Ms. Moreno was born in 1931 as Rosa Dolores Alverio in Puerto Rico. Moreno moved to New York at the age of 5 where she not only adopted her stepfather’s surname (Moreno) but she also started dancing and singing. Moreno broke into the industry in the way of voice-acting in Spanish versions of American films when she was 11, and at age 13 she was on Broadway.
Her big break came in 1961 when she portrayed the role of Anita in the film version of “West Side Story.” Anita is the girlfriend of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, a gang made up of Puerto Rican immigrants. For this role, Moreno was nominated for and won an Oscar for the Best Supporting Actress, making her the second Puerto Rican to receive such an honor. She also won a Golden Globe Award for the same category for this film.
After her role in “West Side Story”, Moreno was offered several roles but they weren’t roles she had no interest in playing since they were all similar to that of Anita. Moreno didn’t want to keep playing stereotypical Latina roles. It wasn’t until 1968 that she appeared in her next film, “The Night of the Following Day.”
Moreno had a small but powerful theatre career starting in London in the 1960s and returning to America in the 1970s. She appeared in “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers”, “Gantry”, the female version of “The Odd Couple”, and most importantly, “The Ritz” where she portrayed Googie Gomez and received a Tony Award in 1975.
The ’70s paved the way for Moreno’s appearance on TV. Moreno became a regular on the children’s series “The Electric Company.” “The Electric Company” created a spin-off musical album for children, “The Electric Company Album”, which earned her a Grammy Award in the year 1972.
Moreno made other guest appearances on television series during this era, including a guest appearance on “The Muppet Show” and “The Rockford Files.” These two appearances also earned her two Emmy nominations, a win in 1977 for “Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program” and a win in the following year for “Outstanding Guest Actress.” Moreno was the first actress to receive an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony award. She was also the first Latina to do so, and she still remains one of twelve actors who have achieved this goal.
In more recent times, Moreno has been busy both on stage and on screen. Currently she is playing the role of the mother on Fran Drescher’s new sitcom, “Happily Divorced.” She is also currently performing her autobiographical show, “Rita Moreno: Life Without Make-up” at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. You can read more about her show on a recent interview with Moreno here at http://www.nalip.org/LITI/2011/11_0915.html#4
In the 2000’s, Moreno has received many honors, awards and special recognitions. Some of these include the “Special Recognition Award” from the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2001, a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, indictment into the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in 2007 and a National Medal of Arts in 2009 and her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Moreno had the biggest influence on the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors who renamed the Award of Excellence to reflect her achievements and honor her. This award is now named the HOLA Rita Moreno Award for Excellence. Ten years later in 2010, HOLA honored Moreno with a Lifetime Achievement Award.