By the time she was 5 years old, Rita Moreno was already showing the sort of theatrical flair that would result in a super successful career.
Her talents have been rewarded over and over again. In fact, Moreno is the only performer to have won all four of the most prestigious show business awards: An Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony.
“I guess the only thing left for me now is the Nobel Peace Prize,” laughs the star, who will be at the Kimmel Center April 11 to help launch Voz! Congresso, a three-year initiative that provides intimate conversations with acclaimed Latino celebrities and intellectuals.
An industry icon with more than 70 years of acting, theater and artistic experience, Moreno will share some of her life’s experiences in a show aptly titled My Life from Zero to Sixty Plus Twenty, a 60-minute journey of her triumphant and challenging roles in film, TV and on stage. A Q&A opportunity will follow immediately for audience members.
Born Rosa Delores Alveria in Humacao, a small town near the famous Rain Forest in Puerto Rico, Moreno said she never doubted her abilities for a moment, although she worked hard at proving them to others. And always, she clung to her dreams of stardom.
“My desire to be in show business, my original ambition, has never changed,” she said. “I am what I always wanted to be. I am my own dream come true.”
And, she added, she did it all on her own.
“Growing up, there were very few Latino role models in show business for me to follow. But I was my own self-motivating machine,” she said. “Oh, I used to love watching movie stars like Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner. But I was too young to know people like Delores Del Rio or Lupe Valez, so I didn’t have them as role models. For me, a little girl from Puerto Rico, there simply weren’t any.”
Moreno moved to the U.S. at the age of 5 and started taking dance lessons. At the age of 13 she made her Broadway debut in Skydrift starring Eli Wallach. Then, in true Hollywood tradition, she was spotted by a talent scout who arranged a meeting for her with Louis B. Mayer, who almost immediately signed her to a contact.
“I was dropped by the studio after just two years. Little did I know that a Hispanic kid didn’t have much of a chance,” Moreno pointed out.
But she continued to push forward, doing a lot of summer stock, “B” movies and Westerns along with minor roles in television series, often cast as a Mexican spitfire or an Indian maiden. It was only after winning an Oscar for her performance as Anita in West Side Story, which brought her international acclaim, that she was finally recognized as a major talent.
And today, at the age of 80, she continues to perform in her chosen field. The trailblazing star is currently juggling performances for her own one-woman stage show, Life Without Makeup, with television appearances as Fran Drescher’s mother in TV Land’s Happily Divorced. In addition, Moreno is preparing to record a new album and she’s at work penning her autobiography.
With few Hispanics making it big today, Moreno has become a welcome image to follow for stars like Jennifer Lopez, who acknowledges Moreno as a role model.
“I’m grateful to Jennifer for saying that, but performers should know that the doors to the kingdom are only now slightly ajar,” she said. “It can be done, you can make it. You just have to push really, really hard because it’s a very heavy door.”
Fortunately, Moreno not only opened that heavy door, but continues to go through it, performing often despite her age.
“And I’ll keep doing it just as long as I can,” she said. “And I’ll keep on dancing just as long as I can too, although now I don’t call it dancing anymore. I call it SKD — which stands for Sorta Kinda Dancing.” ••