Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

The divided states of “America” – why Rita Moreno objected to West Side Story’s original lyrics

Movie adaptations of Broadway musicals veer wildly in their fidelity to the original source; some are extremely faithful (South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof), others take a more liberal stance—the film of Cabaret entirely replaced its original subplot with a completely new one and cut half the score.  That’s okay: the film adaptation of 1954’s Fanny cut all the songs.

In the multiple Academy Award-winning 1961 film of West Side Story—which is, by and large, pretty faithful to the stage version—there’s one tiny addition to the original number “America,” but it’s so memorable and so resonant that it nearly necessitates a complete re-framing of the song.

Before Rita Moreno—in her Oscar-winning performance as Anita—launches into her lyrical paean to the charms of urban America, she sings, “I like the isle of Manhattan” and her friend, Consuelo, played by Yvonne Othon, comments in mellifluous Nuyorican:  “I know you do-oo!” This line was not in the original show nor on the original cast album and yet every subsequent recording of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s score includes it—including an archival studio recording conducted by Bernstein himself in 1984.  The line is a wonderfully sassy acknowledgement of Anita’s overly enthusiastic buy-in to the American Dream and it’s rendered by Othon with a weary cynicism:  she’s clearly heard all this before.

But in the original number, as rendered four years earlier on-stage, “America” isn’t so much about the ambivalence of the American Dream; it’s centered around promoting America’s charms at the expense of Puerto Rico’s poverty.  According to lyricist Sondheim, the number was supposed to be an argument between Anita and her boyfriend, Bernardo, as a way of giving their relationship some added dimension.  But the show’s director/choreographer/co-conceiver Jerome Robbins wanted a musical number that featured only women—there were already too many dancing and jumping boys—in this case, the girlfriends of the Sharks.  “The character of Rosalia was invented to take Bernardo’s point of view,” wrote Sondheim in his memoirs, and that point of view was naively pro-Puerto Rican.  Rosalia doesn’t figure in the plot (she was originally played by Marilyn Cooper, a Jewish comedian and dancer from the Bronx who would go on to a long Broadway career); “[I]n fact,” wrote Sondheim, “because Rosalia is a nonentity, the stage version make Anita something of a smartass.”

The back-and-forth in the lyrics between Rosalia and Anita (called “stichomythia” back in Ancient Greek days) sets up a pattern: Rosalia sings nostalgically about her home country, while Anita denigrates it, most significantly at the top of the number, when she turns the island of “tropical breezes” into “Puerto Rico, you ugly island, island of tropic diseases.” This begins a four-minute-and-32 second smackdown of Puerto Rico, set to some of Bernstein’s most vibrant dance music.  (According to Sondheim, Bernstein claimed that, while on vacation in Puerto Rico, he came across a wonderful dance rhythm called the Huapango—it turns out it was a melody Bernstein composed years earlier, put away in his trunk, and wanted to re-use.)

Even if Bernstein didn’t discover the music on a vacation to Puerto Rico—even if he never went on vacation to Puerto Rico—it bears mention that none of the creative team, which includes bookwriter Arthur Laurents, did much, if any, research on Puerto Rico itself.  Sondheim himself admitted he had never even met a Puerto Rican when he took on the writing assignment.  It all goes back to what Lin-Manuel Miranda refers to in the musical Hamilton:  who tells your story?

Nonetheless, “America,” which was initially choreographed not by Robbins but by Peter Gennaro, his co-choreographer, became a highlight of the show, vibrantly rendered on the best-selling cast album by Cooper and Chita Rivera, a performer of Puerto Rican, Scottish and Italian descent, who was born in Washington, DC.  When the film version of West Side Story was announced, Moreno, who was born in Puerto Rico, was keen to get the part of Anita and was one of the first actors cast.  But there was a problem:  “I wanted this part so badly, so badly. But a few weeks after I got it, I suddenly remembered that lyric [from ‘America’],” she told the Hollywood Reporter.  “Nobody knows this, but I said, ‘Those words won’t come out of my mouth.’ I was going to give it up on principle, not because I was brave — but because I couldn’t bear the thought of doing this to my people.”

Moreno wasn’t the first to object.  On September 29, 1957, three days after the musical’s Broadway opening, Howard Rusk, a pioneering doctor and the founder of the Institute of Medical Rehabilitation at New York University, wrote a piece for the New York Times:  “The reference to ‘island of tropic diseases’ is a blow below the belt.  This is not based on fact.  Puerto Rico has no significant disease problem related to its tropical climate…The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has made tremendous strides forward in public health . . .Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics will probably remain unchanged and Puerto Rico’s mortality rates will continue to decline.”

But when cameras rolled at Hollywood’s Goldwyn Studios in October of 1960 to film “America” (the first song in the movie to be shot in a studio rather than on the New York City location), Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics were in fact changed.  Again, according to Sondheim, the reason was that Robbins wanted to rethink the number and refocus it on the relationship between Anita and Bernardo.  Rosalia is removed from the song entirely, Consuelo gets her two seconds of fame in her place, and the group number becomes infused with a dueling sexuality between the Shark gang members and their girlfriends.

It’s unclear who asked for the lyric changes—Robbins, Moreno, or the studio executives—but still, the song’s ethos is centered around Anita’s disdain for the “backward” island of Puerto Rico.  The revised lyrics have Anita singing, “Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.”  From Moreno’s perspective, this lyric, too, “really clings to people’s hearts. It still does.  But they completely disregard that it’s one native’s point of view, which is why the number turns into a song that’s really insulting America.”  During the course of the movie version, Anita projects her rose-colored version of her adopted country, while the men refute that vision with world-weary irony:  “Life is all right in America,” she sings and they reply “If you’re all-white in America!”  In this way, the film version adopts the trope of countless plays, films, and musicals (Flower Drum Song, Ragtime, even Hamilton) that, for immigrants, even if in the American Dream the streets are paved with gold, you do have to bend over to pick it up; not everything is as golden as it seems.

Subsequent stage productions (which include hundreds of thousands of high school productions) of West Side Story include the original 1957 lyrics because to embrace the revised movie lyrics would require a total re-conception of the number and, consequently, the show itself.  Which version the highly anticipated 2021 Steven Spielberg film remake (also featuring Moreno) will use is, for now, an open question.  But the number “America” still has the thrilling rhythm of Bernstein’s music, the irony of Sondheim’s lyrics, and the terpsichorean frenzy of Robbins’s choreography.  When you hear those percussive claves knock out the five syncopated beats that begin “America,” don’t you feel like rustling your literal or figurative skirt—just a little?

I know you do.

SHARE
TRANSCRIPT

♪♪♪ [ Birdsong ] [ Plastic crinkling ] [ Cutlery clattering ] -Oh, I hate doing this.

I really hate this. [ Chuckles ] -Yeah, they have people to do this.

-You can tell I'm not a real star because somebody else would be doing this.

-Exactly.

[ Upbeat jazzy music ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -How interesting when you begin to get a glow about you, because things are going so well.

Show business, that's why you must never really believe anything.

I mean, about your fame and all that kind of bull[bleep] Yeah, it goes up and down; right now it's up.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Woo-hoo! [ Chuckles ] Ay [bleep]! Oh, a diamond on the floor!

♪♪♪ It started with my 77th, and it was so much fun and so good.

For my birthday parties, I always do a theme and I demand costumes.

[ Laughs ] People love to wear costumes.

You know that?

They love it.

This year it was Cuba.

-This is like a kid's party. Not sure how it relates to Cuba, but it's cool. -You know how it relates?

It's festive. That's exactly how it relates.

Come look at the baby bananas.

Sort of looks like an elephant penis.

Aren't they darling? I love -- They're my little babies.

