Rita Moreno: A Memoir
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In this luminous memoir, Rita Moreno shares her remarkable journey from a young girl with simple beginnings in Puerto Rico to Hollywood legend—and one of the few performers, and the only Hispanic, to win an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and two Emmys.
Born Rosita Dolores Alverio in the idyll of Puerto Rico, Moreno, at age five, embarked on a harrowing sea voyage with her mother and wound up in the harsh barrios of the Bronx, where she discovered dancing, singing, and acting as ways to escape a tumultuous childhood. Making her Broadway debut by age thirteen—and moving on to Hollywood in its Golden Age just a few years later—she worked alongside such stars as Gary Cooper, Yul Brynner, and Ann Miller.
When discovered by Louis B. Mayer of MGM, the wizard himself declared: “She looks like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor.” Cast by Gene Kelly as Zelda Zanders in Singin’ in the Rain and then on to her Oscar-winning performance in West Side Story, she catapulted to fame—yet found herself repeatedly typecast as the “utility ethnic,” a role she found almost impossible to elude.
Here, for the first time, Rita reflects on her struggles to break through Hollywood’s racial and sexual barriers. She explores the wounded little girl behind the glamorous façade—and what it took to find her place in the world. She talks candidly about her relationship with Elvis Presley, her encounters with Howard Hughes, and the passionate romance with Marlon Brando that drove her to attempt suicide. And she shares the illusiveness of a “perfect” marriage and the incomparable joys of motherhood.
Infused with Rita Moreno’s quick wit and deep insight, this memoir is the dazzling portrait of a stage and screen star who longed to become who she really is—and triumphed.
Juncos with affection—they were better bugs, colorful, tropical bugs; the red spiders were attractive, and they left you alone. At night I would also often feel the sharp bite of the bedbugs; every few months my mother would remove the bug-infested mattress and with my help, drag it up to the roof. We’d go bedbug hunting and kill every one we found. Afterward, we’d wash the metal springs with kerosene and get inadvertantly high off the fumes. My mother could hardly wait to move out of Aunt
the braves. I was sexily swinging my fringes and once again speaking in my generic ethnic accent. The Indian maiden roles had their challenges. For starters, buckskin is one of the most uncomfortable materials to wear; it is stiff and freezing cold during those dawn shoots in the desert. Any close-up of me in The Yellow Tomahawk or the The Deerslayer or any of the buckskin-and-braid epics I filmed would show my skin stippled from the cold. All my maidens had goose bumps. As I look back on my
and wait for a reflex. I didn’t respond at all, which was an ominous moment indeed for the doctor, Marlon, and my therapist, who also came to the house. Dr. Korngold, my therapist, told me of a curious occurrence in those moments before the ambulance arrived, when the doctor was trying to resuscitate me: Every time something was said by him or the doctor trying to help me survive, apparently I would start to sob and vocally keen. He has always believed that I responded that way because I was so
already been told onstage as Abie’s Irish Rose. While I had been balking all my life at playing stereotyped Hispanic roles in the movies, all of those Conchitas and Lolitas, I leaped at the opportunity to audition for the part of Anita. Anita was real! She was Puerto Rican, and she was fighting for her rights. She had plenty to say about what was wrong in America—and in the world. At this point, I’d never been given the opportunity to play the part of a woman who stood up for herself. Her
driveway! Marlon had lived in the house long ago, sold it, repurchased it, and ended up spending forty years of his life in it. That house was the big shell that fit his big body, I suppose. It was the same house that had been the scene of much tragedy: the drowning death of Hisaka, his maid. Marlon’s first wife, Anna, had found Hisaka floating in the pool. And Marlon’s den was the death scene for Dag Drollet, shot by Christian Brando in a confrontation over Cheyenne, Christian’s sister. He’d