Rita Moreno: A Memoir
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In this luminous memoir, Rita Moreno shares her remarkable journey from a young girl with simple beginnings in Puerto Rico to Hollywood legend—and one of the few performers, and the only Hispanic, to win an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and two Emmys.
Born Rosita Dolores Alverio in the idyll of Puerto Rico, Moreno, at age five, embarked on a harrowing sea voyage with her mother and wound up in the harsh barrios of the Bronx, where she discovered dancing, singing, and acting as ways to escape a tumultuous childhood. Making her Broadway debut by age thirteen—and moving on to Hollywood in its Golden Age just a few years later—she worked alongside such stars as Gary Cooper, Yul Brynner, and Ann Miller.
When discovered by Louis B. Mayer of MGM, the wizard himself declared: “She looks like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor.” Cast by Gene Kelly as Zelda Zanders in Singin’ in the Rain and then on to her Oscar-winning performance in West Side Story, she catapulted to fame—yet found herself repeatedly typecast as the “utility ethnic,” a role she found almost impossible to elude.
Here, for the first time, Rita reflects on her struggles to break through Hollywood’s racial and sexual barriers. She explores the wounded little girl behind the glamorous façade—and what it took to find her place in the world. She talks candidly about her relationship with Elvis Presley, her encounters with Howard Hughes, and the passionate romance with Marlon Brando that drove her to attempt suicide. And she shares the illusiveness of a “perfect” marriage and the incomparable joys of motherhood.
Infused with Rita Moreno’s quick wit and deep insight, this memoir is the dazzling portrait of a stage and screen star who longed to become who she really is—and triumphed.
never did come home and I danced for kids who would die. At ten, I was oblivious to the true meaning of war and what tragedy would follow. My show business career continued, undaunted by Hitler overseas. If anything, I took a flying leap forward—onto the stage and screen…. Soon Mami and I had secured booking agents of various types—agents who booked me to sing in clubs; agents who booked me to speak the roles in radio plays. I started with The Ave Maria Hour, which was in English on radio. My
Burning-hot hundred-and-three-degree temperature. I itch like crazy, but I am still alive when they unbag me, and I look around their miserable Misericordia ward, with all the other dead-looking bodies, or the ones like me, all the moaning, infectious-disease people, and my one Spanish-speaking little boy: “Hey, boy.” “Hey, boy.” “Shut up.” “Shut up, boy.” And there, in one instant, in a bed of the infectious-disease ward, are the themes of my life: scared to death, fighting to survive,
Rican girl. Only one Hispanic in history had ever won an Oscar: José Ferrer, who had earned the Best Actor award for playing a non-Hispanic role in Cyrano de Bergerac. In fact, no Hispanic woman had ever won any Oscar, ever! I didn’t even dare hope that I’d actually win. It is a cliché, I know, when people say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” But for me it was true. It was an honor. More than that, it was a dizzying joy for me to be nominated, erasing much of the pain of the previous
open it. I thought it was odd that he was giving me a Christmas present, and even odder that he wanted me to open a gift the night before, but I did. And inside that box, there it was: a fake little Christmas tree, with the balls and tinsel and a little set of lights. It was the scrungiest thing you’ve ever seen, and it must have cost him all of twenty bucks. But it was a tree! I called Lenny’s family and said, “Don’t forget to come over tomorrow! I’ve got presents for you!” They did, and
on the outside, a conflicted Rosita on the inside. The “Liz look”—playing a role was easier than finding myself. A young actor is grateful when the photographer offers a free picture—this is that picture. Playing Indian princess number 36…or is it number 42? I lost count. The Deerslayer—I dreaded wearing those icy-cold buckskins. The Yellow Tomahawk—Noah Beery Jr. (to my right) and Rory Calhoun (far right). The King and I—that ten-pound headdress made a real impression on my scalp. “Who is