. 1967; co-starred with mother in "The Glass Menagerie" (1991 at Cherry County Playhouse, Michigan); married David T Fischer.
daughter:
Fernanda Luisa Gordon. Professor.
grandson:
Justin Fischer. Born on July 26, 1998.
grandson:
Justin Fischer. Had three; survived him.
grandson:
Cameron Fischer. Born c. 2000.
grandson:
Cameron Fischer. Married.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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