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Rita Moreno: 1931—: Actress, Singer, Dancer Biography

Career Hindered By Stereotypes, Recognized As A Major Talent, Awarded Top Prizes, Demonstrated Versatile Talents

Rita Moreno: 1931—: Actress, singer, dancer.

Rita Moreno's versatility as a performer has led to decades of success on stage, screen, and television. She is the only female entertainer to have won all four of the most prestigious show business awards: the Oscar for the role of Anita in the 1962 film West Side Story, the Tony for the role of Googie Gomez in the 1975 production of The Ritz, Emmy awards in 1977 and 1978 for appearances on The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, and a Grammy for her 1972 performance on The Electric Company Album. She has also received dozens of other show business awards, most notably, The Golden Globe Award and the Joseph Jefferson Award as best actress in Chicago's theatrical season in 1968 for her performance as Serafina in The Rose Tattoo. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.

Along the way Puerto Rican-born Moreno has become a trailblazer and inspiration for aspiring Latino actors. Until she achieved acclaim for her performance in West Side Story, Moreno was plagued with roles that propagated ethnic stereotypes, including "Latin Spit-fire" roles in such forgettable films as Jivaro, (1954) and Seven Cities of Gold (1955). After winning the Oscar she became one of a few Latinos to achieve international acclaim. That has changed with the success of performers such as Rosie Perez, Sonia Braga, and Elizabeth Pena. "The first time I met Rosie Perez, she started to cry," Moreno told the Times Union Albany. "I can't tell you how surprising and moving it is, and how astonished I am that I meant that much to my colleagues of Hispanic descent."

Moreno was born Rosa Dolores Alverio on December 11, 1932, in Humacao, Puerto Rico. Her mother, Rosa Maria Mercano, married Paco Alverio, a small independent farmer, when she was just a teenager, but the marriage ended in divorce. In the 1930s the pressures of the Depression and the side effects of the island's rapid industrialization forced Rosa to look toward the United States for sustenance. She left home to work as a seamstress in New York City, leaving young Moreno in the care of relatives. A year later, five-year-old Moreno joined her mother.

The following year she began taking dance lessons, and it wasn't long before she was performing in the children's theater at Macy's Department Store and at weddings and bar mitzvahs. At age 13, she had her Broadway debut in the role of Angelina in Harry Kleiner's Skydrift and dropped out of school a year later to concentrate on her show business career. Then, in the true Hollywood tradition, a talent scout arranged a meeting for Moreno with Louis B. Mayer and she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1949 at the age of seventeen. Moreno, now using the surname of her stepfather Edward Moreno, shortened her nickname Rosita to "Rita" at the request of MGM.

At a Glance . . .

Born Rosa Dolores Alverio on December 11, 1931, in Humacao, Puerto Rico; married Leonard Gordon; children: Fernanda Luisa.

Career:First appeared on Broadway at the age of thirteen, in Skydrift; appeared in numerous films; numerous television guest appearances, sitcoms, and drama series, including Showtime's Resurrection Blvd and HBO's Oz.

Awards: Best Supporting Actress, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1962; Best Supporting Actress, Golden Globe Awards, 1962; Best Recording for Children, Grammy Award, 1972; Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music, Emmy Award, 1977; Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series, Emmy Award, 1978; Best Supporting Actress, Antoinette Perry Award (Tony), 1975; Best Actress, Joseph Jefferson Award, 1985; Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1995; Lifetime Achievement Award, Nosostros Golden Eagle Award, 1997; Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series, American Latin Media Arts Award (ALMA), 1999.

Addresses: Agent—William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino, Beverly Hills, CA, 90212.

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