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MAKERS Moment

An Unconventional Mother

An Unconventional Mother

More From Rita

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Moreno fondly recalls her mother's determination to buck tradition.

Rita's Biography

Proudest Accomplishment: “Still being here… and working.”
First Paying job: Performing at bar mitzvahs and weddings at seven or eight years old as a miniature version of Carmen Miranda, with a fruit salad hat that her mother made her.
Advice to Young Women: “To value themselves… you have to learn to appreciate yourself and your talent before you can go anywhere in your life.”
Three Words to Describe Herself: “Saucy, genuine and rowdy.” 

Rita Moreno is a singer, dancer, and actress, and among the few artists to have won an Oscar, a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy. Moreno was the first Latina to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her show-stopping performance as Anita in the film version of the musical West Side Story.
 
Born in Puerto Rico, Moreno moved to New York City with her mother at the age of six. She made her Broadway debut in Skydrift at the age of 13, and was subsequently discovered by an MGM talent scout and signed to a multi-year movie contract by Louis B. Mayer. In 1952, she appeared in her first major motion picture, Singin’ In the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, and in 1954, played a central supporting role in the classic film version of The King and I. When she won the role of Anita in West Side Story in 1961, Moreno was thrilled to play a strong, Puerto Rican heroine. But having struggled throughout her career with narrow ethnic typecasting, she was frustrated when the Oscar didn’t open the door to more diverse film roles. She took a seven-year break from Hollywood until she could return to find less stereotypical parts.
 
In 1971, Moreno began one of her most memorable runs on the small screen on the innovative PBS children’s television program, “The Electric Company,” for which she earned a Grammy for her work on show’s self-titled album. For the next two decades, Moreno received acclaim for her stage and television performances, including a Tony for her work in The Ritz, and two Emmy awards for guest appearances on The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files. Her other television guest appearances took her from The Love Boat, to The Cosby Show, to Miami Vice, and The Larry Sanders Show and she spent six years on the popular HBO drama, Oz. Still busy performing at 80 years old, Moreno’s latest roles include the sitcom Happily Divorced and her autobiographical one-women-show, Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup which she debuted on stage in 2011. Her wide-ranging body of work and success has earned her two of America’s highest honors – the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush in 2004, and the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama in 2009.

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