♪♪♪ [ Singing in Spanish ] ♪♪♪ -Rita, she's, like -- she is a diva, girl!

[ Laughs ] In the best sense of the word!

She comes with, like, history.

-I can't think of anybody I've ever met in the business who lived the American dream more than Rita Moreno.

[ Singing in Spanish ] ♪♪♪ -Being a natural performer, I mean, I just think I was born that way.

I was wired that way.

I wanted to be a movie star from the time I saw my first picture.

-And I always think, what a journey.

♪♪♪ [ Singing in Spanish ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Song ends ] -I got a message for your American buddy.

You tell that murderer that Maria's never going to meet him.

You tell him that Chino found out about them... and shot her!

She's dead.

-Some people might view Rita Moreno as the embodiment of the American dream -Eight decades after Rita Moreno first laid eyes on the Statue of Liberty, she continues to personify its promise that here in America, no matter what you look like or where you come from or what your last name is, you can make it if you try.

♪♪♪ -What she was able to achieve coming from a colonial migrant background into stardom -- some people may see it that way.

[ Music and applause ] -But to me, I see more the limitations, the obstacles that were put in her way simply because of her perceived origin and the associations that people had with that.

-When Rita Moreno came into the scene, she was following very few people -- Rita Hayworth being the obvious one.

Rita Hayworth, you know, masking in some ways her Latina identity.

And Rita Moreno, I think, faces that challenge too.

What is the possibility for someone like her to play herself?

-My mommy used to call me her little doll... her And that was a role I learned to play.

Hello, cutie.

[ Stifled laughter ] I talk out loud to myself, I've done this since I was a little girl.

My mother muttered constantly in Spanish, you know -- [ Muttering in Spanish ] [ Laughs ] I even tell myself jokes sometimes -- not tell jokes, but I'll say something in a funny voice and I'll laugh at myself.

[ Laughing ] [ Guitar music ] I was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico -- Humacao was the one town that had the hospital.

That was in 1931.

I had my little brother, Francisco, and my father, 'Paco' Alverio.

I was barefoot most of the time.

We didn't need shoes for anything.

I remember with my mama going to the local creek to wash clothing, and all of the women there would sing and yell across to each other and tell stories, and -- [ Speaking Spanish ] You know -- and the kids would play in the creek.

It's, um -- it's a very happy memory.

When my mother got her divorce, we moved in with grandfather who used to make me dance to records -- not make me, I loved it.

Very early on, I realized that getting attention was a very nice thing.

What really changed all that was moving to the United States for a 'better life.'

and Chino makes half of what the Pollack makes -- -Oh, here comes the whole commercial!

'Your mother's a Pole, your father's a Swede, but you were born here, that's all that you need.

'You are an American -- but us?! Foreigners!

Lice! Cockroaches!'

My mommy and I took a ship called the SS which is really a hilarious name because in English it simply means 'stupid face,' which is not a good omen, by the way, because we immediately ran into a storm.

We were throwing up, we were sick, people were very frightened.

So that was our entry into this so-called better life.

It didn't take me long before I figured out, my mom was leaving Puerto Rico for good.

And she was leaving my papi and my little brother, Francisco.

I never saw my brother again.

Coming from Puerto Rico to New York was like experiencing a reverse Oz -- to go from that glorious place, green and colorful, to this.

I looked at this lady way up there, this green lady, and she seemed to be holding a giant ice cream cone.

I thought she was the president of the United States.

-People arriving in the '30s are coming during the Depression.

That's one of the reasons that Puerto Ricans encounter certain -- or, had certain tensions with other groups that were also competing for the limited amount of jobs that were available.

-When we arrived there, I think it was probably February: freezing, freezing cold.

-Things were very tough economically in Puerto Rico, so they arrived without clothes on their back, literally, but they always had a certain style, certain cachet.

They were just, boom, you know?

-And my mom would sew for me a lot because she dressed me up like a little doll.

-There was so much abuse and for real just segregation in New York at that time -I had to be very careful about walking on certain streets because these boy gangs would hang out and they would call me names that nowadays a lot of people don't recognize.

'Spic,' which was one of the worst things you could call somebody in those days.

-You can walk on this block with your people, but not on that block -- that's an Irish block.

You know, it was, uh... That was real. That was real.

And the discrimination you faced based on what block you were walking down was very real.

-And I grew up in New York City learning and believing that I didn't have much worth.

If you feel that you have no value, that's a very, very serious illness, and I went through that kind of feeling of unworthiness for years and years and years.

Dancing lessons was the perfect panacea for me at the time, and so I started doing Spanish dance.

I made my professional debut when I was six at a Greenwich Village nightclub.

-A lot of the formative years of her life are spent figuring out how to survive.

And at an early age, she figures out that she can survive by dancing.

-I dropped out of school when I was 15, something like that, and I started to work right away in nightclubs.

-At the age of 16 years old, she was the sole breadwinner for her family.

-I remember doing one show at a waterfront where the young men were waiting to leave.

I remember I sang 'Rum and Coca-Cola.'

♪ Drinking rum and Coca-Cola ♪ In my Carmen Miranda getup that my mom made for me -- she made all my costumes -- and this big bell went off like a school bell.

And it was time for some of those boys to leave.

And, you know, I didn't get the poignance of a moment like that, I didn't understand that maybe at least half of them were not coming back.

-Entertaining for her was a form of surviving some very tough experiences.

-I wanted to be in movies from the time I could say movies.

That was my goal, that eventually, somehow or other, I would get into movies.

And when a talent scout did spot me at a dance recital and he was from MGM, I was crazy with joy and happiness.

He went backstage and gave my mother his business card, and he said, 'Louis B. Mayer's in town.'

He was the head of MGM Studios and responsible for, among other things, 'The Wizard of Oz.'

He said, 'He's going to be in town, I want you to meet him.'

We met him in the penthouse at the Waldorf Astoria, but we had a hard time getting up there because we didn't know what a penthouse was, we didn't know what elevator.

My mother says, 'I don't know what to do.'

So we go to the desk, she says, 'We have to see B.

and we don't know what to do.'

And the lady says, 'You just press the button that says PH,' in that manner she said it -- 'PH.'

'Oh, okay,' so my mom presses PH, and we go straight up to his penthouse apartment.

We'd never even been to a hotel.

I mean, this was all abs-- I was 16.

We dressed me up, by the way, to look as much like Elizabeth Taylor as possible -- it was really fun, we got a, um, a corselette to make my waist small, because she had a tiny, tiny waist.

And we did some help up here.

And I did my hair like her, I did my eyebrows like her.

Did everything I can to look it.

She was my role model -- because there were no role models for someone like me -- in those days? Nobody!

There was nobody!

So she was all I could look up to, because she was young, she was a teenager.

And I went in there and we met and he sized me up and he says, 'My God,' he said, 'she looks like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor.'

I was so thrilled.

And I got a contract from that -- from not doing anything.

Here's the funny thing: you work your ass off all your life, and then something like this happens and it didn't take anything but a connection with somebody.

It's so -- it's bizarre.

-Union Pacific going west, train number 103.

Streamliner, city of Los Angeles.

-And about six months later, my mom and I took the train to Hollywood, and we found a little cottage in Culver City, very close to the studio so I could walk there, 'cause we didn't know how to drive.

We didn't have a car.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I mean, think: little Puerto Rican girl who nobody thought much of, at MGM with a contract -- it was unspeakably exciting.

And I have to tell you that I was there every day.

Morning!

-[ Indistinct ] -Thank you.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ People were not nice to me at MGM.

I mean, I would say hello, and people would just sort of look the other way.

You know, I instantly took it to mean that, because I was Latina, that's inevitable, right?

