West Side Story in 1962.
Rita Moreno speaks on the telephone after winning the supporting-actress Oscar for
Rita Moreno speaks on the telephone after winning the supporting-actress Oscar for West Side Story in 1962. Getty Images
Cane during a recent press tour.
Actor Hector Elizondo (left) and actress Rita Moreno discuss the CBS television show
Actor Hector Elizondo (left) and actress Rita Moreno discuss the CBS television show Cane during a recent press tour. Getty Images
On the 50th anniversary of West Side Story, NPR looks back with an hour-long documentary that details the development of the history- making musical — and its enduring popularity.
The daughter of a sweatshop seamstress, Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno came to the United States as a child aboard a ship headed for New York City.
By age 13, she was appearing on Broadway.
"I made my debut at 13 ... passing for 11, and looking 9 [years old]," says Moreno, now 75.
The actress describes her early years as a Puerto Rican in New York as "rough," citing strong racial prejudice.
That prejudice she encountered would also follow her into Hollywood, where Moreno says she felt typecast into certain roles.
"There's a way of being racially insulting to someone without ever using the 'bad words' ... it is assumed that you can only speak with an accent," proclaims the actress formerly known as Rosita Moreno. At MGM's suggestion, she later became known as Rita Moreno in attempt to make her seem more American, like actress Rita Hayworth.
Her most notable early work, perhaps, came from her role as Anita in the hit movie musical West Side Story. Fifty years later, Moreno remembers her legendary performace.
"It was a wonderful role," she says.
To date, Moreno is one of a very few performers to earn all four of the highest honors in show business — the Tony, Oscar, Grammy and Emmy.
She is featured this fall as the matriarch of a Cuban-American family in the new CBS series Cane, starring actors Jimmy Smits and Hector Elizondo.
In this week's Wisdom Watch, Moreno talks about the successes and the hurdles of her five-decade career in the performing arts.
Web material written and produced by Lee Hill.