First Hispanic-American to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony
"Rita Moreno is a Puerto Rican actress, dancer and singer. Her career has spanned over 70 years; among her notable acting work are supporting roles in the musical films The King and I and West Side Story, as well as a 1971–77 stint on the children's television series The Electric Company, and a supporting role on the 1997-2003 TV drama Oz.
Moreno is one of twelve artists to have won all four major annual American entertainment awards: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony. She is also one of 23 people who have achieved the so-called Triple Crown of Acting, with individual competitive Academy, Emmy and Tony awards for acting; she, Helen Hayes and John Gielgud are the only three who have achieved both distinctions in their lifetimes. She has won numerous other awards, including various lifetime achievement awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.
Rita began her first dancing lessons soon after arriving in New York with a Spanish dancer known as "Paco Cansino", who was a paternal uncle of film star Rita Hayworth. When she was 11 years old, she lent her voice to Spanish language versions of American films. She had her first Broadway role—as "Angelina" in Skydrift—by the time she was 13, which caught the attention of Hollywood talent scouts…
Moreno acted steadily in films throughout the 1950s, usually in small roles, including in The Toast of New Orleans (1950) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), in which she played the starlet "Zelda Zanders". In March 1954, Moreno was featured on the cover of Life Magazine with the caption "Rita Moreno: An Actress's Catalog of Sex and Innocence".
Moreno disliked most of her film work during this period, as she felt the roles she was given were very stereotypical. One exception was her supporting role in the film version of The King and I as Tuptim.
In 1961, Moreno landed the role of Anita in Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's groundbreaking Broadway musical West Side Story, which had been played by Chita Rivera on Broadway. Moreno won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for that role.
After winning the Oscar, Moreno thought she would be able to continue to perform less stereotypical film roles, but was disappointed:
“Ha, ha. I showed them. I didn't make another movie for seven years after winning the Oscar.... Before West Side Story, I was always offered the stereotypical Latina roles. The Conchitas and Lolitas in westerns. I was always barefoot. It was humiliating, embarrassing stuff. But I did it because there was nothing else. After West Side Story, it was pretty much the same thing. A lot of gang stories.”
Moreno had a major role in Summer and Smoke (1961), released soon after West Side Story. She did appear in one film during her self-imposed exile from Hollywood – Cry of Battle (1963) – although it had been filmed directly before and after she won the Academy Award.
She made her return to film in The Night of the Following Day (1968), and followed that with Popi (1969), Marlowe (1969), Carnal Knowledge (1971) and The Ritz (1976). Another notable role was in the hit film The Four Seasons (1981). She has continued to work in film since then, including a small voice role in the 2014 film Rio 2, perhaps her most commercially successful film.
From 1971 to 1977, Moreno was a main cast member on the PBS children's series The Electric Company. She screamed the show's opening line, "HEY, YOU GUYS!" Her roles on the show included Millie the Helper, the naughty little girl Pandora, and Otto, a very short-tempered director.
Rita Moreno appeared in the variety series The Muppet Show, and she has made numerous guest appearances on television series since the 1970s, including The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, George Lopez, The Golden Girls, and Miami Vice.
One notable guest appearance was a three-episode arc on The Rockford Files in 1977 as former call girl Rita Kapcovic. For her portrayal, Moreno won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress - Drama Series. As a result, she became the third person (after Richard Rodgers and Helen Hayes) to have won an Oscar (1962), a Grammy (1972), a Tony (1975), and an Emmy (1977).
She was a regular on the first three seasons of the sitcom version of Nine to Five (based on the film hit) during the early 1980s. During the mid-1990s, Moreno provided the voice of Carmen Sandiego on Fox's animated series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? In the late 1990s, she gained exposure to a new generation of viewers when she played Sister Pete, a nun trained as a psychologist in the popular HBO series Oz, for which she won several ALMA Awards. She made a guest appearance on The Nanny as Coach Stone, Maggie's tyrannical gym teacher, whom Fran Fine also remembered from her school as Ms. Wickavich.
She had a recurring role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent as the dying mother of Detective Robert Goren. She played the family matriarch on the short-lived 2007 TV series Cane, which starred Jimmy Smits and Hector Elizondo. She played the mother of Fran Drescher's character in the 2011–13 TV sitcom Happily Divorced.
In 2014, Moreno appeared in the NBC television film Old Soul, alongside Natasha Lyonne, Fred Willard and Ellen Burstyn. The film was intended as a pilot for a television series, but it was not picked up.
Moreno co-starred, as the matriarch of a Cuban-American family, in the Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time, a remake produced by Norman Lear of Lear's own 1975-84 sitcom One Day at a Time. The first season was released in January 2017. Critics overall praised the show, and especially the performances of Moreno and the series' star, Justina Machado.
Moreno's Broadway credits include Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969), the very short-lived musical Gantry (1970) and The Ritz, for which she won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. She appeared in the female version of The Odd Couple, that ran in Chicago, for which she won the Sarah Siddons Award in 1985.
In 2006, she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's revival of The Glass Menagerie.
In September 2011, Moreno began performing a solo autobiographical show at the Berkeley Rep (theater) in Berkeley, California, Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup written by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone after hours of interviews with Moreno.
In 1993 she was invited to perform at President Bill Clinton's inauguration and later that month was asked to perform at the White House.
She released an eponymous album of nightclub songs in 2000 on the Varèse Sarabande label, with liner notes by Michael Feinstein.
In 2017, she and multiple others contributed to Lin-Manuel Miranda's single "Almost Like Praying" where proceeds from the song went to the Hispanic Federation's UNIDOS Disaster Relief program to benefit those affected by Hurricane Maria that devastated the island of Puerto Rico.
Most Notable Awards
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (West Side Story), 1961
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (West Side Story), 1961
Joseph Jefferson Award: Best Chicago Theatre Actress, 1968
Grammy Award for Best Album for Children (The Electric Company Album), 1972
Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play (The Ritz), 1975
Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, 1977
Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress – Drama Series (for The Rockford Files), 1978
Sarah Siddons Award for her portrayal of Olive Madison in the female version of The Odd Couple, 1985
Library of Congress Living Legends Award, April 2000
The Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) renamed their Award for Excellence in her honor (known as the HOLA Rita Moreno Award for Excellence since 2000)
Special Recognition Award from the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, 2001
Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, June 2004
A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Inducted into the California Hall of Fame, 2007
National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, 2009
Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) Lifetime Achievement Award, 2010
Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2012
Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, 2013 (presented on Saturday, January 18, 2014)
Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, 2015
Honorary doctorate of music, awarded by the Berklee College of Music, May 7, 2016." (1)