When you're not treated well and you have that problem, uh, or that fear, that's always what you think of first.

Oh, blintzes?! Seriously?! Wow!

Oh, my!

Yum, yum, good for the tum!

-[ Man chuckles ] -Hey, good morning.

-Good morning. How are ya? -Do you like blintzes?

-No, I do eggs and bacon every morning.

-Oh, okay.

-I like my cholesterol high. -Exac-- No -- no higher than sour cream, dear.

-See you out there. -Okay.

-I really was very often treated like a sex object.

♪♪♪ One of the things the publicity department would do sometimes is fix you up on a date with somebody who actually wanted arm candy.

♪♪♪ -The studio would ask contract players to go out on pretend dates, and every time your picture was in a magazine, they mentioned 20th Century Fox, your next picture.

When you're in a contract to a studio, they own you.

I think Rita and I and most of the girls then expected it.

♪♪♪ -I was in my early 20s, they said, 'Go to this cocktail party because there's going to be a lot of important people there.

And this fellow that we're -- we'd like to fix you up with is kind of well known, and it might do you some good.'

I thought, 'Okay, we'll go to the cocktail party.'

The host -- a man who ran a big whiskey distillery -- comes over to me, says, 'Come on, I'll introduce you to people.'

And he introduced me to Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Studios, a distinctly vulgar and crude man.

And before I knew it, he actually said to me, 'You know, I'd like to [bleep] you.'

I mean, that may have been the third time in my life I heard that word used.

And what did I do?

I giggled like an idiot.

And -- and just backed away.

The host of the evening, Mr. Distillery, Mr. Whiskey, comes over to me and he said, 'Why don't you dance with me?'

I said, 'Sure.'

So we started to dance and he began to press against me very, very hard.

And before I knew it, he started to get a little bit of sweat beads on his upper lip and he started to breathe heavily, and he was really -- he wasn't pressing against me, he was grinding against me.

And he actually said, 'You're a sexy little bitch, aren't you?'

And went out into the garden where I found Mexican gardeners, because this was an afternoon party, tears again, started to say, 'I need your help, I have to go home.'

They didn't need an explanation, they kind of knew.

And they put one of their jackets on me and took me home to my little cottage in Culver City.

And those were the first gentlemen I had seen that whole afternoon.

-♪ Prepare to lose your heart ♪ ♪ When the Tina-Lina, all you need's a concertina ♪ ♪ And a bit of dance space on the floor ♪ -I was this young actress trying to make my way.

Hollywood in those days was a place where people like me played native girls.

An accent was always necessary.

-Then it is bad, must you say it over and over again?

-They were dark skinned.

They were nothing like me.

And all of these characters were always treated like illiterate, immoral; they were always men's little island girls.

-What are you reading?

-Book of magic.

-Now, what does a girl like you want with a book like that?

-I will prepare a great love spell, and then I will work the magic on Tonio, and he will love me.

-But, you know, that's -- I'm an actress.

I'm supposed to be able to do anything.

So at first, I accepted all that, I thought it was fine.

But then it got to the point where I was doing nothing but that -- an island girl; it was an Esther Williams swimming movie.

I used to call her Esther 'the Backstroke' Williams.

So I got a feature role in that.

But it was, again, makeup the color of mud.

-I'm right here. -Okay, come along.

-That's all I ever got.

And it began to really hurt.

-Hey, Peppy!

-Here, how are ya?

-We're given a lot less space to identify with ourselves, to grow into ourselves.

You know, our business is predominantly built and funded by men, and so when they do make things for us to be in, it is in a very, very limited scope.

-A woman, she wants a man!

Papera, catch!

-As an actress, there are so many other things that you're holding down because it would not be understood.

It would be too much.

She was deciding that her story and who she was was more important than how they viewed her.

You know, I knew her iconically from 'West Side Story,' but one of my other favorite movie musicals is 'Singin' in the Rain,' and she's in 'Singin' in the Rain.'

-♪ Singin' in the rain ♪ ♪ Just singin' in the rain ♪ -The darling of the flapper set, Zelda Zanders!

-Zelda! Oh, Zelda!

-In 'Singin' in the Rain,' she has sentences and has a character that we remember... -Zelda's had so much unhappiness I hope this time it's really love.

-And she is not known as a Latin actress.

She sort of -- she fits into this scope of showgirls.

And when I got old enough to look back and I noticed that, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, she was a trailblazer.'

-I thought, 'Okay!

I'm not going to have to do those parts anymore.'

I was so thrilled.

-♪ I'm singin' in the rain ♪ ♪ Just singin' in the rain ♪ -I was there when Gene Kelly sang to 'Singin' in the Rain.'

So it was one of the great experiences of my life.

I loved it. It was such fun.

-♪ The sun's in my heart ♪ ♪ And I'm ready for love ♪ -And, you know, it had to happen with Gene Kelly.

Of course it would happen with Gene Kelly!

Because he was a smart man.

All that...BS.

It all went right back to the, uh... the, uh... the dusky maiden roles.

-He bring present to king, her name is Tuptim.

-Mrs. Anna, please, you have some English books I can read?

-Yes, of course, my dear, but they're not unpacked yet.

[ All talking ] -'The King and I,' I was under contract to 20th Century Fox.

-And this girl is present to me from, uh, Burma prince.

-Called me up one day on the phone.

He said, 'This is Yul Brynner.'

-My name is Tuptim. I already speak English.

-He said, 'You know, your part is very boring because you're just a soubrette.'

He says, 'All you do is pine and look sad because you can't have your lover.

And that's boring.'

And of course I agreed with him, those parts were impossible to play!

At least to play them interestingly, it was nothing, you always just go around looking like this.

-♪ Behold and believe what you see ♪ -And I just, you know, tried to do the best I could with what -- with what was a boring part.

'We Kiss In the Shadows' -- lovely song.

But she was always like, 'We kiss in the sha--' -Oh, if it could only be! -It will be!

I swear this!

When all is arranged, I will get word to you.

-That is what I was being trained for -- for the rest of my life, that is what I was going to do.

♪♪♪ -She made herself into somebody she wasn't in order to please other people for a very long time -- as an entertainer and as a woman.

-That time many of us were not recognized or not given opportunities to do the work we could do.

Fortunately for me, it was three times easier.

It was three times harder for women.

-♪ Jungle ♪ -Let go of me, I tell you!

-I remember her saying it really hurt her soul to have to play those characters in that way.

And we have to remember when our community only sees that in media and television and in film, when you only see those characters portrayed in that negative way, it's not only educating other communities about us, but it's also teaching us how we see ourselves.

-♪ ...who lays in the shade of a banana tree ♪ ♪ How delectable, desirous... ♪ -I hated being Hispanic because I learned very early that it was not a good thing.

You were looked down upon or you were thought of as a sex object.

-Hello.

This is just like a movie I saw.

The girl lived upstairs and used to come down and visit the man downstairs and air conditioning herself off with his air conditioner.

-And when you moved to Hollywood, you get a very fast education about what box you belong in.

I remember encountering the same struggles that Rita encountered, which was, 'Can you do it with an accent?

Can you -- can you make it more Latin?

Can you do it a little more spicy?'

Like, what is -- what does that mean, 'spicy'? -She's on this set and she's playing a Polynesian girl, and she's aware that there's an accent involved.

But nobody in the set seems concerned about what kind of accent to use; no one's helping her.

So she comes up what she calls the universal ethnic accent.

-You know, she was auditioning for the Russian girl, and she would talk like this, and then they go, 'Okay, could you audition for the Cuban girl?'

And she would talk like this.

And then they go, 'Okay, can you -- can you, you know, do the Hungarian girl?'

