In the Electric Company, Rita was Carmela the singer, Otto The Director, Pandora the Little Girl, Millie the Helper and so many other roles.
She moved to New York City in 1937 along with her mother and got her first movie experience at aged 11,dubbing Spanish-language versions of U.S. films. Less than a month before her fourteenth birthday in1945, she made her Broadway debut in the play "Skydrift" at the Belasco Theatre, costarring with Arthur Keegan and Eli Wallach. Although she would not appear again on Broadway for almost two decades, Rita Moreno, as she was billed in the play, had arrived professionally.
The cover of the March first, 1954 edition of "Life Magazine" featured a three-quarters, over-the-left-shoulder profile of the young Puerto Rican actress/entertainer with the provocative title "Rita Moreno: An Actresses' Catalog of Sex and Innocence." It was sex-pot time, a stereotype that would plague her throughout the decade. If not cast as a Hispanic pepper pot, she could rely on being cast as another "exotic", such as her appearance on Father Knows Best (1954) as an exchange student from India. Because of a dearth of decent material, Moreno as an actress had to play roles in movies that she considered degrading. Among the better pictures she appeared in were the classic Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1956).
Filmmaker Robert Wise, who was chosen to co-direct the movie version of the smash hit Broadway musical West Side Story (1961) (a retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" with the warring Venetian clans the Montagues and Capulets reenvisioned as Irish/Polish and Puerto Rican adolescent street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks), cast Moreno as "Anita", the Puerto Rican girlfriend of Sharks' leader Bernardo, whose sister Maria is the piece's Juliet.
However, roles commensurate with that talent were not forthcoming in the 1960s. The following decade would prove kinder, possibly as the beautiful Moreno had aged and could now be seen by film-makers, T.V. producers and casting directors as something other than the spit-fire/sex-pot that Hispanic women were supposed to conform to. Ironically, it was in two vastly diverging roles -- that of a $100 hooker in director Mike Nichols brilliant realization of Jules Feiffer's acerbic look at male sexuality, Carnal Knowledge (1971) (1971) and that of Milly the Helper in the children's T.V. show The Electric Company (1971) (1971) -- that signaled a career renaissance.
During the seventies, Moreno won a 1972 Grammy Award for her contribution to "The Electric Company" soundtrack album, following it up three years later with a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for The Ritz (1976), a role she would reproduce on the Big Screen. She then won Emmy Awards for "The Muppet Show" and "The Rockford Files".
In her personal life, Moreno had an eight year long affair with actor Marlon Brando. On June 18, 1965, Moreno married Leonard Gordon, a cardiologist who was also her manager. He died on June 30, 2010. They have one daughter, Fernanda Luisa Fisher, and two grandsons, Justin and Cameron Fisher. In an interview with Good Day LA, Moreno stated that Elvis Presley was not a good lover. They dated for quite some time, but whenever the opportunity presented itself to take the relationship to another level, Presley backed off.
This sexy still of Moreno and Brando during their film The Night of the Following Day was found hanging above Brando's desk when he died
Moreno continues to work steadily on screen (both large and small) and on-stage, solidifying her reputation as a national treasure, a status that was officially ratified with the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in June 2004.
Other accolades include:
- Moreno has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Blvd.
- On December 5, 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Moreno into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.
- In 2009, Moreno was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama
- In 2010, the Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) honored Moreno with an HOLA Lifetime Achievement Award
- The Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award (2013; presented on Saturday, January 18, 2014)[