Here’s A Quick Glimpse Into Rita Moreno’s Rise From A Little Girl In Puerto Rico To America’s Abuela
As millennials and Gen Z’ers, the only Rita Moreno we know is the one who played all our favorite abuelitas in Netflix’s One Day at a Time and The CW’s Jane the Virgin. We couldn’t imagine our television without her. We know she’s an icon and a big deal and all, but nobody will understand what a huge source of chisme she was for our parents growing up until you read this.
Rita Moreno is a wildly successful actress, spanning over 70 years of work. She also had an affair with Elvis Presley, and so much more! The tea is spilling. Get it.
Rita Moreno es puro Boricua.
She was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico as Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano. Her mother was a seamstress who was 17 years old when she gave birth, and her father was a farmer.
When she was 5 years old, her mother took her to NYC and inexplicably left her younger brother, Francisco, on the island.
In her autobiography, Moreno was removed from her island world of raising baby chicks and plopped into the cold Bronx.
At 6 years old, she started to take dance lessons from Rita Hayworth’s uncle.
She started professionally dancing at New York clubs when she was 9 years old. She recounts the applause and stage lights as the moment she knew she was meant to be on stage.
When she was 13, she was already acting on Broadway.
At 16 years old, her family moved to Hollywood to continue finding her destiny. In her autobiography, she writes about how devastating it was to realize she could only land ‘ethnic’ roles. It’s all Hollywood saw in her, and she would try to cover up her olive skin with lightening powder. She was even raped by an agent when she was in her early teens.
Then, she landed the role of Anita in West Side Story.
This was a huge milestone for her. Up until then, she was only playing stereotypical roles of the era.
She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story.
Then she won a Golden Globe. Soon, she became the first Latino to become an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner).
Most people don’t know that her Emmy Award came from an appearance on The Muppet Show.
At the time, she was only the third person ever to accomplish an EGOT. She won a Tony award for Best Featured Actress in The Ritz (1975).
Then, she pulled herself out of the game.
Moreno told The Miami Herald that her Oscar gave her the courage to say “no” to the belittling roles she was offered. She thought she wouldn’t have to degrade her heritage again.
”Ha, ha. I showed them. I didn’t make another movie for seven years after winning the Oscar.”
The stereotypes for Latino roles back then aren’t too dissimilar to today.
She told The Miami Herald, “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.”
Then, she met Marlon Brando on The Night of the Following Day (1968).
Her return to film brought her straight into the arms of the “lust of her life,” Marlon Brando. They dated on and off for eight years.
Their relationship was rocky, to say the least. He cheated on her constantly.
But the attraction was overwhelming for Moreno. According to the NY Post, she writes in her memoir, “Just meeting him that first day sent my body temperature skyrocketing as though I had been dropped into a very hot bath, and I went into a full-body blush.”
She even dated Elvis Presley as a way to make Brando jealous.
In her memoir, she writes, “Maybe Elvis was inhibited by inbred religious prohibitions or an Oedipal complex, or maybe he simply preferred the thrill of a denied release. Whatever put the brakes on the famous pelvis, it ground to a halt at a certain point and that was it.”
After seeing him devour a bacon and cheese sandwich and realizing he was more interested in the bocadillo than her, she never saw him again.
As if there weren’t enough men in her life, theater critic Kenneth Tynan stalked her as well.
In her memoir, she writes about how after she dated Presley, she went on a date with Tynan who suggested ‘spanking’. She literally fled after that happened and he took it upon himself to stalk her.
Moreno went back to Brando only to be forced to have an abortion and attempting suicide.
Brando even arranged a friend to pick her up after the illegal procedure, which was botched. The fetus never left her body and she had to go to the hospital to have it surgically removed.
Moreno found his sleeping pills and took them all. She was saved by Brando’s assistant who rushed her to the hospital where her life was saved.
Later on, she met Lenny Gordon, a Jewish doctor who was set up on a blind date by a friend.
Moreno told him to meet on their first date right after a Broadway show. He was confused, wondering if she was going alone, or if she was on another date. When he looked at the marquee, “Rita Moreno in ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window'” it finally clicked that she was the Rita Moreno.
They stayed together 45 years until Gordon died in 2010.
Together, they had one daughter, Fernanda Luisa Fisher, who has two sons, Justin and Cameron Fisher. That said, she felt claustrophobic by his possessiveness. She only felt free after he died. “After all the years of supervision, I can do whatever I want. It was a very long time to be that unhappy,” she told The Daily Beast.
Since Gordon died, she’s making up for lost time.
This is why we have her as our favorite abuelita. She’s hailed for her portrayal of your average Cuban abuela in One Day at a Time. She’s absolutely regal–always dressed to the nines, like the abuelas we all know.
Her work alongside Gina Rodriguez and Jaime Camil in Jane the Virgin is the highlight of the series.
She’s working with people that name her as the biggest influence in their life growing up. Gina Rodriguez specifically shared her story of meeting Rita after asking her mom as a kid,
“Ma, when did Puerto Ricans come about?”
“What do you mean, Gina?”
“Well, I never see us on my favorite TV shows or movies. We must not have existed back then, right?”
And then her mom showed her Rita Moreno and Gina fell in love.
The 80-year-old icon has responded, essentially passing the inspo torch to Gina Rodriguez in this love letter.
“In just a few years my dear, young Latinas will look up at their screens with hope in their eyes and say, “I want to be like Gina Rodriguez.” Come to think of it, I think they already do.”
Rita Moreno has earned the highest civilian honor–the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Back in 2004, President George W. Bush honored her with the medal for her lifetime achievements to the arts. Moreno has won so much more in her life–the hearts of all of us, Boricuas y todos Latinos alike. Thank you for your service to us, your community, who will lift you up for many generations to come.
Oh, and her accent on TV projects? Fake. She speaks clear American English.
She’s that good an actress. The woman got lessons early on in life, mi gente. She said she just tries to imitate her mom’s accent when she gets roles like Lydia’s on One Day at a Time. Her and Justina Machado looped their own Spanish-speaking voices in for the dubbed versions. Increíble. Te quiero, mi coquí favorita.