And she would talk like this. Nobody even knew the difference!

Those are very different countries.

-She had to have a lot of staying power... Because there wasn't a whole lot for her to do.

If you're artistic minded, you do what you have to do.

-I wanted to turn the parts down, but what happened is that's all that was offered and I had to make a living.

So I was kind of stuck.

And I just made the best of it and did all those kind of roles.

But I did a lot of those where I talk like this all the time -- 'Why you no love me no more?'

-And here's her sense of humor.

She said, 'I got so tired of having to say, 'Why you like white girl?'

or 'Why you take gold from my people?'' I think that's funny.

-I was doing a film called 'Seven Cities of Gold.'

I was once again the Indian girl who was the mistress of a white man, and he tells her that he doesn't want her anymore.

-You don't want me?! -Now, Ula, wait.

Ula, stop! Now wait!

I didn't mean it, Ula!

Really, I didn't -- [ Ula screams ] -Ula is lying amongst the waves.

And it just so happened on that day that millions of little stinging jellyfish were in the water.

Needless to say, I was twitching, and the director said, 'For Christ's sake, will you stop moving?

You're supposed to be dead, you know!'

And I said, 'I-I'm really sorry, but, um, there's a lot of jellyfish here and they're stinging me,' he says, 'Shut up and do as I say!'

Yeah, that's what he said -- in front of the crew, everybody.

There you have it -- he didn't see me as a young actress trying to make her way in Hollywood, Rosita Moreno, now Rita Moreno.

He saw me as 'Ula.'

♪♪♪ And I get the message loud and clear: shut up... and be sexy.

♪♪♪ -Oh, bull[bleep]! Jesus! Unbelievable!

FBI... [ Grassley continues indistinctly on television ] ♪♪♪ Actually, my agent raped me and I didn't even realize that he had done that.

I was in his apartment because we were going to go somewhere, he was going to take me somewhere -- maybe was even to dinner or something -- and I was all dressed up, and he said something about how pretty I was and how I looked beautiful.

And before I know it, he's kissing me, forcing himself on me, actually -- I'm not kissing him.

And he pushes me, 'cause it was a couch, and he actually...um... He actually raped me.

And, um... It was a terrible story because I was also menstruating.

And I pushed him away and I ran out of there.

-Here's what's terrible -- I still let him be my agent.

Because he was the only one I knew who was helping me... in my so-called career.

That's what astonishes me -- that I thought so little of myself.

-Their raucous, raucous laughter.

-Hideous -As he mounted her.

She was just asked if, um, she can 100 percent identify who was on top of her, and she said, '100 percent' without hesitation.

I am so glad she came out.

Hey, this is Lucia!

Lucia does magic with hair I -- I had to deal with it in some way, so I just took everything out of my mind, and I was like that for a long time -- everything out of my mind.

Until somebody said to me, 'Y-you really need therapy.'

That was Marlon Brando.

♪♪♪ -From what I understand, Rita Moreno wasn't just dating Marlon Brando, they had an affair that lasted years.

-We were together almost -- on and off -- for seven, eight years.

[ Laughing ] He was anathema to my life!

-Marlon Brando was the single greatest movie star of his generation, especially in the 1950s.

It began with 'A Streetcar Named Desire.'

He was the king!

I mean, he was a huge star.

-Like very few eras have seen, actually.

And he loved me.

-♪ Be careful ♪ ♪ It's my heart ♪ -He was the daddy that I couldn't please.

I didn't know that; I wasn't aware of that at all.

But he was the one I needed to please.

He was the one I wanted to be married to.

-♪ That you... ♪ -Have you ever been so obsessed by somebody that you feel as if you can't breathe without them?

[ Audience member cheers ] -Yeah.

That's how Marlon felt about himself.

[ Laughter ] [ Cheering and applause ] You know, I think of it now, I think, 'What was to love?!' But there were certain things that just thrilled me -- the fact that he was, in fact, ungettable -- that made me extremely attracted to him.

He looked like a Greek god, for heaven's sake, he really did, and he was probably one of the funniest people I've ever known.

And he really did care for me.

-♪ Be careful ♪ ♪ Be careful ♪ -I was pregnant.

Marlon had made me pregnant, but I can't say I blame him entirely because I let it happen.

I think I had some hopes that he would say, 'Oh, well, in that case, let's get married.'

But it wasn't that way, it didn't happen that way.

He asked somebody, and somebody found a doctor for me who would do it.

Obviously, And I had to bring cash with me.

And he put me to sleep and did the deed.

Well, he actually didn't really do the deed.

He disturbed the pregnancy, is what I found out, when for days and days I kept bleeding.

And I remember my roommate, my girlfriend, very close friend, said, 'This is not supposed to happen.'

Very scary because I could have died.

It's been made harder and harder for women to have abortions, they're closing a lot of clinics, and it's terrible, and I believe very firmly that a woman should have the right to an abortion if she needs it.

-Women matter.

We are America.

[ Cheering and applause ] -♪ Oh, sinner man... ♪ -And we are here to stay.

-♪ Where you gonna run to ♪ -I remember her speaking out at marches in New York City when I was young.

Any time any kind of woman's cause came to her, she would be there for them.

-There is a gender imbalance and there was an abuse of power that continues to happen in many industries.

-Because I had my experiences at a time when it was just par for the course.

It was so rampant.

-And just accepted, you're saying, back then?

-Of course, particularly then.

I mean, who were you going to go to?

Nobody was going to do anything about it.

-♪ I said rock ♪ -I think I knew one female music executive at the time throughout my music career.

But I know of everything that happens -- the abuses of power that happen with beautiful women, and it still happens, and it's still going to continue to happen -- if it's up to all of us to change it.

-When Rita was talking about it so loudly and clearly in her lifetime, we didn't pay attention and we didn't appreciate the whistle blowing she was doing at that moment.

-One of the things that brought Brando and Rita Moreno together was that he was deeply involved in the civil rights movement.

So he shared with Rita Moreno a social consciousness which was not as typical of actors in the late '50s, early '60s, as it is today.

-To her mind, he was involved with the world.

He was a student of the world.

He wanted to talk about many, many, many things that she loved being exposed to and then steeping herself and trying to educate herself.

In some ways, she becomes a conscious activist.

-I got up in front of a microphone for the first time in my life and I talked about how we had to organize to stop these atom bomb tests because the stuff that was in atom bombs that would get into the grass and meadows, all over the place.

My first major experience was on the March on Washington, when I sat no less than 15 feet from Dr. Martin Luther King.

[ Applause ] -A hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.

-I was there when he uttered the 'I had a dream' speech.

-We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

-I loved being listened to when I was saying very, very important things that I had never thought of before.

To the Negro kids, to the Puerto Rican kids, to the Chinese kids, to every nationality, listen to this.

Wear your nationality like a flag.

Be proud of it! Be proud you're Puerto Rican, be proud you're Negro!

[ Cheering and applause ] For the very first time in my life, I felt very useful.

I loved it.

Number one, I was getting attention.

Always and ever the actress, right?

-She is very uncommon in Hollywood.

She really cares about issues.

I mean, I'll talk to her from time to time and she is as knowledgeable on current issues that I may be debating as someone on my staff.

And then she is just full of you-know-what and vinegar.

-Hello!

-Rita, you're here, my God!

I didn't know you were coming!

How are you? -Hi!

Look at this joint, this joint!

-That's precisely what Rita would call this, a joint.

-Oh, this is fan-- Why are those teddy bears priced?

-Because that pink teddy bear is more expensive than the blue teddy bear. -Because it's a girl?

-Yes. -Are you serious?

I'll show you. The same company, the exact same teddy bear -- -The same company?

