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Rita Moreno biography and timeline

Rita Moreno has won all four of the most prestigious awards in show business: an Oscar, a Tony, two Emmys, and a Grammy. Her countless credits span more than seven decades, beginning with her Broadway debut at age 13. Moreno received the Peabody Career Achievement Award and the Kennedy Center Honor for her lifetime contributions to American culture. Prior to that, she was honored by her peers as the 50th recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. She has served as a Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade and the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

She released her first ever all-Spanish language album, “Una Vez Más,” produced by musician Emilio Estefan, and has added New York Times bestselling author to her list of accomplishments with her first book, “Rita Moreno: A Memoir,” published by Celebra Books in 2011.

Moreno has starred on Broadway and London’s West End, appeared in more than 40 feature films, and countless television shows, and has performed in numerous regional theaters including her one woman show, “Life Without Makeup, at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. See below for an extensive timeline of her achievements and milestones.

Portrait of film and Broadway actor Rita Moreno as she puts on makeup in the mirror, Hollywood, 1954. (Photo by Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

 

December 11, 1931

Born Rosita Dolores Alverio Marcano in a hospital in Humacao, Puerto Rico to Rosa Maria Marcano and Paco José Alverio.

December 11, 1931

Until the age of 5, Moreno lived in Juncos, Puerto Rico on the edge of the El Yunque rainforest.

1936

Moreno’s mother, Rosa Maria, took 5-year-old Moreno to New York City via the S.S. Carabobo, leaving behind her younger brother Francisco.

1936

Around the age of 6, Moreno began taking Spanish dance lessons from Paco Cansino, the teacher and uncle of Rita Hayworth.

At the age of 9, Moreno had her first performance dancing at a nightclub in Greenwich Village. Throughout her early teens, she would perform at clubs around New York, often going by herself.

As a child, Moreno performed in radio plays on “The Ave Maria Hour.” She also dubbed English language films in Spanish.

1945

Moreno made her Broadway debut in “Skydrift” at the age of 13.

1945
1950

Moreno was spotted at a dance recital by a talent agent who recommended her to Louis B. Mayer of MGM, who signed her to a 7-year contract on the spot. Once she had arrived in Hollywood, the casting agent Bill Grady said she would need a new name. She became Rita Moreno, taking the last name of her step-father (Edward Moreno) and the first name of the star Rita Hayworth.

1950
1950

Moreno’s first motion picture was the independent film, “So Young, So Bad,” where she played a juvenile delinquent. It’s her only credit as "Rosita" Moreno.

1950
1950

On contract for MGM, Moreno performed supporting roles in the musicals “The Toast of New Orleans” and “Pagan Love Song.” Both films featured her as a generic “ethnic girl,” a role she would often repeat in her early career, much to her frustration.

1950
1952

Her third role with MGM was as Zelda Zanders in “Singin’ In The Rain,” which she found refreshing, as she wasn’t playing the “ethnic girl.”

1952

Moreno was dropped from her MGM contract after “Singin’ In The Rain,” and auditioned independently for roles to help support her mother and younger brother, Dennis.

March 1, 1954

Moreno was featured on the cover of "Life Magazine" with the provocative profile titled, "Rita Moreno: An Actresses' Catalog of Sex and Innocence," which caught the attention of Darryl F. Zanuck, who signed her to another 7-year contract with 20th Century Fox.

March 1, 1954
1954

Moreno met Marlon Brando on the set of his film, “Désirée.” They had a contentious, on-again-off-again relationship for 8 years.

1954
1956

Under contract with 20th Century Fox, Moreno’s most notable role was as the Tuptim in "The King and I,” where she beat out France Nuyen for the role.

1956
Late 1950s

Under pressure from Marlon Brando, by whom she was pregnant, Moreno got an illegal abortion and had to be rushed to the hospital shortly after to have the procedure properly completed.

Late 1950s
1961

Moreno appeared as Anita in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, “West Side Story.”

1961
April 19, 1961

Moreno attempted to take her own life as a result of her career frustration and her tumultuous relationship with Marlon Brando.

April 19, 1961
1962

Moreno became the first Latina to win an Oscar. She was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in “West Side Story.”

1962

In 1962, Moreno also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in “West Side Story.” After winning her Oscar, Rita continued to get offered limited roles, viewed by many as stereotypical “ethnic girl” characters, which she no longer wanted to accept. As a result, she mainly worked in theater until Marlon Brando got her the role in his film, “The Night of the Following Day.”

1963

Moreno joined a delegation of Hollywood stars to attend the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

1963
1964

Moreno starred in the West End production of “She Loves Me.” Upon returning to the U.S., Moreno was cast as Iris Parodus Brunstein in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” on Broadway.

1964
1965

Moreno married Dr. Leonard (Lenny) Gordon and was married to him until his death in 2010 at the age of 90.

1965
1967

Moreno's daughter, Fernanda, is born.

1967
1971-77

Moreno starred in the ensemble cast of “The Electric Company,” a children’s show to foster literacy.

1971-77
1972

Moreno won a Grammy Award for Best Album for Children for "The Electric Company Album."

1972
1975

Moreno won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Google Gomez in “The Ritz” by Terrence McNally.

1975
1977

Moreno won an Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for her performance on “The Muppet Show.”

1977

With her 1977 Emmy, Moreno became the first and only Latina to EGOT (win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony).

1978

Moreno won a second Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress – Drama Series for her performance on “The Rockford Files.”

1978
1982-1983

Moreno starred in the TV adaptation of “Nine to Five” as Violet Newstead, for which she was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

1982-1983
1997-2003

Moreno starred in the ensemble cast of the HBO prison drama, “Oz,” as the nun Sister Peter Marie, for which she received critical acclaim.

1997-2003
2000

Moreno was awarded the Library of Congress Living Legends Award.

2000
June 2004

Moreno was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

June 2004
2009

Moreno was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.

2009
2011

Moreno did a one-woman show about her life titled, “Life Without Makeup.”

2011
2017-2020

Moreno starred in the reboot of “One Day At A Time” on Netflix.

2017-2020
2021

In the 2021 film adaptation of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg, Moreno plays Valentina (the role replaced “Doc” from the original story). She is also an Executive Producer on the project.

2021

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