Rita Moreno: The Puerto Rican Who Conquered The American Stage

She managed to win all the major entertainment awards in America quicker than anyone else in history; and captivated the hearts and imagination of people across generations.

Latin America has certainly produced plenty of talent in the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s staggering just how many great Hispanic stars there are in all areas of human activity, from sports to literature to academia to science and, perhaps most famously, entertainment and the performing arts. Rita Moreno is one of the best examples, having conquered the world of American entertainment as a teenager and still going strong at 86 years old. 

She stood on Broadway for the first time when she was 13 years old, and was spotted and signed for a film contract soon after. Since then, Rita Moreno has conquered the theater, TV, and Hollywood in a career that spans 70 years of success. She has received all the most prestigious awards in the celebrity circuit (one of the few living stars to do so), including the big four: the “EGOT” (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), as well as a Golden Globe. 

Born Rosita Dolores Alverio in the small town of Humacao, Puerto Rico, Rita Moreno is arguably most famous for her role as Anita in the classic musical West Side Story (1962), for which she won the Oscar and Golden Globe. Her Tony came in 1975, when she played Googie Gomez in The Ritz, a Broadway comedy. Her performance on The Electric Company Album (an album for the children’s television series of the same name) got her a Grammy in 1972; and just a few years later she won two consecutive Emmys: the first in 1977 for an appearance on The Muppet Show, and the next for her performance on drama TV series The Rockford Files in 1978. That’s the collection of the most prestigious entertainment awards the US has to offer, and she got them all in less than two decades!

To put it in perspective, there’s only fifteen people to have ever gotten the EGOT in competitive categories. Rita Moreno is also one among just twenty-four artists to have won what is known as The Triple Crown of Acting, which involves obtaining a competitive Oscar, Emmy and Tony specifically in the acting category. Only two people in history have achieved both distinctions (The Triple Crown and the EGOT): Rita Moreno and Helen Hayes. It took Hayes 45 years to do so. Rita Moreno did it in 16.

(Photo by The Heart Truth)

Don’t get me wrong, though. Rita Moreno is not all about the prestige. She performs for the love of acting, and she has had many notable roles besides the ones that netted her awards. After all, she achieved what most artists can’t even dream of in just 16 years and has a career spanning over 70. So, she definitely has more on her demo reel. Other significant appearances include the film The Night of the Following Day, in which she acted alongside Marlon Brando, and the movie version of The King and I (where she played Tuptim). The theater world has also seen her in a great variety of performances, including her portrayal of Amanda Wingfield in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s 2006 revival of The Glass Menagerie, and her appearance in the female version of The Odd Couple (for which she won the Sarah Siddons Award) in 1985. One of her most notable roles in TV was Sister Pete in the popular HBO series Oz.

(Rita Moreno about to receive the Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush)

If that’s not enough, she was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the greatest official honor a civilian can obtain in America. She’s recipient of several lifetime achievement awards as well (no surprise there). All in all, Rita Moreno’s career puts most others to shame, and it just goes to show the staggering advantage of allowing international talent to flourish in the country of their choosing. America sure is the better for it. 


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