-Same company. Look at I mean, they're identical.

-Twenty-eight... -Thirty-one.

-Thirty-one for the girl?! -I've been working on it for about six months.

We're introducing the bill for National Women's History Month.

-What's the bill?

-It's going to repeal the gender tax.

-It's a gender tax?! -A pink tax -- pink tax repeal is what we're calling it.

Anyway, that's why they're in here.

I have more, do you want to see more items?

-Yeah!

-[ Laughter ] ♪ Groovy, baby, groovy! ♪ -Chin up.

-And more open. -Okay.

-Yes, gorgeous.

-The struggles involving being a female in the industry of making art are many.

-If you look at cinema, most of the movies include one woman.

At least one; but they all include men.

♪♪♪ -It really has to do with the people who call the shots, deciding that they're going to go out on a limb and tell a different story in a different lens.

-So, you know, in so many ways, we always have to prove we're worthwhile.

That's a lot of work. It's exhausting.

-It's very disappointing because what happens is you don't get our perspective and you don't get to see stories through our lens.

We're not a special interest group.

We're half the population of this globe.

♪♪♪ -[ Humming ] This is a rehearsal, this picture, during the filming of 'West Side Story,' and as you can see, the boys are dancing in this direction.

They're doing a rehearsal.

I am doing a rehearsal, going in the other direction.

This is not posed.

I was constantly rehearsing because I felt that I wasn't up to the talents of the young dancers.

So I was constantly like this.

I never took a break.

Whenever there was a ten minute break, I get up and do this again.

I just rehearse and rehearse and rehearse.

So rehearsal pays.

-You know, she has a mother, also a father.

-They do not know this country any better than she does.

-And you do not know it at all!

Girls here are free to have fun, she is in America now.

-Puerto Rico is in America now.

-Eesh!

Sometimes I don't know which is thicker, your skull or your accent.

-[ Kisses ] -What was different about Anita in 'West Side Story' is that she was a girl who respected herself, who had a certain amount of dignity.

Actually, she became my role model.

I just -- I never had one.

She had a sense of herself.

She was proud of herself and she spoke up.

-There, settle your stomach.

-Never mind my stomach. -Well, I mind your nose and your head broken. -Broken?! -Sure! They use Maria for an excuse to start World War III.

-She did not cower as I did so many times so many years ago.

So I loved her.

She was wonderful. I love playing her.

-When you look and you think, 'Oh, yeah, you are your own heroine, you know, you are the woman that you are playing that you want to be to guide you to go forward,' you know, that's not easy to do.

But she did it.

-She was only dancing -- -With an American.

It was really Pollack.

-Says the Spic. [ All titter ] -Anita is fiercely independent.

Her relationship with Bernardo has to do with control.

There are all these power dynamics between men and women in that culture at that time.

-Mm, once an immigrant, always an immigrant.

-Hey, look, instead of a shampoo, she's been brainwashed. -Stop it!

-She has given up Puerto Rico and now she's queer for Uncle Sam.

-Oh, no!

That's not true.

♪ Puerto Rico, my heart's devotion ♪ ♪ Let it sink back in the ocean ♪ -The verse originally went like this: ♪ Puerto Rico, you ugly island ♪ ♪ Island of tropic diseases ♪ I'll stop there, because that's a -- that's a -- [ Inhales deeply ] ♪ Always the hurricanes blowing ♪ ♪ Always the population growing ♪ ♪ And the money owing ♪ ♪ And the sunlight streaming ♪ ♪ And the natives steaming ♪ ♪ I like the isle of Manhattan ♪ -I know you do!

-I remember that when I got the part, and I worked so hard to get that part, the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Oh, my God!

She sings that.

I can't do that.'

-In the 'America' number, there's some Puerto Ricans that feel some lines of that number are particularly denigrating for Puerto Ricans.

Everything is great in the United States and everything is terrible in Puerto Rico, that dichotomy -- I think there's a lot of Puerto Ricans that don't share that view and feel that that is a denigrating picture of Puerto Rico.

-♪ Life can be bright in America ♪ -♪ If you can fight in America ♪ -♪ Life is alright in America ♪ -♪ If you're all white in America -Here's what people miss: that's Anita's view!

That is not the director or the playwright.

It's not Rita Moreno either.

It's Rita Moreno playing Anita, who doesn't want any part of Puerto Rico.

'Cause she's in America now.

That's what she says.

-♪ America ♪ -Some people that watched 'West Side Story' during the '60s felt ashamed of being Puerto Rican and and also angry that they would be portrayed in the big screen for everybody to see as criminals and over sexualized people.

-At its core, it is a well-meaning show, but the effect of it being such a worldwide success, particularly the movie, is that that was many people's first exposure to the Puerto Rican people, and it's not one that we created ourselves.

-So on the one hand, you might have a pull towards feeling uncomfortable with that scene.

On the other hand, Rita Moreno's performance is so exceptional.

She takes that role that's limited to begin with, and in -- in overcoming the limitation of the role and demonstrating the power of a Puerto Rican woman's performance, she challenges the stereotype.

-In 'West Side Story,' she takes us through the joy and the tragedy of living as a Puerto Rican woman in the United States at that time, and she plays it so well that it's very hard to think of 'West Side Story' without thinking of her as Anita.

[ Man vocalizing ] -When I did the scene in the candy store -- I used to call it the rape scene -- where the boys attack Anita... [ Music swells, indistinct shouting ] [ Anita screaming ] -Stop it! -We did that scene many, many times, and they kept calling me Bernardo's... Bernardo's pig, and -- and -- and all kinds of -- all kinds of terrible, terrible names, and I just -- suddenly I left the scene.

They pushed the boys away, and just started to cry and cry and cry.

I could not stop crying.

And all of the wounds that I thought had closed, all the scars opened all over again.

It was just astonishing.

Bernardo was right.

If one of you was lying in the street bleeding, I'd walk by and spit on you.

-Don't let her go! -She'll tell Chino that Tony's hiding in the cellar!

-Don't you touch me!

-After she pulls herself together and--and then she says, 'Don't you' -- four words, but she says it with such... depth and -- and power, it's so fantastic.

-Because of the breadth of Rita's career, one project or another will resonate.

For some people, it's 'West Side Story.'

But for me, the breakthrough for Rita... I believe is when after her attempted suicide, she said, 'I'm going to live.

I am not going to quit, I'm not going to give up.'

-When I tried to do away with myself... I wanted to do it because I couldn't take the pain anymore of the relationship I had with Marlon Brando.

It was humiliating and I was letting him step all over me.

And I hated myself so much, it was a very strange reason -- most people, I don't think, do this -- I wanted to get rid of myself because I didn't think I deserved to live.

And I took the pills.

When I got home from the hospital and I survived the attempt, I went back into therapy, and stayed in therapy for about another month and then I said, I think it's time for me to go, I think I've done what I had to do.

I have exorcised this man from my life.

♪♪♪ There are things about me that I -- that still hurt.

And it takes me back to being a little girl again and being maligned, but I can't seem to get rid of that -- that hurt.

But I think sometimes there are wounds that simply don't heal well.

The insanity... seven years after I attempted to end my life over Marlon, I'm making a movie with Marlon.

-I just wanted to know where you were last night.

-Where do you think I was?

-You talked to my brother until six o'clock in the morning.

We do the scene and we do our dialog.

-Oh, no, we -- I went down to the whorehouse first and then we had a lot of girls downstairs.

-Oh! Oh, I see. Which whorehouse?

And I haul off and smack him on the face.

Liar! And he hauls off and smacks me back.

That opened an old scar of when he would take advantage of me, when he had other women.

Pond scum came to the surface, and I started screaming at him.

