Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

West Side Story, The Electric Company, The Ritz, The Muppet Show

Rita-Poster.Just a girlRita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It is the documentary my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany recently. The IMBD summary reads, “A look at the life and work of Rita Moreno from her humble beginnings in Puerto Rico to her success on Broadway and in Hollywood.” It’s a bit more complicated than that.

For she loved growing up in her homeland. Hollywood, conversely was quite a bit more treacherous. It was stressful often being the primary breadwinner when you’re a teenager. She endured some abusive treatment during her career, from her bizarre pairing with Marlon Brando to assault from studio executives and a business manager of hers.

While she loved her small role in Singin’ In the Rain, she was often given the generically ethnic roles of Asian/Native American/whatever. At least she could use the same accent because the directors apparently couldn’t tell the difference, or care. Even her signature role as Anita in West Side Story she was unsure she should take.

When she won the Oscar, she gave a far too short acceptance. “I can’t believe it! Good Lord! I’ll leave you with that.” In the film, the older and wiser Rita mocks her younger self. For a time afterward, she largely stayed away from movies, choosing to focus on TV guest spots and stage appearances.


The ’70s were good to Rita. In 1972 she received a Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album for The Electric Company. “Hey, you guys!” “In 1975 she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Ritz. She won her Primetime Emmy Awards in 1977, and 1978 for her performances in The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, respectively.”

The movie featured, as these things do, other performers speaking about her. A number of them Latinas such as Eva Longoria and Gloria Estefan, plus co-stars such as George Chakiris (WSS) and Morgan Freeman (Electric Company), and were fine. She was an inspiration to them all.

But the highlights of the film were Rita talking about Rita, warts and all. One of the few negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes says the movie “reiterates many… anecdotes, but it doesn’t tell us much that Moreno hasn’t divulged already in her 2013 memoir or in countless interviews over the years.”

For one thing, I didn’t read her book. For another, she seems to become more self-aware as she gets older. She looks great, but she’s fine letting the viewer know it takes wigs, makeup, and help to look that good. (She was 87 at a point in the film; she’s 90 now.)

She was involved in the remake of One Day at a Time, which ended in 2020. She’s going to appear in the reimagined West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg. It took her a good long while to get comfortable in her own skin, but surely she’s a wonderful raconteur of her own life.

Kennedy Center Honors 2015

I remember buying my copy of Tapestry somewhere in Binghamton, NY, along with Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones.

Rita Moreno bookAs I’ve noted over the years, I LOVE the Kennedy Center Honors. The event generally takes place in DC the first weekend in December and is broadcast on CBS-TV at the end of the month. The celebration of the honorees’ Lifetime Artistic Achievements took place on Sunday, December 6, and will be aired on CBS on Tuesday, December 29 at 9:00 p.m., ET/PT. This year’s honorees are Carole King, George Lucas, Rita Moreno, Seiji Ozawa, and Cicely Tyson.

Rita Moreno – if she were in nothing but the movie West Side Story – a pivotal film in my life – I’d be a big fan, but she accomplished so much more and, as she indicated in this interview, had to fight the Latina actress stereotypes.

She’s won the EGOT:
OSCAR: Best Supporting Actress (1961) West Side Story (Anita del Carmen)
GRAMMY: Best Album for Children (1973) Electric Company
TONY: Best Featured Actress in a Play (1975) The Ritz
EMMY: Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program (1977) The Muppet Show; Outstanding Guest Actress – Drama Series (1978) The Rockford Files

Even though I was in college by then, I was a huge fan of The Electric Company, and she was a big reason.

West Side Story-America
Electric Company – STOP!
Muppet Show – Fever
Rockford Files
George Lucas – the writer/producer/director made a bunch of movies I enjoyed tremendously. The first was American Graffiti; a couple of the movie’s actors ended up in 1950s-based sitcoms, Ron Howard (Richie on Happy Days), and Cindy Williams (Cindy on Laverne &…) The film also featured some carpenter-actor named Harrison Ford, who later starred in Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, and the Indiana Jones trilogy, all of which I enjoyed (except Indy 2, which I’ve never seen).

All that hate for Star Wars 1: I didn’t enjoy it, but it was just a movie. All that nerdy nuance about the films, some brought on by Lucas himself – Han shot first! – is beyond my interest. Oh and he likes Star Wars 7.

I see Lucas’ wife, Mellody Hobson, on CBS News frequently.

American Graffiti (1973) – Original Trailer
Star Wars (1977) Original Trailer
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Theatrical Trailer
The Other Side of The Other Side of Midnight
Cicely TysonI wrote about her at length only a couple of years ago.

The Bold Move That Left Cicely Tyson’s First TV Director Speechless And Sparked A National Movement
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Cicely Tyson on Roots, Grief and Strength
The Marva Collins Story (1981)
Seiji Ozawa – Though he had been the conductor for the San Francisco Symphony early in his career, I know him best from him leading the Boston Symphony. I’d see him on TV fairly often, and as he got older I recognized him as much for his style, and his coif as anything.

What’s My Line? – Seiji Ozawa (1963, TV Show)
Tchaikovsky Overture 1812
Beethoven Symphony No 5
Seiji Ozawa’s 80th Birthday
Carole King – Her life was so amazing that they turned it into a hit Broadway musical, Beautiful, which will be going on a national tour shortly. She is a songwriter, early on primarily with her then-husband, the late Gerry Goffin; they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I found this list of 17 Popular Songs You Never Knew Were Written By Carole King, with links, but mostly, I DID know.

If you went to college in the US in the early 1970s, either you had a copy of her massively successful album Tapestry, or your roommate did; it may have been mandated by Congress. I remember buying my copy somewhere in Binghamton, NY, along with Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones. Tapestry was number one on the Billboard 200 for 15 consecutive weeks, and on the charts for over five years in a row.

Her Jazzman was covered by Lisa Simpson in an early episode of the TV cartoon The Simpsons. Where You Lead was the theme song of the TV show Gilmore Girls, sung by one Louise Goffin, daughter of Carole and Gerry.

LISTEN to Carole King:
It’s Too Late
So Far Away
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, with the Mitchell-Taylor Boy-and-Girl Choir

The Everly Brothers -Crying In the Rain (1962)

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