4 minute read

Rita Moreno: 1931—: Actress, Singer, Dancer

Demonstrated Versatile Talents

Finally breaking the mold, Moreno went on to portray a Jewish mother in The Boss's Son (1979) and to develop a nightclub act as "insurance." "It simply means that when there's no TV around to speak of, or film, it's a wonderful way to earn a living," she told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. "That's the good thing about being a performer who does many different things, which you don't find many of anymore. People specialize, like in medicine and law, so much that they box themselves into corners. But I always have a venue. Always." Her next film role did not come until 1980, when she played an Italian American mistress in Happy Birthday, Gemini.

In 1982 Moreno returned to television in the sitcom version of the hit film 9to5. While it did relatively well from 1982 to 1983, the time-slot was changed and its rating fell. Despite the demise of the series, Moreno was nominated for an Emmy. She went on to do Alan Alda's The Four Seasons, with Carol Burnett in 1993, and then in 1994, the highly acclaimed Columbia Pictures release Like It Like That. In 1995 Moreno was featured in Showtime's, Wharf Rat, opposite Lou Diamond Phillips and Judge Reinhold and in the feature film Angus with George C. Scott. Then she found herself on Broadway again in the short-lived gender-switched version of The Odd Couple, co-starring with Sally Struthers. In another return to television, she played opposite Burt Reynolds in B.L Stryker from 1989 to 1990, and in the 1991-1992 Fox Network series, The Top of the Heap. In 1994 Moreno returned to New York to appear as a series regular with Bill Cosby on the Cosby Mystery Series on NBC.

But Moreno's greatest love is the theater. In 1995 she returned to the New York stage in Anne Meara's After Play and in Circle Repertory's production of Size Of the World. In the fall of 1997 Moreno again won the acclaim of the London audiences when she returned to the London stage in the starring role of doomed screen goddess Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webbers' Sunset Blvd. Moreno performed in The Vagina Monologues early in 2001 in New York and San Francisco. Moreno has appeared in many regional theaters, often with her daughter Fernanda, also an actress. They have appeared together as mother and daughter in The Glass Menagerie, Steel Magnolias, and Gypsy, and as sisters in The Taming of the Shrew.

Moreno's work on the acclaimed HBO prison series Oz, in which she bucked the stereotype once again as the tough-talking nun and counselor, Sister Peter Marie, has won her accolades. She also guest starred on the Showtime series Resurrection Blvd and appeared in Piñero (2001) as the mother of Puerto Rican poet and playwright Manual Piñero, played by Benjamin Bratt.

In addition to her film, stage, television, and concert careers, Moreno filled her spare time by lecturing to various organizations as well as to university audiences. She has spoken on the history of film, television and theater and the importance of self-esteem and education. She is also involved with a number of civic and charitable organizations and events. She has served on the National Foundation for the Arts, as a commissioner on the Presidents White House Fellowships, and as a member of the Presidents Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

It may be said that Rita Moreno, who has portrayed Shakespearean characters, an Irish teacher, and Italian widow, a reformed prostitute, a lady evangelist, an English lady, and a southern belle, has broken the rigid role of Latino stereotyping. Still, Moreno feels that Hollywood has a long way to go in its portrayal of Hispanics. "The door for Latinos has opened just a crack, [but] you still have to push," she told Hispanic Magazine. "I'm still fighting the battle. Being a woman, and being Latino, and then, horror of horrors, a mature Latino woman, is very difficult."

Selected works



A View From the Bridge. The Sign In Sidney Brustein's Window.

The Rose Tattoo.


Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

The Ritz.

The Odd Couple.

Size of the World.

Sunset Blvd.

The Vagina Monolgues.

The Glass Menagerie.

Steel Magnolias.



The Fabulous Senorita, 1952.

Latin Lovers, 1953.

The Yellow Tomahawk, 1954.

Seven Cities of Gold, 1955.

The King and I, 1956.

The Deerslayer, 1957.

West Side Story, 1961.

She Loves Me, 1964.

Marlowe, 1969.

The Night of the Following Day, 1969.

Popi, 1969.

Carnal Knowledge, 1971.

The Boss' Son, 1979.

Happy Birthday, Gemini, 1980.

The Four Seasons, 1981.

I Like It Like That, 1994.

Angus, 1995.

The Wharf Rat, Showtime, 1995.

Piñero, 2001.


The Electric Company. Sesame Street. 9 to 5. B.L. Stryker. The Top of the Heap. Cosby Mystery Series. Oz, HBO.

(guest apperances)

The Muppet Show.

The Rockford Files.

Resurrection Blvd., Showtime.



Times Union (Albany), October 5, 2000. P. 22.

Baltimore Sun, September 9, 1993. 1F.

Contra Costa Times, August 18, 2001. C03.

Hispanic Magazine, December 2001.

People Magazine, September 28, 1998. P. 167.

South Bend Tribune, October 9, 2001.

Telegram & Gazette (Worcester), September 18, 1992. C1.


National Public Radio, Weekend Edition, November 7, 1999

—Kelly M. Cross

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) BiographyRita Moreno: 1931—: Actress, Singer, Dancer Biography - Career Hindered By Stereotypes, Recognized As A Major Talent, Awarded Top Prizes, Demonstrated Versatile Talents