I didn't choose to be in the bedroom!

-Shut up! -Damn it! [Screams] And they never stopped filming, the director loved it!

Knowing that those were very personal tears and having nothing to do with the scene.

I think it gave me closure, really, because I at least was able to get even with him in my very childish way.

-I think her breakthrough is post-Brando, and she's coming out of that darkness.

And she's... Facing a crisis in her life.

-Having to examine yourself and finding value in yourself is the only way to become a whole person.

It's the only way.

And I think that the only way is therapy.

-And I think she chooses the road less traveled.

And I think it's why she's got all these awards.

-Show you what it's like in Hollywood on Oscar night.

The stars arriving and the general feeling of excitement that is here on this biggest of all nights for the motion picture industry.

-The car came to pick me up first, and then we picked up Rita and she said, 'I'm practicing my loser's face.'

-We made all kinds of sour grapes speeches in the big limousine that Goldwyn studios had hired for us on the way to the theater, because we were so sure we wouldn't win, and we made up all these hilarious speeches, 'I didn't want it anyway, it's a lousy movie,' and all that kind of stuff.

-Natalie Wood making her entrance.

-On Oscar night, my friend told me, who lived in the Hispanic ghetto, or the she said all the windows were open because it was very, very hot.

And you could hear the Oscars on all the television sets.

And when Rock Hudson came on and said, 'The nominees for Best Featured Actress...' -Judy Garland in 'Judgment at Nuremberg'... -The place went stone quiet.

-And Rita Moreno in 'West Side Story.'

May I have the envelope, please?

Rita Moreno in 'West Side Story'! -And when he called my name out, the place went crazy.

Latinos were sticking their heads out the windows screaming, 'She did it! She did it!'

All I remember thinking was I mustn't run to the stage, I must have dignity.

And it was so hard not to just run up there and grab it out of the arms of Rock Hudson, who was the fellow who gave it to me.

I can't believe it! [ Audience laughter ] Good Lord!

I leave you with that.

[ Applause ] -Rita, what's on your mind at this moment?

-Absolute awe, I can't believe it.

I really can't. Well, I guess I can now.

But at the moment, I couldn't.

-My mother really makes no secret of the fact that she still is under the influence of the little girl, that she was -- the Rosita who was insecure and felt like had to kind of gird herself to try to be what she wanted to be.

-'West Side Story' seems to be the big one.

What are you going to do for an encore now?

-It's hard to follow. -Yeah, you can't follow it.

-Then I see that juxtaposition with what she's become with such -- so much self-assurance and confidence.

-I was handed this beautiful golden man, and I just said, 'I don't believe it!'

-Shortest speech ever? -Well, you do believe that I wasn't prepared for it, right?

I've been trying to make up for it since then with long acceptance speeches.

That's all I could come up with!

Really thrilling and touching speech.

'I don't believe it!'

-You also have one of the shortest Oscar speeches on record, correct?

-I did not expect to win!

I thought Judy Garland would.

-Had you had spent more time up there at the podium, what -- who would you thanked, what would you have said?

-I'm glad you asked.

[ Paper rustling, laughter ] -But I know that she still goes through stage fright sometimes and still feels inadequate.

So, yeah, there's a dichotomy.

-The beauty of Rita is how she is in touch with who she is, the integrity of the person, the joy of Rosita, but the curse of Rosita.

-And here she is, Miss Rita Moreno.

[ Applause ] You know, now that you've won an Academy Award, I imagine you're sort of anxious to do more pictures, aren't you?

-Well, yes, there's several I'm considering, but I have to be careful to find the right part.

-Oh, I know, I know what you mean.

I have the same problem.

[ Laughter ] -Jack, you haven't made a picture for 20 years!

-You see how careful I am?

[ Laughter ] ♪♪♪ -After 'West Side Story,' believe it or not, I could not find work.

[ Scattered gasps ] That's what I say.

I was offered some things, but they were all these Latina characters in gang movies.

So I just said, no, you know, I tucked my little gold man under my arm, I said, Unh-uh, I'm not going to do that stuff anymore with the accents.

I did some television.

I did summer theater, that kind of thing.

So I was working, but I didn't do one bloody movie for seven years.

After London, I got my very first leading lady part on Broadway and I was so excited.

Broadway was really big stuff.

'The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window' didn't even last a week, but that's when I met Lenny.

-My father had a patient in his practice who is this Jewish psychologist named Leah.

She got them both to a dinner at her house.

My father was completely entranced, so he asked her out for New Year's Eve.

-He's like this normal, stable guy.

So she's immediately suspicious.

Like what -- this can't be good.

She's not attracted to guys like that.

She's attracted to, like, wild men who were self-destructive geniuses.

-She said, 'Okay, pick me up at the theater at 10:30.'

And he didn't really ask questions.

So he goes to the theater all dressed up on New Year's Eve and people are starting to trickle out.

And he's looking for her.

-She stood him up. He's furious.

'How can she stand me up?'

Rita's in her dressing room, 'Where's Lenny? He stood me up!

How could I be stood up by this guy?!' -It's now like 11:00 at night and he starts to walk away, kind of dejected, walking down the street, and he looks back and he sees 'Rita Moreno in 'The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window',' And he's thinking, 'Oh, my God.'

So he runs back into the theater, he runs backstage and he knocks on her dressing room door and he opens it and he says, 'Are you Rita Moreno?'

-He has no idea it's Rita Moreno!

Like Rita Moreno.

-And she's so charmed that he was so innocent and he didn't know, and that was it.

So they got married six months later.

-He liked her for who she was as a person, not because she was Rita Moreno.

-♪ Skies ain't gonna cloud no more ♪ -She was herself.

-♪ ...ain't gonna fail ♪ ♪ It seems like happiness ♪ ♪ Is just a thing called ♪ ♪ Joe ♪ ♪ He's got a smile ♪ -Lenny was a really, really caring, smart, sweet man.

-My mother and father were a lot of fun together.

My father made my mother laugh so much, which I think is such a great basis for a relationship.

My father was very witty.

We would do things like go out to dinner together and we would play that game where you see sort of an odd couple and we would all make up stories about how they were together and why they were there and what were they hiding.

And we were a pretty creative family.

-How are you, sweetie?

Oh, it's so good to see you!

Tell me about Alexa.

How is she? -She's good, yeah -- -Is she good? Have you gotten used to not being with her?

-Yeah, it's hard, but we're, like, for the situation, we're doing really good, actually.

We've kind of established that, like, we're not going anywhere for each other any time soon.

-You're really, actually, you really sort of made a pact?

-Yeah, it's like kind of an unspoken, like, we're not -- we're not fooling around.

-Right. -If your show gets picked up for a fourth season, which it should for obvious-- -Oh, did you see it at all yet? Did you see the first episode?

-I saw the first episode. -Is that hilarious?

With Gloria Estefan?

-So funny. -Oh, I'm so glad you saw it.

Did you see the Jimmy Kimmel show that I was on?

-Really good. -Wasn't that fun?

Yes. And he's really nice.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -That was a fantastic entrance. How are you?

-What a band! -Thank you. Thank you very much.

-What a show. -Yes, I taught them all to play their own instruments.

I wonder if you have any idea what a major figure you are in my life, in my childhood. -In your life?

-Yes, in my life. I mean, first of all, 'West Side Story,' the album was one of, like, only six albums we had in our house, and we'd just play it over and over and over again.

And 'The Electric Company,' you know, was, I mean, that was -- that was it for me as a kid in New York.

-Wasn't that a great show? -It was a great show!

-♪ We're gonna light up the dark of night ♪ ♪ Like the brightest day in a whole new way ♪ -Oh! And Gladys giggled, 'Let me glow!'

-I didn't know her name, I didn't know anything about her.

I just knew there was somebody who looked like me on one of my favorite shows.

♪♪♪ -Those were my bliss years.

I've never been so happy at home and in my career.

-Well, do -- would you do your phrase from 'Electric Company'? -Hey, you guys!

[ Toots whistle ] Hey, you guys!

-'Hey, you guys!'

-'Hey, you guys!' is how we would call out to each other in the house.

-We're grown ups, we're doing children's stuff, you know, so we did a lot of off the wall stuff just playing around.

I mean, she had this character.

She was a film director.

And she would always be smacking stuff.

-Stop!

-We were obviously enjoying ourselves.

You got salads? -We got salads.

-What kind of salad? -All kinds of salads.

We got green salad, sardine salad, tangerine salad, magazine salad, jelly beans salad, blue jean salad, and the special today, gasoline salad.

I won a Grammy for the album of 'The Electric Company.'

I always loved to visit. the 'Muppets' set -- that was one of the great experiences of my life.

Jim was... It was -- it was a chance to work with a genius.

I gave him some ideas that he loved and we used.

♪ Never know how much I love you ♪ ♪ Never know how much I care ♪ ♪When you put your arms around me ♪ ♪ I get the fever that's so hard to bear ♪ ♪ You give me fever ♪ -This gives you a sense of the diversity of Rita Moreno's career.

Her career did not take off after 'West Side Story,' rising with bigger and better parts.

Her career widened to encompass a diversity of roles and media.

She won her first Emmy for 'The Muppet Show.'

[ Cymbals crash, laughter ] -Now, that's my kind of woman!

-But then a year later, she won her second Emmy for 'The Rockford Files.' -'The Rockford Files, The Paper Palace.'

-I mean, oh, my gracious!

I want to say only -- I don't know what the hell I want to say, I'm so excited!

But simply this -- I can only wish for you that you were me.

Thank you.

-The Rita I wrote a part for was a character she created at a party, this ridiculously untalented young actress who didn't know how bad she was.

And so I started writing this character called Googie Gomez.

-And this just came out -- ♪ I had a dream ♪ ♪ A dream about you, baby ♪ ♪ It's gonna come true, baby ♪ ♪ They think that we're through, but! ♪ -She's challenged stereotypes by actually creating a character, Googie Gomez, whose job pretty much is to expose the absurdity of these stereotypes.

-♪ Things look swell ♪ -The exaggerated accent, the assumptions about people's intelligence.

It's an overt critique through art, or an artful critique of stereotypes.

-♪ Everything's coming up roses ♪ -It is a stereotype, in a loving sense.

-And I loved her, and I got a Tony.

[ Cheering and applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Finally, I'd like to say, miss Supporting Actress, whomever you might have been, I'm a little bit regretful because I am the leading lady of 'The Ritz,' I'm not a supporting actress.

I mean... [ Applause ] If it was, uh, if it was up to Googie Gomez, who is the character I play in 'The Ritz,' she would say, 'Listen, honey, the only thing I support in that show is my bits.'

[ Laughter, applause ] -Rita Moreno was certainly the very first Latino performer to win what is called the EGOT -- the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

Phew! I mean, that's quite an amazing achievement.

-Now, it seems to be a much bigger deal and -- and a very competitive thing.

People are like, 'I gotta --' You know, it's like, we just were working, we didn't know we could get an EGOT, you know.

So we did the work and people saw it and said, 'We -- we like what you did,' you know, 'We like what you did.'

-We proudly welcome to the Hollywood Walk of Fame Miss Rita Moreno.

[ Moreno squeals, cheering and applause ] -I'm 64, and for a woman in my business at that time, you were history.

But that's when I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

So I'm thinking, maybe with all this publicity, something might come up, and, uh, a couple of years later, I'm playing a nun working in a prison on 'Oz.'

-You enjoy sex with men? -I enjoy sex, don't you?

You told me you were married before you became a nun.

You and your husband have great sex -- -Chris. -I mean, I can tell you did.

I'll be you were wild.

Lint.

-The role Rita played on the show was one of the basic foundations of the show.

The reason that I wanted Rita to do it was because she just brings such authority and such honesty to whatever she's playing, and I thought it would be great amongst all these rough and tumble prisoners to have this strong and powerful woman telling them that they can have sex.

And so I can't imagine the show without her now.

I mean, it's inconceivable.

♪♪♪ -You missed our last two sessions: why?

-On 'Oz,' she was sort of amazing because she got to use all of herself and use more of the Rita I know, knowing her as a friend; she got to be self righteous, she got to be flawed, she got to be really [bleep] smart.

[ Pounding ] -Everything all right in there, Sister?

-I'm fine. -Rita says to me that 'Oz' brought her back, but the truth is, I don't think she ever went anywhere.

I think maybe she wasn't getting the kind of parts she wanted to get.

I mean, she certainly was great in it, but she's convinced that she -- that somehow 'Oz' brought her back.

Maybe it did. I don't know.

-When I was in Boston during the Fourth of July Boston pops, I saw a little T-shirt that says something I love that was so me, and I spent a lot of money on a gown for tonight's event.

The critics, you know.

And then I looked at that T-shirt and I thought, I love what it says and it is so who I am, so it's the first time I will not be wearing a gown to one of these fancy things. [ Laughs ] Okay, putting on the famous Moreno face -- that we all know and love.

[ Clears throat ] It's so funny because there's a song going through my head that makes me laugh.

♪ I've got to be me, I've got to be me ♪ While she's putting on makeup and hiding her 'me.'

This.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Yay!

-My mom and I are very close.

As an only child, I am so lucky because I had a cool mom.

-What do you think of this?

-That one, yeah.

-Everyone here is so much about, like, stage mothers and mothers in show business, but what's it like for you?

-I'm dying to hear all this.

-We love our makeup and we love our shoes, particularly shoes.

So she's Big Imelda and I'm Little Imelda.

Her closet is massive and mine is in training.

I've also been on the road with her as her backup singer and dancer, traveling like gypsies.

My mother had a road manager, and at that time we were doing big shows like in Vegas and Atlantic City, and this road manager one day got sick on the road and couldn't do the lights.

And my father, the doctor, said, 'I can figure this out.

I'm a smart guy.'

And he loved it because he was kind of a control freak.

He became a showbiz/doctor person.

You know, every so often they would get really irritated with each other, like most married people, but for the most part, they were a pretty amazing couple.

-But you got married and you've got a very romantic husband who obviously is like a leg man or something, you know.

She's got great legs.

Did you end up more Jewish, or did he end up more Puerto Rican? -I've been, really, I call myself an honorary Jewette.

-Which is very sweet. -Yeah.

-But you have a good marriage -- -It's terrific.

We just celebrated our 19th anniversary.

-God bless you.

We were really not a good couple, although everybody thought we were.

And we played the role in public, we were always holding hands and nuzzling.

And indeed, he was sincere.

I wasn't.

He was a wonderful, loving person, but boy, oh, boy, oh, boy, did we have problems.

He was a person who just took over.

He was a controller.

And of course, that's why I married him -- until the day when I wanted to grow up in our relationship, and it wasn't working.

♪♪♪ I'm a raucous person, I love to laugh, and I can get loud, and that part of me, he really disliked that part of me very, very much.

And I love that part of me.

That's the child in me that I think is just neat and fun and swell.

And it really bothered him.

He felt embarrassed.

This is a hell of a subject when you're trying to do your eyeballs.

[Bleep] Christ.

We sure we want to do this?

I don't regret ever having married him.

I mean, look what happened: Fernanda.

And look what happened, grandsons whom I just adore, so, no, not I don't regret that, but I regret that I stayed way past the time I should have.

-I was surprised by that 'cause I knew Lenny and she never shared that with me when -- when he was alive.

So when he passed away and she got, again, self-awareness, what she's processing, she's going back into therapy.

She's trying to figure out who she is in this thing.

And she understands that some of the patterns that have been with her her whole life are inside of her marriage.

-Now, I have tears in my eyes.

Let's stop for a second. -Yes.

-So I can put some drops in my eyes, okay?

I'll tell you what happened when he died.

For one thing, I was in the hospital room with him for about a month and a half.

And one day the nurse came in and she said, in the most casual way, 'Mrs. Gordon, Mrs. Gordon, your husband stopped breathing.'

Just like that.

It was... And I looked at this thin, frail... little body that could cause me such angst and sadness and joy, 'cause he was one of the funniest people in the world and who loved me so deeply.

♪♪♪ You know, when Lenny died, I gave that needy little Rosita permission to leave.

♪♪♪ And to answer your question, which was, 'Were you relieved?'

Yes, I was.

When I came back to California, to this house, I asked my assistant to get me a big glass of wine, and I sat out in my beautiful courtyard... And just drank.

A lot of wine.

And I thought, it's over.

I don't have to answer to anybody anymore.

Living alone is really pretty neat, especially when you like who you're living with.

-♪ Groovy, baby, groovy! ♪ -No, why does it not look good.

-Well, because it's just fighting -- it's fighting this. -Actually, they probably don't, shouldn't be long. -No, you know what it is?

It's too -- they're too close together, you need like a stud, more of a... -Is this one okay? -I don't love that.

-It's shorter. You don't love that either.

Okay.

What about... -♪ When you kiss me, fever when... ♪ -That? -That's, oh, that's pretty good.

That's pretty good.

You've got a geometric thing going on there, that kind of works.

-I just love -- I think it's just such a great idea, don't you?

Makes me laugh.

It's such a '70s pant!

♪ You give me fever, ay! ♪ But something interesting happened, my career began to take off -- now, how do you figure that?

It probably had something to do with my attitude and my profound happiness at just being me.

-Here is your Television Critics Association 2018 Lifetime Achievement Honoree, the unforgettable Rita Moreno.

[ Cheering and applause ] -♪ This is it ♪ ♪ This is life, the one you get ♪ ♪ So go and have a ball ♪ ♪ This is it ♪ ♪ Straight ahead and rest assured ♪ ♪ You can't be sure at all ♪ [ Knocking ] -Come in. -Hi! Five minutes.

-Oh, I'm ready. -Okay, perfect, thank you.

-The role that I love the most that Rita's played: Lydia.

-Oh! Oh, my gosh!

-I love that character because you get every bit of her.

-Okay, here we go, guys.

-Rita, Rita! [ Cheering and applause ] -We were looking for a grandmother, the mother of a glorious actress, Justina Machado, and there's only one Rita Moreno.

he asked Chloe out and she said, no!

But what did I tell you?

I said, you keep trying.

Wear her down!

Don't take no for an answer!

-Lydia is my mom, she is my mom, that is my mom's accent, but -- there's a big caveat here -- it's easy to fall into caricature with her because she's so big.

It is never over. [ Cheering and applause ] But I'm big!

I'm as big as you get.

I may be petite, but I am big.

That's me.

But you have to be so careful with a character like that.

-The stereotype comes from how others tell our story.

I'm interested in how we tell our story.

We're always -- they're gonna tell our story however they're going to tell it, and that's what it is.

But when we tell our story, who are we choosing to put up on that screen?

I think that's another part of the conversation.

[ Upbeat Spanish-language music playing ] -One of the great secrets of Rita Moreno is that five year old never went anywhere.

-[ Indistinct ] -Aww! -[ Cooing ] ♪♪♪ Oh, you want me?

-And she loves to shock, you know, she just loves it.

We were at a fundraiser and people were not donating enough money and nobody was doing anything.

Finally, she got up there, she auctioned off a dinner for her and four people, she would cook, for $10,000, and she flashed her boobs -- and she got that $10,000.

-Well, I'm just a dirty old lady.

I asked the writers, I said, 'Make her sexual.'

Why should, you know, people who are older not be sexual?

You don't forget.

And they did that for me.

-Here it goes again, I will not be able to hear my name.

Who -- who -- who am I?

[ Cheering and applause ] -She is an original, and she can't help but be that every minute of her life.

So one gets lost in her personality -- happily -- and feels better for being with her.

-When I'm coming home now with all this crap on my face and I have to wash it off.

And nine o'clock might as well be 12 midnight right now.

I'm really, really exhausted.

-♪ She was the one ♪ -At 87, with a hit show on Netflix and a movie in the works -- it's a remake of 'West Side Story' -- she shows no signs of quitting.

-I love this! -People walk up there.

-Right. -See all the shadows.

-This time with Latino actors in the lead role.

[ Cheering and applause ] -Not too bad. -Not too shabby.

-Not too shabby. -You want to talk about full circle -- this is crazy, it is cuckoo!

What is going on here?

The gods, the the stars and the planets are aligned.

[ Music playing, rhythmic clapping ] -I got Rita Moreno!

[ Laughter ] -One more time... -You know, you think that once you've felt the warm glow of recognition, you wouldn't fear the shadows anymore, but... You know what? A lot of us still do.

It's interesting how we keep dragging our past into the present.

I am so blessed.

Damn the shadows, and here's to the light.

Thank you.

[ Cheering and applause ] ♪♪♪ -She ends up becoming Rita Moreno, who is a truth seeker for the work.

-For three or four generations, if we thought there was no place for us in this world of the arts that we wanted to get into, we could look up and see Rita waving that flag from the moon, and say, 'Okay, well, she could do it -- how close can I get?'

-It is her talent that made her overcome all these limitations and challenges.

One of the questions we could ask is, how could she had been if she hadn't had those limits?

-♪ I wish I knew how it would feel to be free ♪ ♪ I wish I could break all the chains holding me ♪ ♪ I wish I could say all things that I should say ♪ ♪ Say 'em loud, say 'em clear ♪ ♪ For the whole round world to hear ♪ -Rita's about breaking down barriers.

-And the winner is Rita Moreno... -Rita Moreno in 'West Side Story.'

The Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award Rita Moreno.

-♪ I wish you could know ♪ ♪ What it means to be me ♪ -I was really drawn to her and she made me feel like a woman could do anything, because she did.

She was a Latina like me.

-♪ I wish you could know what it means... ♪ -'Dear Rita Moreno, How do you tell your idol how much you love her? You gave me hope.

You gave me a reason to fight and to speak up.

You gave me a voice.

And when you followed your dreams, Rita, you gave me the allowance to follow mine.

Rita, this is my love letter to you.'

-♪ I wish I could do all the things that I can do ♪ -If you feel like you're always being discriminated against, you're always angry, and who is going to be angry at?

Everybody?

That's poison, you can't do it, you know?

So life is what it is... on the one hand; on the other hand, it's what you make it. -♪ How sweet it would be ♪ ♪ If I found I could... ♪ -Did having to struggle so much take something out of me?

Not me.

[ Chuckles ] Not I -♪ Then I'd sing 'cause I know, yeah ♪ ♪ I'd sing 'cause I know, yeah ♪ -Hi, honey! -♪ And I'd sing 'cause I know ♪ ♪ I'd know how it feels ♪ -I like it, isn't that fun? -It is.

-This is amazing!

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪ ♪ [ Spanish backup singing ] ♪ ♪ [ Spanish backup singing ] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪♪♪ -♪ ♪ ♪♪♪

© 2021 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.